Port of Oakland

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If you want to know how a mouse would feel if it got caught beneath a stampede of elephants, ride your bike around the Port of Oakland at 11 o’clock on a Thursday. All sense of scale is lost against a limitless stream of 18-wheelers rumbling to pick up their cargo container. They join the half-mile line of idling trucks, with acrid fumes drifting from their smokestacks, comingling with the lung-stretching heaviness of blacktop in the sun.

Santiago Diaz, from Woodland, CA, is perched in his truck cabin, well behind the antsy truck drivers angrily laying on their horns for one, two, three, thirty seconds. They are urging the drivers at the front to make an aggressive move through the four-way stop sign that manages the entrance to the SSA Marine Terminal. The big rigs lurch at each other like gladiators. Diaz is resigned to the wait. “Its usually takes two hours,” he says.

This is how the import economy looks; truck lines that stretch out of sight.

Officer Am Felfela of the California Highway Patrol makes a U-turn through the wide boulevard on Maritime, parking next to a colleague. He unfurls a vinyl sign and drapes it over the grill of his truck. The sign says “All trucks stop – vehicle inspection ahead.”

Felfela and the highway patrol officers lie down on crawlers, which look like wooden dollies with headrests, and roll under the trucks to have a look. There they inspect the truck’s steering for slack, good working brakes and the structural integrity of the frame. Felfela lists a litany of disasters on interstate highways around California when trucks have failed.

Across the road, a train putters down a brand new set of tracks. The sterile-looking rails sit on top of umber-colored pressure-treated railroad ties. They appeared unstable until the freight cars gush grey-blue shale on top of the rails, burying them in place.

The roadsides are barren silt. The passing trucks cast a turbulent wind over the dirt, flecked with broken glass and bits of trash, giving it a remote wind-blown look. The telltale scent of urine is detectable.

This is how global commerce is conducted: by workers moving goods from ships to port, driving trucks, and riding railroads. To hang out at the port is to catch a glimpse of the rest of the world and the United States meeting in Oakland.

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