My unexpected ride-along with a fare inspector
Photo by Flickr user frankfarm
It was late-ish. 11 p.m. Late for my getting-old ass, anyway. I was tired, having just come from a Muni Diaries editorial meeting, and needing to commute from Pac Heights back to the Mission. The NextBus marquee read 8 minutes until the next 49-Van Ness was due. Fine.
As is my custom, I staked a space just beyond the bus shelter. Tired as I was, my legs could stand to … stand a bit longer. Minutes went by, and I walked back over to the shelter to see what NextBus would prophesy. But before my head could do a wrap-around 180, one of the dudes sitting down informed me that it would be about 4 minutes. Fine.
I remained by the shelter for some reason, and that was enough to warrant some banter between the two seated dudes. It was then that I looked closer and realized that they were fare inspectors. Nice enough gents, working late. Cool stuff.
Then that thing in me that my fiancée loves to hate reared its ugly head. I can’t remember what topic I chose, but I did it: I shot the shit with these guys. Nothing big or consequential, but the talk inevitably revolved around Muni and their work, inspecting fares.
A few minutes later, as NextBus began “NextBusing” (4 minutes, 2 minutes, 7 minutes, arriving), an SFPD officer pulled up in the stop. The fare inspectors simultaneously saw the bus coming, and one of them had glommed onto me conversationally. Things were getting really interesting.
The cop parked his car all the way forward in the striped part of the bus stop and got out of his squad car casually just before the bus pulled up. I boarded first, just in front of the inspectors, who were followed by one of SF’s finest.
I took my backward-facing seat and overheard a call for show of proof of payment. We started moving, and a few minutes later, the inspector who seemed to like chatting with me slightly more than his partner found me. We shot it some more, and this was where things got really interesting.
I managed to slip in earlier in the conversation that I “help run a Muni-related website.” I think he liked that, probably more than he actually liked me. But here’s what it got me: The guy showed me two or three of his confiscated fake Fast Passes.
One was on really thin, standard copier paper. It was printed in color, but only on one side. This dummy coulda spotted that thing a mile away.
Another was on thicker-stock paper, something I’d call hella close to what SFMTA uses. It was printed on both sides, and my immediate reaction to its dramatic simulation was: “Whoa, how can you tell this one is fake?”
“Look at the magnetic stripe,” he said. And there it was, the non-shiny giveaway.
The inspectors deboarded around Market, and I’m sure I had a silly grin on my face the rest of my ride home. It was like I had been to the Muni museum, circa 2009. It was like a field trip, a ride-along. It was out-of-this-world, and to this day, one of my favorite Muni rides.
It just goes to show: sometimes small talk can yield rewards.