Public Habits

Riding the bus tonight, knitting needles active, I watched the usual habits of individuals placed their Clipper card at the entrance, putting the two dollar fare in the box and retrieving a flimsy transfer, whose ninety minute limit can sometimes be longer when punched by a generous driver.

Besides drunks, women can be the big offenders in paying fare. Many race to get on, unprepared with their fare on boarding. Depending on how crowded the bus is, they plop down on the seat next to the driver, rummaging through their purse and/or their pockets for the fare, the transfer or the Clipper card, or get up, having found what they were looking for. Some occasions, I have observed an absolutely artful display of search when it is obvious the rider has no money, no transfer, no card, no intention of paying. Departing at the next stop or one or two later, perhaps the intended destination, the descent from the bus is an exit grand enough for a diva, all an episode you have to admire.

Above the driver is an enamel sign indicating no smoking, no radios, and no eating. The latter is routinely ignored by some of the neatest, clearly God-fearing citizens that inhabit San Francisco. The offenders are very careful about the type of food; snacks in a crinkly package where one hand can steal in and lift a cracker or a hard candy to the mouth with minimal effort, face a mask and eyes, frequently behind glasses, studiously with a preoccupied gaze. Ethnicity runs identification box spectrum Drivers often snack from similar packages. I once was told the usual union rules about breaks and lunch time were not observed on MUNI.

Near the driver a sign proclaims “Information Gladly Given, For Safety Please Limit Conversation.” That’s not the exact wording, but close enough. Think anyone pays attention? Not on your sweet life; sure enough, some of the most habitual transgressors are fellow bus drivers, male or female, sitting to the left the driver or standing next to one of the chromium entrance polls. Listen closely and you’ll learn snippets of assignment protocols, seniority privileges, personnel problems, union issues and more.

The hardest part for me is when someone manages to get into the bus who is vastly overweight. The numbers of such souls increase; young, middle-aged, old, walking, sometimes with a cane, frequently with a walker or in a mobile buggy. It hurts to see all that weight, however possessors manage the burden. Those walking or with canes frequently make sitting in a two-seat section impossible. Public transportation was modeled for passengers with tidy, muscular buns. At City College one afternoon I sat opposite a young man not more than twenty. He was so large that he billowed out over a three-seat area near the door.

Sometimes the trivia reaches the point where I speculate what I would do if I were a tyrant. I won’t bore you with those fantasies. You can speculate on your own.


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