In Oakland, news helicopters began rumbling overhead by 4 a.m. Monday, assessing the mounting congestion on the tangle of freeways that feed the Bay Bridge because of the BART strike.
Manu Sidhu, a 30-year-old research associate at UC San Francisco, listened with trepidation as traffic on the overpass near her home slowed to a standstill.
Then she walked to the casual carpool pickup spot nearby and hoped for the best.
“I told myself, ‘I’m going to not stress out. I will pack a big bag of food. I have my book, I have my iPod,’” she said cheerfully, with a hint of stress.
And so it went Monday as the first strike of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in 16 years upended morning routines.
BART workers began forming picket lines early Monday after the last trains were put to bed. Union workers and BART management could not come to an agreement late Sunday. Contracts expired at midnight.
More than 5,000 city of Oakland and BART employees are expected to strike throughout the day. Service has been halted for the BART, which carries 400,000 passengers each weekday,
Overall, those passengers took the strike in stride. The parking lot near Lake Merritt that serves as one of the East Bay’s casual carpool hubs saw only slightly more volume than on a normal day, regulars said, leaving many to wonder where all the riders were.
Bernard Ayanruoh, 59, arrived in a crisp gray suit to wait for riders -- there were none for a spell. He thought there would be a mob.
“Usually there are more,” he said.
But the CPA was nevertheless prepared. Like most here, he had tracked news of the strike closely.
“I’m ready for it,” he said, estimating the drive to the city, once he loaded up two passengers, would take about 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Don Park, 44, of Oakland, figured the Fourth of July holiday was a blessing, keeping traffic down.
“It’s going to be jacked up next week,” he said as he idled in a line of cars awaiting riders.
Park was among those who spared little sympathy for BART workers, noting that they make a decent salary for the Bay Area.
“If BART said show up and you’ll be hired today I’d be there,” he said.
Matt Kinkaid, 26, of Belmont, agreed. He said he usually takes BART to Daly City and gets off at Montgomery Station. Today, he said, “I’m running into people I haven’t seen in years. Everyone was thrown off by this.”
He left an hour early, took Caltrain, and the whole commute took an added 45 minutes and cost an extra $4.
“I’m far from sympathetic,” he said of union workers. “I’ve learned quite a bit about their benefits. I’m not a fan when people pay zero into their pensions and retire at 55 while earning more money than me without going to college or grad school.”
For others, the strike was an opportunity to try something new -- the ritual of riding into the city with strangers for the first time.
Angela Skenandore, a 32-year-old graphic designer, returned to her Oakland home Sunday night from a road trip in Montana and got a late text about the strike. That meant scrambling to find a new way into San Francisco.
Skenandore arrived slightly nervous, unsure of the protocol.
“I’ve never done this before,” the slight woman with a brunette bob said as she approached a white Volkswagon Golf. Her first instinct was to get in the back seat with the other passenger -- as if the car were a taxi. But the driver told her to ride shotgun and off they went.
Wayne Phillips found another way.
At the corner of Front and Market streets at 8 a.m., Phillips ran Kinkaid, a former employee. The two old friends, who had not seen each other in a while, swapped stories of their bad commutes.
Phillips, who lives in Concord, said he normally jumps on the Pleasant Hill BART at 6:30 a.m., jumps off at the Embarcadero station and walks a block. But “today was fairly chaotic. I kept an eye on the news, I drove to Oakland to take the ferry, the line was a quarter-mile long.”
He waited in line for a while, but then realized it would take him too long to board.
“But I keep my own boat in Oakland, and I boated to South Beach Harbor and then took Muni.”
So he ended up piloting his 30-foot power boat named “Lovin’ Life.”
“It was the first time I’ve done that,” he said. “It was out of necessity. I was waiting in that line and I realized I would have gotten here at 11 a.m. I took car, boat and Muni.”
Kinkaid piped up: “The only thing he didn’t do was swim.”
And Phillips replied: “I would have telecommuted if I had to swim.”