Trains rumble through the West Oakland BART station every five minutes, some packed with people, squeezing together like little sardines, en route to San Francisco, others nearly empty, with just a few stragglers aboard heading toward Fremont.
As each train’s doors slide open, three or four people board. Some pull suitcases and others wheel bikes. Almost everyone is enthralled by the screen in their hand, glancing up only occasionally, eyeing the distance between the screen and the yellow paint lining the sides of the platform.
Inside a glass booth next to the station’s entrance, the lone BART employee reads the San Francisco Chronicle, pausing every few minutes to look up when passengers pass through the turnstile. At the station’s entrance, three men in hard hats inspect one of the station’s two rolling gates. Around midnight, both gates will close shortly after the last trains of the night depart the station.
Outside the station, at the corner of 7th and Center, a middle-aged white woman perches on a bench, speaking softly into a large plastic bin. Three small terrier puppies, with eyes still sealed shut, huddle together in the bin. They are for sale, and the woman will take just about any price. Grinning toothlessly, she says she’s already sold five today to passersby. There’s an elderly man slumped over on the bench next to her, sleeping fitfully. She says he’s a friend.
Three young African American men sit on benches a few yards removed from the woman and her puppies. Occasionally they laugh or comment on a group of women gathered outside the 99 cents store across 7th street. Most of the time, they are quiet, silently observing.
The West Oakland BART station parking lot wraps around the station. It’s full, and no cars come or go for over an hour. A man in a wide-brimmed hat sits inside a van in the lot. All of the van’s doors are open and his belongings are spilling out of every opening. Cardboard boxes full of clothes are piled on the pavement. A cart with small wheels balances on the roof of the van next to a single plant growing out of large plastic bucket.
At 12 p.m., the construction workers inspecting the gate take a break, pulling out hard-sided lunch boxes and leaning against the side of a truck.
It will be several hours before commuters start arriving at the station and hurrying to drive their cars out of the lot. For now, nobody is in rush.