MacArthur BART Station

on November 23, 2009

The Fremont-bound train shudders to a stop above my head as I race up the escalator of my local BART at fifteen of nine this morning. The doors stay open for far less time than they normally do—I am rushing, yes, but still must manage to slip in the cavernous opening as the red lights blink furiously at me. Doors closing. Off we go.

Turns out the Fremont train is running behind schedule. Our conductor admonishes us at each stop—stay away from the doors please, they are open for a shorter amount of time, we must get to MacArthur faster, we will miss the transfer train otherwise. People move sluggishly onto the car, ignoring the urgency of his clear, deep voice.

I disembark at the MacArthur station, Transfer City for North Oakland passengers, along with at least twenty people in my car alone. The air is cold, crisp, the sun beaming brightly overhead, wind blowing hard to our backs as we walk off, en masse. Directly in front of us, the San Francisco Airport train sits, waiting patiently—we have successfully made transfer.

The platform between the two trains buzzes with the intensity of rush hour—the people waiting for the Fremont train move hurriedly toward us as we all, jeans and suits and coats and iPods and coffee and newspapers galore, stride across the platform. As I maneuver to the stairs, I pass a husband and wife, late fifties or early sixties, both in suits, the woman in a lime green coat. She turns and asks her husband which car in the SFO train would be best to enter. “Doesn’t matter,” he replies quickly, gesturing her with his arm—he is walking behind her. “We’ll be standing anyway.” Indeed, the SFO train is already at standing capacity.

The SFO train barrels away but the Fremont train is slower to leave. Its doors stay open for a good minute, long enough for two BART police officers, a man and a woman, to enter the second car and have a look around. They walk to the front of the train but have no time to talk to the conductor—overhead, a female voice announces, “San Francisco Millbrae train, approaching Platform 2 in one minute.” The doors shudder closed, this Fremont train leaves us behind.

The distinction between a timed transfer point moment and the arrival of a solitary train is startling. The platforms empty completely after a timed transfer, the crowds gather slowly along each track as these trains arrive further apart in the mid-morning—eight, nine, ten minutes between most trains, as many as thirteen between Fremont-bound trains.

Strange thing about the MacArthur BART platform: You would call it quiet in these non-transfer moments, a solitary place, were it not for the maze of concrete enveloping it on all sides. On either side of the station, cars whiz by below us as Highway 24 turns into the 980. Above them, though, a different story: On the 580 interchange, cars creep toward the Bay Bridge, the sun glinting brightly off their brightly colored bodies.

Under the awning, people pace slowly, colorful coats, sweatshirts, and sweaters wrapping nearly everyone. A family stands and talks by the stairs leading down into the concourse as a San Francisco Millbrae train approaches. A teenage daughter, light-colored eyes standing out against olive skin, bounces up and down to the music coming through the green-budded headphones in her ears. “Is this us?” she asks her parents, a middle-aged man and woman, both in leather coats. She continues to bounce behind them, ponytail swishing, as they move down the platform and onto the train.

People huddle under the covered section of the station—while there isn’t a cloud obscuring the blue sky this morning, the wind is strong, and it is cold. My back is turned, facing the Millbrae/Fremont track, when I feel something touch my leg and a female voice commanding, “Sit.” I turn around and fall in love, head over heels (yes, it was instantaneous)—with a gray-brown, green-eyed, 30-pound pit bull puppy named Boba. Boba’s owner tugs his black leash, moving him back to the bench. I sit next to her, but she is on the phone, and moves closer to the edge as I approach, lowering her black bereted head as she leaves someone a voicemail.

Boba becomes animated as an Asian man approaches. “Can I just say hi?” he asks Boba’s human, who nods her head. It is hard to tell who is more excited, Boba or Boba’s new friend, as the man adjusts his black backpack and kneels to Boba’s level. Boba’s owner continues to pull him back, admonishing—she got into trouble yesterday for having Boba on the train, mentions something about a $300 ticket. Her boss doesn’t mind that she brings him to the office, but she needs him to behave on the train today.

Above us, a male voice intones, “Now approaching, San Francisco Airport train.” Boba’s owner, still sitting, bends over and scoops up Boba smoothly, wraps him up in a hug, turns around, enters the train. Off to work.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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