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How to Cheat the System (short story) by Garen J. Torikian 


The most important thing you can do is not show your ticket. Bus drivers do not usually check very carefully what you are holding, and legitimate riders do not usually worry about showing proof of payment. Drivers only check when they feel you are trying too hard. If they ask for a ticket, insist that you already paid for a transfer earlier and just cannot find it. Pat yourself all over to demonstrate your point. By the time your demonstration finishes, the driver, probably late, will have already resumed the route.

The two major transit systems in San Francisco are BART and Muni. They expand to Bay Area Rapid Transit and San Francisco Municipal Railway. No one calls them by these terms. If you do, you will instantly be indentified as a tourist. This can be used to your advantage. Play dumb. Maintain the charade. Ask for directions to Ocean Beach on a bus line in North Beach. Use a discarded tourist pass on incorrect days. Hand over insufficient change or an unusable ticket, shrug your shoulders timidly, and admit, "This is all I got."

The mightiest of all the rail lines is the N-Judah. Since it travels above ground for most of its journey, you can often enter the last train car at any stop with an expired ticket and ride it all the way to the stadium. A valid transfer lasts only ninety minutes, but it takes two-and-a-a-half hours to cross the city, breakers to bay. Should any fare inspectors board you can always explain that you got on at the Aves, and your ticket became invalidated by the time you hit Duboce Park. They will understand. A good inspector will sympathize; a bad one will become agitated. But they cannot do anything about it.

You can board a great deal of buses, when and if they appear, by sneaking in through the back door. Try to do this with a large group of people no one likes to notice, like laborers, janitors, or garbage collectors. Good routes to attempt this on are the 22-Fillmore, the 38-Geary, the 5-Fulton, or the 14-Mission. Do this only at key transfer points. If you attempt to get on without paying at a smaller intersection, you will be thrown off. This might be to your advantage, because it is healthier to walk than take the bus.

Forget the trolleys, they do not go anywhere. Forget Caltrain, it is irrelevant. Forget Clipper, if it ever works properly. Forget the J-Church, because only one car comes every forty minutes.

BART is nearly impossible to ride for free, but you can ride for cheap. Buy a youth pass (green) or a senior pass (red) instead of the regular pass (blue). Each has a 75% discount over the original fare price. There are gates at each station that take your pass, subtract the station cost from your pass, and return the pass back. Feed your ticket into the machine with your hand covering the entire pass. Hide it completely, so that no one can identify the color. When the gate opens, retrieve the ticket quickly, again covering the entire pass with your hand. You only have to do this twice. Do not be frightened by the station agent in the booth. The closed-circuit televisions there are highly saturated and do not perceive color very well. If you exit at West Oakland, MacArthur, or Richmond, quickly run outside when you exit the train, because there are usually two station agents ready to nab violators.

You can hop the barriers in the underground Muni stations. You can enter through the handicap exit when the floor is empty. None of the emergency exit doors have functional alarms. However, if you attempt these maneuvers you have to be sure that your train is arriving immediately. If a fare inspector asks to see your ticket, do not admit you do not have one. When he asks to see your identification, tell him you do not have any. He will threaten you and claim he saw you reach for your wallet. You were not. Do not tell him your taxes pay his wages, because you do not pay taxes, either. Tell him you do not want any trouble, and that you just want to leave. He will tell you there are cops waiting just outside the station. Tell him you just moved to the city, and do not even have enough money for food. Start walking away. He will get on his walkie-talkie and declare to whoever is on the other end that a suspect is leaving from the northwest exit. As he describes your appearance, ignore the stares of other riders on the platform. Run up the broken escalator to emerge into the icy winds of the Civic Center. While heading home, nervously turn around every few blocks to make sure no police are following you. At home, if none of your four roommates are there, eat someone's crackers and the celery you find in the fridge, and go to bed hungry in a city whose cost of living you underestimated. Never admit this to anyone.


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Bio: Garen J. Torikian is a writer who currently lives in San Francisco. He has previously been published in Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal and The Journal of Aesthetic Education. He is assembling his first short story collection, Amour and Glamor.


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