Mon 13 Aug 2007 9:20 PM
Ever try to do the right thing? Terrible idea because the forces of fate are loathe to permit such acts of responsibility society puts forth as ideal standards. Time and time again the inclinations of would-be do-gooders result in failure, ridicule and winking, “should’ve known better” glances as the viral tales of defeat spread from amused bystanders to friends, family and co-workers.
My own life has been a steady trickle of avoiding situations which require a choice of right or wrong because the fear of retribution and the desire to act in accordance to values promulgated by church and state conspire with handshakes and bank transfers to tear me asunder. I hate the metro stops along the Embarcadero for the simple fact that they have fare boxes at either entry and standing on the platform suggests that the social contract has been signed– you have paid the entry fee and are waiting with evidence of this transaction for your civil chariot.
It may surprise you that I’m at all hesitant to pay for the bus. Okay, it doesn’t surprise the people who think of me as a pauper among misers nor the people who know of my coin jars but it might seem contrary to those who know my opinions on civic infrastructure and transportation: cities should not require the use of a car for the citizens to get to and from home and work and all points between. San Francisco has a far-reaching bus and trolly system which provides ample coverage but has never been able to manage this service in a timely, clean or safe manner. If the bus driver isn’t taking out a stop shelter or if the train isn’t dragging old Chinese women underneath then there’s a lunatic who has spent the past week marinating in their own shit yelling at their invisible friend or some kid with a gun in their backpack in the wrong part of town. All this after you waited for half an hour in the rain and get skipped by the first two busses which are packed closely followed by the third which is only going half the route.
So when you walk up to one of the Proof of Payment (POP) stops you’re subject to trying to ignore the fare cop who’s standing in your personal space shouting in a desperate attempt to raise their voice above your headphones– wearing dark sunglasses helps. But the cops are no where to be seen when you’re standing at the entry eyeing the fare boxes and so the casual observers will see only you paying for no damned reason and thinking you’re the fool for doing so. The only reason is fear of being caught but I always lost in the battle of fears and I always paced nervously around the stop near suffocation. For some reason I never had any problem smoking the whole time which is also liable for a ticket even after a maintenance worker warned me.
The odds are on your side, of course. How many fare cops can there be out there at any given time? There’s seven metro lines with any number of cars on the rails going two different directions. The underground stations are probably where most of the searches take place because tourists are easier to intimidate and not even the fare cops actually wanna ride MUNI. Hell, it’s not that long ago no one even gave a shit about the fare collection. Little kids would stare down bus drivers after running on the back door, bums would wave spent kleenex for fast passes and station attendants, if there was one, were usually too busy talking to someone to notice anyone hopping the stile. Shit, they didn’t even seem to notice anyone opening the wheelchair gate and its piercing alarm. But then they built these new stations out by State and the mall which was a joke. Except to Jay, the only person who was ever busted for fare evasion resulting in the second time he had to go to juvenile court.
Let’s get the MUNI driver, we’ll all ride free today! by Sick Pleasure
So it’s a little odd that now there’s fare cops out there is all I’m saying. I’m not aware of what political battles were fought to bring San Francisco out of the dark tunnel and into the modern mass transit era where you have to pay for shitty service and a good chance at contracting TB. But they’re out there and they’ll get in your face and they’ll take you off the bus at the stop where a squad car with a real cop is parked waiting. And no one really wants that.
And it’s been working. In 1996 or whenever they started their limited POP stops I knew of one person who was caught and, probably more singularly, allowed himself to be ticketed. Now I hear of people getting ticketed all the time. My fuckin’ mom got popped for chrissakes and had to go to court. What kinda world are we living in where my mom goes to court?
With this pressure I imagine that people are a little less inclined to duck the fare, except those who look intimidating enough to have the authorities stop their search before they reach the back of the bus and just get off instead. Try as I might I’ve not been successful in repelling authority. It seems to be, in addition to junkies and the homeless, the only thing I don’t actually repel. So on the rare occasions where I find myself in need of taking the bus it’s become a great deal for me, one of anxiety and stress and constant vigilance. Almost exclusively experienced between one end of the N Judah tunnel and the other when going to work in the rain. So far so good. Close calls have been averted only by providence– the N Judah runs two cars and the fare cops travel in packs which will not separate out of, probably, concerns of safety.
It’s not much of a life, tho, this day to day desperado. A couple weeks ago I was looking at either a long walk or a medium ride on the N and the walk didn’t seem to fit the clock as much as the train. I hemmed and hawed and paced angrily around my apartment mulling it over. I had to be somewhere at a decent hour and the smartest thing to do would be to take the train. As I was walking towards the stop my brain tried to brace itself for another cat and mouse game, my stomach tried to steel itself, my being struggled to join the Id of a fugitive. I reached the stop and saw the train coming up the hill– the time to act was now. One direction was that of the scoundrel and the other that of a responsible citizen. My mom busted and sent to court. How embarrassing. Paying for the bus. How embarrassing. Which embarrassing is more embarrassing?
There he stands, alone, forsaken, the single prospective passenger who’s enough of a tool to shell out a buck fifty for riding death incarnate. Simpleton! Fool! Coward! Pussy!
The money is in my hand and the bus slows. I can see the driver and the frail, haunched woman clutching the post nearest the front door clearly. I wait, and continue waiting as the train rolls past where I’m standing and continues to do so until the front door is partially hidden by the handicapped ramp. Uncertain, pulse pounding in my ears, I open one of the side doors and walk in, turning left and heading directly fore the back of the car while the driver watches the frail old woman throw her cane over the side of the ramp to ensure a better grip for dropping over the side. An attractive girl looks up as I pass but it’s not adoration for the dark rogue that I am greeted with. I make my way to the end of the car and stand in the doorway behind a couple aryan children on holiday while their mother eyes me shrewdly. I lean back against the wall and stare down the length, bold, waiting to be challenged. The woman has flung herself bodily over the ramp, the doors close, we begin to roll through the tunnel.
And there’s no fare cops on the far end, at least not boarding this car. I glance back to see if they’ve been riding on the back and will come back up again but see no one in official looking garb. I look down at the tourists and wonder what would fare cops do to them if they were found here without proof of payment. Would they grab the children until money if forked over? Would an international incident arise? The mother doesn’t like the attention so I direct it back at the attractive girl halfway down the car and try to enact my most roguish nonchalance possible while simultaneously trying to keep one’s balance without holding onto anything. Sparks are conspicuous in their absence. I also keep a keen eye on the sidewalk side windows with every approach to a stop, peering through the windows in search of squad cars or uniforms of any kind. Would there be fare cops in the avenues? It seems they concentrate in commercial areas like downtown and upper Haight and could give a shit about noon time riders in residential districts. My muscles relax, my breathing normalizes, my thoughts wander. For about a block.
I wonder, I wonder to myself, if the driver locks all the doors before the fare cops get on the train. It would make sense to let the civilians on and off the train and then, when you least expect it, throw the door locks and have the gestapo board. That way no one could escape. The doors all have green lights which glow when the locks are disabled. I stare at the green light. It winks off and we continue on our way.
Less than halfway to my destination we begin to enter the inner sunset, pulling up to 7th Avenue. There’s a couple people getting off, the attractive girl has seated herself in a fashion which prevents even accidental eye contact with me, the tourists are being foreign and two fare cops come on through the front door. I stare at them as they both look back down the length of the train, sizing everyone up. I glance to my right– green light. I look back down the length of the train and the cops have turned back to greet the driver. I bolt across the aisle and kick the door open, bound down the steps and take a right with my shoulders haunched wondering if they’re with a squad car. I walk for the rest of the block in complete panic expecting at any moment to hear someone yelling for me to stop, for a bleat of a black and white, for a group of Germans’ screaming bloody murder as the MUNI police hold razors to the throats of the children, taunting, “speak English yet, bitch?!?” I turn at the corner, head bowed, picking up the pace without breaking into a run. When I turn the next corner I let my shoulders drop. By the next block I’m feeling a little giddy about my escape. The dollar’s starting to get sweaty as I clutch it in my pocket. I put it back in my wallet and walk to my friend’s house.
One of my intended images makes half the text disappear.
If I was on the ball I would have that Sick Pleasure song available on MP3 for the three of you who are reading this.