There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The fare-jumper

I suppose it was just a matter of time, but it was still a huge surprise to watch an overweight woman in a pastel polyester pantsuit squeeze aboard the bus from the side door and casually take a seat without paying her fare.

The No. 38 bus was stopped at Broadway and Stockton. There were maybe a half-dozen people waiting to get on. Inside the bus, the driver was busy with offloading a gaggle of elderly people, half of whom were using walkers and the rest were pulling collapsible grocery carts. It was a slow motion geriatric pileup in the front of the bus.

At the rear of the bus, meanwhile, a stream of riders were exiting the side door. As the last rider left, a woman waiting just outside the door stepped aboard as the doors started to close. Even with the doors fully open it would have been something of a squeeze, but she had to really work to make it inside with the doors pressing in.

When I traveled to San Francisco for the Summer of Love concert back in September, I saw a lot of fare-jumping, but that was because the only way to board the overcrowded bus to the concert was to lunge aboard when someone exited. It was a lawless mess, but somehow fitting to the occasion.

The fare-jumper chatted with a lady who had boarded at the front door and paid her fair. I couldn't hear what was said. I kept waiting for the driver to come back and ask her to pay. Granted, paying $2 to travel a few blocks is a steep toll, but she could have walked. It's not like she didn't need the exercise.

The woman got off the bus at the Medical Center.

In my original draft of this blog post I described her waddle as she crossed the grass toward the Medical Center, and the way her cellulite made her butt look like a polyester wrapped sack of marbles. But the wife considers that tasteless and unkind and generally demeaning to fat people. She says I can do better.

I'm trying, but I'm not having much luck. That parting image is replaying in my mind. I can understand kids playing games, testing the boundaries. But an adult woman? Even in polyester, what would prompt such behavior, such disregard for social norms? In more than 12 months of riding the bus, I have not witnessed another fare jumper. It's unsettling. It is so not transitarian.

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