People watching is the greatest job benefit of being a transit operator in the Bagdad-by- the-bay. Friends and family always ask about the great benefits a civil service worker must have in being a government employee. I usually mention the post office as having the best defined contribution plan or pension. But in the day-to-day flow of ants moving to and from the anthill that are the skyscrapers built on the bones of boats in the bay downtown, it isn't a column of numbers in the year-to-date tab on a paycheck that is a job perk in being a bus driver over and in the arteries flowing from the heart of San Francisco that make for daily job benefits behind the wheel. The benefit is not being stuck inside an office. It is feeling as though you are on the outside. And yet when the fog is freezing the bones, the wind is whipping through your layers, the bus is like a shelter from the elements. To comfort those at the mercy of the weather, it becomes important to stop close to the alpha dog in the queue on the sidewalk, so all can enter the bus as soon possible, without blockage at the gate.
Visitors are easy to spot as the alpha dog always holds all the transit passports in their hand for all of the group. They usually follow at the end of the queue. When a large family passes by the fare box without paying, the alpha comes up the steps at the end with the fares. Sometimes, a large group passes, and there is no alpha with no fare! To keep my ambassadorial role as a representative of the city, I don't say anything. When I do, they usually have their fare, buried in the back of their backpack. This is another example of how we fail the city. No one assumes responsibility to inform them on how to ride, where to stand, or how to validate their pass.
A fare only becomes valid once the month and the day or days are scratched off on the passport sheet which is not unlike a lottery scratcher ticket. Fortunately, the 21 Hayes is a great bus line which permits the time to teach visitors. Other arterial lines are not such. Rear door boarding is allowed and little time for conversation is allowed between the rider and the driver. Crosstown buses are best for enlightenment and understanding.
Many times the person asking the questions is in front, and the ticket holder is at the rear. I can usually tell who they are. If they are asking a question I don't understand, I ask them where they are going. If they can't answer this, I then switch over to intuitive mode and say yes and ask them to step up. When this fails, I beckon them with my hand.
When this fails, its because I have put too much expectation and hesitation in my voice, and I have to let it go. A simple nod is all I need. Then, if it turns out they are going the wrong way, there is usually a better transfer point down the line that will get them on the right bus with less confusion. I need to remember when I was new to the city and I did not know inbound from outbound because tall hills or the fog make it impossible to know which way is downtown or east v. west.
Talking to just one person, the alpha dog as Zen master, is best to keep the herd in line!