The system’s out of order, and the fire hasn’t even started yet.

“Well, I guess that’s what we get for unplugging for a few hours,” said the businessman, relaxed on his bench outside the shuttered BART train station. “They must have decided to go on strike late last night. My office hasn’t decided what they want me to do about it yet.” He leaned back, no frown on his face as it angled towards the morning sun, his loafers tapping slightly to a beat only he could hear.

BART strike trip to Santa Cruz 05Here was a man at peace with the problem. The bag lady down the row to his left looked at him without expression.

In a parallel universe I took them both out for breakfast, heard their stories and watched them fall in unlikely love (Joaquin Phoenix and Susan Sarandon for the movie adaptation?), but I was itching to get to Santa Cruz. The fire and light festival started in eleven hours, and I had plans for lunch, then aspired to a full afternoon helping without getting in the way.

Run back to house to check for alternate route. Bus leaves in three minutes, back at station. Run back, intercept bus partway, disembark downtown Oakland where local TV crews were interviewing commuters standing in line for the replacement buses across the bridge. I chatted in a Scottish accent with the guy next to me in hopes of hooking an interview, but the woman in front of us had boobs.

Boobs trump Scotland, apparently.

Too bad, because I was all ready to give a foreigner’s (sic) view of contemporary American democracy. “What do you think of the strike?” They would ask.

BART strike trip to Santa Cruz 02“Well, it’s an essential part of your country, isn’t it? Your Constitution was designed to protect ye from the government, but they’re not really the main threat anymore, are they? Not since Reagan privatized the lot of it. No, it’s the businesses, yer employers that’ve got the axe over yer heads now. The idea was that if ye were abused, ye could vote them out, but you canna vote for a new boss, can ye? So you’ve got the strike, it’s the modern equivalent of the ballot, isn’t it?”

They were right to go with the boobs.

BART strike trip to Santa Cruz 01 Packed bus creeping across crammed bridge, tankers below, then puking us into an unfamiliar hub, clicking of flats, where frantic employees in florescent vests answered rapid-fire questions and held heavy flashlights in defensive positions, clip board shields. Next transport medium: I didn’t even know San Francisco’s muni train ever went underground.

The uniformed woman with hair extensions and long acrylic nails called me “hun” as she directed this poor lost tourist to the train, her coworker joining us in a threesome of “have a nice day” grins and well-wishing.

BART strike trip to Santa Cruz 03The guy in front of me was asleep in his Hawaiian shirt, but woke when we passed the baseball park and shuffled to the train station with me. “Sir, I’m afraid you can’t take pictures of the equipment, for security reasons” said the employee who I recognized as the nice one from my last trip’s Good Cop/Bad Cop experience. I’d already given one (mental) speech, so opted against lecturing him about the chronic and egocentric paranoia of the United States, instead going with more smiles and well-wishing.

I reached San Jose an hour and a half behind schedule, but well on my way to catching up on my This American Life and Radiolab podcasts. (David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell are geniuses. Genae.) I was already entertained, educated, and frustrated, and the best part of the day was yet to come…

Glow Fire Festival