Berkeley-student-turned-BART-agent is more than a ‘booth troll’

Meet William Cromartie, a BART station agent and former Cal student, who finds meaning through the simple act of greeting commuters.

Cromartie, 55, spends his shifts interacting with everyone that walks by his booth at MacArthur Station in Oakland. As he told filmmaker Ivan Cash, he decided to be more than a “booth troll.”

“Everyday I come to work I engage with 4,000 people,” he says a new short film about his life. “I speak to them, I say hello. I invite them in. I give them good graces going out. I fist bump. I shake hands.”

Cromartie notes with pride in the video that he attended UC Berkeley, although in an interview with Berkeley News he admitted with a laugh: “I am one of your many dropouts.”

Berkeley “is a fantastic place to avail yourself of knowledge and apply yourself, which I didn’t really do,” he said.

Still, Cromartie’s time at Berkeley (January 1984 to May 1985) was formative, he said. He took classes in film history, black history and one ill-advised, “unmanageable” science class on mushrooms.

“It was the time of the divestment movement; black power,” he said. “I cofounded a group to help youth in Oakland.”

“Berkeley taught me that it is possible to understand a bigger existence,” Cromartie said. “Every situation can be analyzed and broken into pieces so you can understand what it is, and what’s going on.”

So should Berkeleyans share a Go Bears when they see Cromartie at MacArthur station?

Connection is deeper than a shared school, Cromartie said.

“I think when I interact I am more concerned about a person’s mental state at the time, just checking in where they are at that moment,” he said. “That’s what I’m looking for.”

Contact Will Kane willkane@berkeley.edu