As Mike Jones cleans, he’s on the hunt. He scans the dimly lit 24th Street Mission BART Station for any type of item, really, in the hope of gifting it to someone else who might be able to use it: a long forgotten coat, or a jacket left behind by a hurried passenger.
Once, he said, he found a forlorn stack of children’s books on the platform, which he gave to a commuter that has kids. He’s handed off gloves or a spare jacket to nearby unhoused folks. Sometimes, frequent riders simply tap him for advice. One, for example, wanted to know about applying for an ID, which would unlock a slew of other social services.
As he talks to a Mission Local reporter, an unhoused gentleman dressed in a red hoodie and sunglasses approaches Jones on the southwest 24th Street plaza and asks about a stray radio he heard that Jones had found and was saving for him. Jones smiles and tells him he’ll let him have the radio when the interview finishes, and the man lingers patiently nearby.
Jones, a towering six-foot-six-inch man originally from Alabama, pauses for a second to watch the squawking gulls above, and takes in the sunshine lighting up the murals on the surrounding buildings. The commotion is why he loves the Mission. “It’s a vibrant atmosphere,” he says grinning.
He joined BART four years ago as a maintenance employee, officially titled System Service. Already, he recognizes the regular riders. Not necessarily “names, but faces,” Jones said.
Before his bout in the Bay, Jones lived in Los Angeles and worked security for some of the most glitzy and high-end nightclubs and parties in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, he said. The job barely paid the bills, but the revolving door of new faces and celebrity meet-and-greets kept him satisfied. How often can one say that they’ve met Oprah and Ted Danson? Jones even once bumped into former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Most people he met told Jones they found his Southern accent “relaxing, like a bed of flowers,” he chuckled.
Few moments left him as starstruck as the time he met Janet Jackson. Jones said he shook the pop icon’s hand around the year her ultra-famous brother died. “I looked her straight in the eye and told her, ‘I’m never washing my hand again,’” Jones said dreamily.
He had lived around Los Angeles since he was 19, and about four years ago he decided it might be time for a change of pace. About eight years ago he visited San Francisco for the first time and he was especially astounded by BART, since LA’s public transit system relies mostly on a fleet of buses.
He thought he might like to work there, and thus the seed was planted. He scanned the site for job openings, and eventually came across the maintenance position. When he saw it paid much better than his security gigs, it sealed the deal and he applied. Shortly after, he moved to Alameda, where he currently lives. (Yes, he takes the BART to work every day.)
Jones said he also took the job to explore the Bay Area. He still has a lot left to see and a lot of restaurants to try, and considers himself a man constantly in transit.
Even as a Bay Area transplant, he often drives back to Southern California in his spare time to visit his old haunts, and works security at award shows at least once a year. (2020 was the only year without the gig, thanks to Covid-19, he said).
When asked if he would switch stations, Jones shrugs. He wouldn’t mind it, but he has a soft spot for the Mission.
“I’d like it over here if I can remain,” Jones said. “Anything can happen here.”
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