Untitled non fiction WIP
His experience at the graduation didn't negate the trauma he'd experienced months before. The death weighed on him, it changed him. His once proactive policework became reactive, as he initiated increasingly fewer contacts and waiting instead to be dispatched to calls. He had seen officers like this all his career. They were dubbed "Retired On Duty". Something he swore he wouldn't become. Grizzled veteran officers who had reached their limit of adrenaline chasing would be completely inactive on shift unless and until dispatched to a call, exerting minimal effort in all things. He didn't want to be a ROD, but he was on his way. It was time to concede that his law enforcement career was coming to a close.
Colleagues were leaving the Sheriff's Department to work for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District Police Department. A respected sergeant had left. A close friend was in an officer involved shooting, and for him that trauma was impetus to leave for quieter pastures. This friend encouraged him to do the same. BART paid very well and had excellent fringe benefits. There would be no more calls to domestic violence scenes at a home where anything could be going on behind closed doors. Never again would he conduct a welfare check wherein the subject in question had been dead in their home for days. No more calls to gang besieged neighborhoods. This would be easy money. Walk through clean stations, watch for fare evaders, ride the trains a few times a shift for high visibility.
He was intrigued. He checked the BART website.
"The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) is a heavy-rail public transit system that connects the San Francisco Peninsula withÂ communitiesÂ inÂ the East Bay and South Bay. BART service currently extends as far as Millbrae, Richmond, Antioch, Dublin/Pleasanton, and Berryessa/North San Jos BART operates in five counties (San Francisco, San Mateo,Â Alameda,Â Contra Costa, and Santa Clara)Â with 131 miles of track and 50 stations, carrying approximately 405,000 trips on an average.Â
"For more than 45 years BART has provided fast, reliable transportation to downtown offices, shopping centers, tourist attractions, entertainment venues, universities and other destinations for Bay Area residents and visitors alike."
The first inkling that this was not the beginning of the end, but the actual end of his career as a Law Enforcement Officer was the realization that, because it was a transit authority, BART police are transit police rather than a traditional police officer. This is what freed him from going into homes, patrolling the streets at large, responding to any and every transgression of the law. As a transit officer, his purview began and ended in the transit system. During his initial probation period, he could only bid for specific stations. Once this period passed, he would be able to bid for the station and shift of his choice. What could be better? There were dozens of stations to choose from in quiet areas with varying levels of traffic. Some would allow him to spend much of his shift in a quiet office. One offered a shopping mall. He could work the rest of his days until retirement in relative leisure.
He tested and was hired at BART, and the kids and I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe I would never again get the call "I may be late". Maybe I could stop ringing my hands when I didn't get that call two hours and one minute after his shift ended. Maybe I would never again get the call "First of all, I'm fine...". (As luck would have it, the sociopolitical climate set an us vs them dichotomy not seen between law enforcement and civilians since the fever pitch era of the civil rights movement, and I had constant nightmares wherein an angry mob filled an entire BART station set to kill him.)
His training period required him to work several stations to familiarize himself with the system. The stations for new hires were the most difficult to staff due to their low desirability. To mitigate this, they offered bidders with offering better hours and days off. The most difficult to staff were the San Francisco stations. This was in part due to the mentally ill, the homeless, and the addicted who roamed the underground stations in search of a quiet, out of the way place to eek out a square of pavement out of the elements. Unsurprisingly, crime was also high, as were commuter complaints.
It was all foot patrol, like the 20th century New York City cops walking their beats. Unlike the flatfoots, however, He spent twelve and a half hour shifts with twenty-five pounds of gear strapped to him as he navigated corridors peppered with blind spots and long stairwells that egressed to the streets above. In contrast to traditional policing, the transit system work was more focused, yet exposed him to a broader spectrum of cultures and lifestyles.
As result, shattered lives were on display like the dioramas he once loved in the Museum of Natural History. Transit hallways were the anthropology section, displaying the different states of homeless people in the 21st century, frozen in time. A still image of any hallway, or stair was an anachronism stilled, revealing the condition at large of the society in which they lived their nomadic existence. When the streets above became overwhelming, they trickled into the vast BART system.
He saw this initially in the San Francisco Station where dozens of bodies in all shapes, sizes, and conditions were strewn about on the marble floors. The stench of sweat and detritus was thick and heavy. It was an underground wasteland of the human condition populated by characters from many walks of life. He walked the hallways mildly curious about from where they came. What could have been so bad that a filthy train station floor was an acceptable alternative to whatever they left behind? Were there common themes to their stories? He knew there must have been significant crisis for them to have willingly chosen this lifestyle. Perhaps they weren't willing. It clashed with the Protestant work ethic that was hardwired into him. He was shocked by this gritty world in which he found him suddenly immersed. He had spent time in New York City in his youth, and never been exposed to this level of hardship and despair. That it was an accepted part of the ecosystem of the city distressed him. There was trash on the floors and bodies everywhere. Some clear-headed recuperating, some lounging, stoned, dying, and occasionally dead. He had seen the same theme in the inner-city gang neighborhoods. He had seen it in the jails. And now he saw it in the halls of a major metropolis. The human mind can become accustomed to the most horrific environments.
He was walking law and order with no idea where to begin. Once he got started he quickly realized that getting started was the most confusing part of the work. He walked the same corridors, day in and day out.
He met the schizophrenic nuclear engineer eating out of trash cans, clipping the fuzz off the edges of bills, sewing the same piece of clothing over and over. Wearing a fedora and blazer, this man resembled a tenured professor who had wandered far from his university office, his obsessive-compulsive behaviors were a film loop. Occasional mutterings, venting about some scientific or philosophical principle in an argument with an unseen opponent only punctuated this.
The forgotten African orphan who lived in the station called the officers his friend. His mind was slipping in some subtle, sophisticated way that enabled him to present appropriately in casual contacts, but once one spent any amount of time with him, it was clear that something was off. He had come from a beautiful home and adopted African family who loved him. He was a gifted soccer player, a good student. Then, unexpectedly, he walked away from stability into chaos, homelessness, and addiction. He would ingest whatever he could, self-medicating for some undiagnosed ailment.
The haunting voice, classically trained to project across vast auditorium spaces, reverberated with a professional quality few can naturally achieve. This voice carried in ghostly baritone tendrils across the halls. Like a siren of the land, he called to travelers imploring "feel my sadness, my loss, come to me." So stunned by his voice were some commuters that they would momentarily freeze to determine if that beauty was actually coming from the hunched figure crammed into a walker, a microphone cord snaking from his form to a small speaker. Occasionally there would be the quiet applause of a single listener, followed by the clink of coins landing in his cup. Other times they would break their gaze as if they found themselves hypnotized by the beauty, temporarily distracted from whatever more pressing business they had. The classically trained singer had once fetched top dollar for his operatic concerts, now performing for free in the obscure underground of a San Francisco BART station.
He learned the nuances of BART station real estate over time the same way one might look at a complicated painting full of detailed images and over time suddenly see something never previously noticed: a line, a color, a small image. In the stations he had to be observant. It was dirty and dingy and anything that lay about for a day or more developed a visible layer of black soot. He was told it was brake dust, a byproduct of the train braking system, that consisted of walnut shells. True or not, he didn't believe it. It amazed him to watch how it got everywhere. He found it in closed rooms and abandoned booths, smothering anything left out for too long.
He conducted sweeps in the train stations the way he had done cell checks in the jail modules. He made routine rounds to check on the welfare of the people inhabiting the system, and the facility itself for signs of damage or danger. This had the added benefit of avoiding unwanted administration scrutiny or supervisor attention. A built-in alarm clock developed quickly, "Crap, we better go do a sweep before Sarge gets cranky. I'll finish this report later."
Over time he became experienced with the finer details of nooks and crannies throughout his station. This was essential because of the types of mentally ill people who wandered into the system, sometimes looking for temporary reprieve, sometimes permanent refuge from the outside world. They crawled into walled ducts, burrowed into paneled ceilings, broke into secured hidden rooms that only those with detailed knowledge of the sprawling underground areas housing conduits and emergency escape sections knew about. A call from a group of engineers who had accessed a rarely used closed section and found a live transient was not uncommon. For even the most seasoned officers, not knowing where these areas were was common. There were small, secured corridors bisecting the two opposing train tunnels, power control rooms, and rooms that you had no idea what their purpose might be, much less why they were placed deep in the bowels of system. "Anybody know where control room A-26 is at?" The officers didn't have maps. They didn't even know if there were current maps. Verbal directions from dispatch was the best course to find hidden areas.
As he walked the stations conducting a sweep he was in a three dimensional maze searching for the smallest asymmetrical lump. It could be a person, random items, or both. The arbitrary nature of these easter egg hunts was so bizarre he began collecting images of odd finds: a paper bag with mannequin heads, a suitcase full of spilled gels and liquids, an electronic device with strings and wires sticking out and tied together like a small child's art project.
When he discovered a person, it always amazed him how small a person could make themselves appear, how contorted they could get when secreted into spaces not designed to contain a living body. It was an ability enhanced by narcotics that can make the muscles and tendons incredibly flaccid and flexible. They were immune to any signals from the body indicating pain or damage. Another byproduct of the dissociated mind.
He used geographical signs to recognize the benign from malevolent objects that could injure or kill. For this reason, all objects were examined. Sometimes He'd find objects that resembled Improvised Explosive Devices. It was common for an object to be reported to dispatch as suspicious without much detail given. A night of busy hands during a methamphetamine high routinely created something that in sobriety even the architecht couldn't explain. All memory of their effort was left behind as their mind rambled on with discombobulated thoughts. In their wake they left meth induced detritus for employees to find.