I'm sure Robert Frost wasn't thinking about which bus line to take -- the AC Transit 18 or 72 -- when writing his iconic poem, "The Road Not Taken." The 18 travels uphill and east, through Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto, past Chez Panisse, the original Peet's coffee, and multiple upscale student cafes. The 72 rampages over the rough asphalt on San Pablo, once the main thoroughfare of gold miners and Spanish ranchers, and now pockmarked with fast food chains, liquor stores, and street walkers.
Both bus lines are two blocks from my place, which is on the borderline between the 1 percent and the 99 percent. Both lines converge in downtown Oakland, whose slit-windowed concrete prison is the first sight one sees when approaching the city from the south. Most of the time, I'll take the 18 to downtown Berkeley BART, and then BART to downtown Oakland, although it would be faster and more direct to take the 72 to get to downtown Oakland.
The other night, as I was about to descend into the 19th St. Oakland BART station, I saw a 72 hurtling down Broadway, so I decided to get on board. The next 25 minutes took me into another world, one without a lot of smart phones, and one in which some of the passengers lacked the change to get on board. The driver let a young man whose pants looked as if they had never seen soap board for free. Another passenger, riding in front and holding two crutches, loaned the young man bus fare, unaware that the driver had quietly said he could come on for free. When yet a third passenger pointed out that the passenger didn't need the fare, an argument started between the young man and the man with crutches. A woman reeking of cigarettes and something I couldn't place sitting across from me shot a warning look at the crutches guy, and he gave up the fight.
"Keep the change," he said to the free boarder. "Giving never hurt anyone."
Like an angel dispatched to create justice in the world, the woman nodded her approval and then got off the bus.
I felt like the richest person on the bus, especially since I'd just paid $150 to attend the East Bay Innovation awards given by East Bay EDA at the Fox theater, a gilded Gatsby-like palladium, where Joe Kennedy from Pandora and some German dude from Bayer gave short acceptance speeches about the wealth of talent and innovation in the East Bay.
Once home, I felt like something was missing from this picture of the East Bay. There's the 18 and the 72, and which line one must take, to paraphrase Frost's poem, "makes all the difference."