Wednesday, March 2, 8:57 a.m. As soon as I come up the escalator at the 24th Street BART plaza, I feel the chill of gray skies. Three fare inspectors are ticketing riders who failed to buy Muni tickets on the 14-Mission.
“How many tickets have you given today?” I ask. “Honestly, I don’t remember,” one of them answers, and smiles.
I’m here to observe what an average morning is like at the Mission’s busiest BART station, where some 12,000 riders pass through the plaza on an average weekday.
Unlike the BART plaza at 16th, the number of families at the 24th Street plaza is staggering. Toddlers run up and down while their parents chat with others waiting for the bus. And unlike the drug dealing that goes down at the 16th Street plaza, here there’s mostly a whole lot of men hanging out, watching women, damning women or doing their damnedest to flirt with the opposite sex.
A plaza visitor can sit on one of four square concrete benches that seem to have been placed at random. I decide on a bench facing east at the corner of Mission and 24th Street. Behind me is a sign that reads “Warning, Drug Free School Zone.”
9:04 a.m. As I observe hundreds of commuters heading toward the BART stairs, an old man in his 50s says “Hello, mama!” to a woman. He winks at the woman, who looks confused but smiles and waves as she goes down the stairs to the trains.
9:10 a.m. Clouds cover the sun and it starts to drizzle. The concrete bench is uncomfortably wet, and no one sits or stays around the plaza.
9:12 a.m. I see an old man with a gray beard and a patriotic-colored cap holding a piece of bread and a cup of coffee. He slowly walks toward the street, colorful purple and gold beads hanging from his neck.
9:26 a.m. A man pushes a Safeway cart full of belongings. A stuffed green alligator the size of a toddler sits on top of the cart. The man walks around the plaza pushing his cart as if he’s looking for someone. He has a sad look on his face.
9:31 a.m. ”Brrrrr,” is the sound coming from a bearded old man wearing a military jacket as he walks near a young woman. The woman, however, doesn’t realize the sound is meant for her. The man then stands outside Pizza Di Mano, in between a Panaderia and Cafe Valencia.
9:35 a.m. “Sospechoso, cara de pinga!” or “Suspicious dickface!” yells a middle-aged man with a Cuban accent to the man with the shopping cart, who is now sitting on a concrete bench. The man with the Cuban accent sits down beside him.
“You look beaten up,” he says.
“F*% that whore,” the owner of the stuffed alligator replies.
“Don’t be so down; now you can have Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese, my man.”
The man continues his effort to console the alligator owner. “Look at that one! Hay, hay, hay, hay, hay, I can’t believe that,” he says as they look at a young woman walking by.
“I am going to eat that just like Scarface did in Miami,” the man says, referring to the woman, and they both walk away west on 24th Street.
9:48 a.m. The old man with the military jacket still stands and stares at the people inside Pizza di Nano, Cafe Valencia and Panaderia la mejor, but now he holds a slice of pizza and a coffee from diners leaving the food parlors and who passed by given him their leftovers.
9:53 a.m. The man with the shopping cart returns to the concrete bench without the alligator, but with a fashion magazine that he carefully puts on the concrete bench to sit on so that he doesn’t get wet.
“Why should I bother to be responsible for that whore, to hell with her,” he says in Spanish to people who pass by.
The plaza denizens either ignore him or say, “No hablo español.”
“Payasos,” or “clowns,” he says to those who don’t engage him in conversation.
10:16 a.m. “Hey baby, hey baby, hey baby look at me baby!” a man in his 50s with a white baseball cap says to a woman.
“Burn!” his friends tell him when the woman fails to look at him.
“She doesn’t know what she is missing,” the man replies, laughing.
10:20 a.m. A man wearing a black leather trench coat walks east on 24th Street toward Mission. “Hello beautiful, how ya doing?” he asks.
The lady walks away.
10:42 a.m. I notice a group of men gathering across the street wearing orange reflective vests. I also notice there is a sign that reads “Canada.” Last time I checked, Canada was still a few miles north. Moreover, under the Canada sign there is another sign that says, “All activities on this location may be recorded.” I wonder if I could request the tapes for my story.
11:05 a.m. A man wearing a black hat sits on a concrete terrace at the southwestern end of 24th and Mission. He rolls a cigarette and lights it up right below the sign reading “Drug Free School Zone, criminal penalties severely increased.” As soon as the smoke hits my nose I realize it’s not a cigarette.
11:15 a.m. The old man in the military jacket is still outside Pizza di Nano, with more pizza now that the pizzeria opens to the public. He also holds a cup of coffee. A group of men next to him chat about women and how pretty they are. During the conversation a young woman walks by, and the five men pause and turn their heads toward her as she walks to BART.
“M, m, m, m, m,” they all seem to agree.
11:26 a.m. The men wearing the reflective vests start picking up trash all around Mission and 24th streets. They’re with the Department of Public Works, doing community service.
One of the men trips on the street and falls.
“Don’t smoke that thing anymore,” the man in charge yells at him.
“OK,” the man replies as he stands up.
11:45 a.m. As soon as the DPW manager leaves, three of the workers cross the street, brooms and plastic bags in hand, and go into McDonalds.
It’s the end of my time here, so I follow them inside to ask why they are doing community service.
“Cause we’ve been sentenced to, man.”