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I’m a huge fan of short stories. I love reading fiction, printed on old school paper. With ink. It’s one of my favorite ways to wind down at the end of the day or pass a few hours of travel. I’m certainly not alone, and now San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system is giving us bibliophiles another reason to take the train.

If you get to one of four pioneering BART stations and realize it will be a few minutes before your train arrives, you can walk up to a blue kiosk and punch one of three buttons: “1 minute,” “3 minutes,” or “5 minutes.” The machine will print a random short story–of your requested reading time–on a receipt-sized scroll. You can take it on the train with you or read it right there in the station before trying your luck again.

So what kind of stories can you expect? They may be timeless classics in the public domain. Or they may be recently written contest winners. BART actually hosts a contest for stories with a “movement” theme. Competitors may include Bay Area residents, BART employees, or even award-winning writers from around the globe. You’ll just have to visit a kiosk to find out.

Students read a short story a dispenser printed on receipt paper in a library.
Story dispenser | Short edition

Who in the world thought of an automatic story dispenser? The French. Shocking, I know: the adopted home of writers such as James Joyces, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, and Ernest Hemingway values literature.

The startup responsible for these short story dispensers is called “Short Edition.” The first one in San Francisco actually popped up in Francis Ford Coppola’s North Beach restaurant: Zoetrope Cafe. They are also popular in universities and libraries across the country (including San Jose libraries and the Fletcher Middle School in Palo Alto). But BART is the first transportation network to hop on the growing trend.

So next time you’re taking the train, aim to arrive a few minutes early and enjoy a surprise piece of literature.

Next, see how pretend driving stations are amusing children on London public transit, or see BART’s story dispensers for yourself in the video below:

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