Lost and Found
It takes a certain earnestness to make a commitment to read a book of essays by a bus driver, this exposition being no exception. What am I saying? Thanks for reading! The journey to publish a book has shown me who the avid readers are, the state of the brick and mortar book store, and the online mega monster that is as large as a subtropical river delta in South America: Amazon! It has also brought me back to the door-to-door sales mentality as a young scout. Carrying around my newly published book for sale is not unlike the cold call of door knocking and selling tickets to a movie as a boy scout raising money for new tents for our troop. The interplay of selling self to another, in a compressed time frame, is truly a Gemini trait that ranges through almost every emotion and sense of self-esteem and self worth.
The number one question on people’s mind when they find out I am a Muni bus driver, is, What is the craziest thing that happened to you on the bus? And I tell them about the spread eagle Folsom fair goer in nothing but chaps, jumping on to the front of the bus, holding on to the windshield wipers and bike rack, baring all to the riders and those at the stop: Or being offered a loaded crack pipe in the inner mission, placed on the fare box, with lighter, as fare payment. Hmm, do tell. I understand the mission statement of Balboa Press, which is to be a nature-friendly new age publisher. Does a publisher in Bloomington, Indiana desire to publish everything that goes on inside a Muni bus, especially at the back seat? The addition of cameras on all buses has been a mixed bag. And so goes the range of emotion in promoting myself, and editing for interest and genre category. I guess this is a good time to state, “The views contained herein do not necessarily reflect those of the SFMTA or its’ employees!”
The first book, “Finding Zen” has a preface from me. This sequel, “Keeping Zen,” has an epilogue, an update on attitudes about our transit future. I also wanted a chapter that had an air of finality to it, such as with, “When Worlds Collide,” in book one. The idea came to me at Sacramento and Fillmore on the 22 line: Lost and Found! I had lost this idea in my head because I didn’t write it down when it came to me. Fortunately, I got the idea back upon awakening. I had “found” the idea again! Indeed, the items found on a bus were as diverse as the riders, and the thoughts and emotions about such seemed worthy as a chapter with the human interest angle. If you want to start an interesting conversation with a Muni bus driver, ask them about their most interesting lost and found story!
So back to the Fillmore on the 22.
I had returned a Mac Book Pro to a woman who had left it on the bus. This was at Jackson, an affluent neighborhood where the bus is relatively empty. She had been on the phone, and was distracted by the attention given to the caller. She forgot the fact that she had her computer with her. A passenger alerted me to the laptop, left on a seat at the back of the bus by the rear door. I immediately called on the radio, stating my run, line and coach number. Operations Central Control (OCC) would be able to locate my bus, should the rider call 3-1-1 about leaving an item on board. I never describe the item in full, on the air, so that only the owner would be able to identify the item when Central calls me back. But the call back never came. I put the computer in my bag for safe keeping and out of sight. Having a laptop on the dash certainly would not do.
When I pulled-in I talked to the dispatcher about what to do–the laptop’s owner’s phone numbers were on a business card that was inside the sleeve of the computer’s cover. We called both numbers but got no answer. When we have an item for lost and found, we are to tag the item with our cap number, coach number, and line in which we found the item. We leave the item to be picked up the next day by the mail room and to have it sent to the main Lost and Found department at S. Van Ness and Market.
The dispatcher was hesitant to leave the computer on the console by the other lost and found items overnight, and said I could return the item to her as I lived close by. This was a rare event in my employ in that I was being trusted to do the right thing. I returned the laptop to her that next evening, at my front door in the building where I live. Returning an item to it’s owner is fun: I love the look on your face when you are reunited with your cell phone, computer, or billfold.
Not so for the dispatcher once the superintendent found out what happened. Many times a call for thanks for an above and beyond action carries discipline, not commendation. By describing my action to return the laptop, off-property, as a commendation from the woman, the dispatcher was disciplined by our boss for not following protocol. I never saw him at the desk again. I must follow the wisdom that the rules have for my own protection, and protection of the railway.
Most of my actions of knighthood and chivalry seem not to be welcome in this age of Tina Turner’s verse captured in Beyond Thunderdome. The lyric rings true as a bus driver in San Francisco: We don’t need another hero! Even so, I relish the challenge a found item can have.
Another example: A loaded wallet is in the gutter in front of me as I pull up on Mission at Third. A back and forth homeless rider, on the sidewalk, spots the wallet in the gutter seconds after I do. But as I am closer to the wallet, I pop the brake and snatch it seconds before she gets to it. And it is here that I am confronted with my own prejudice and fear revolving around lost and found.
Who am I to say that the homeless woman on the street is no more or less a help to return the wallet to the owner than I am? Her desire for a reward for doing the right thing is no more or less valuable or assured than with my wish, even if that be the case. Or why am I so prepossessed to assume she would follow the Law of the Sea better than I? This Law being: Finders keepers. Losers weepers. Which many believe to be, the cash is mine, a sort of finder’s fee, and be thankful you got your license and credit cards back.
In this instance, her license showed an address very close to the line and easy to ride by on my way home. I stayed off the air about it and gave the wallet to the doorman in her building after I pulled-in. She had already alerted the doorman about the wallet, but didn’t know when she lost it.
The curb by the back door is another common collection point for lost belongings, but, technically, is not on railway property. This gets in to the issue of what constitutes a bus stop, and the zone considered our responsibility as a driver. Anything within four feet of the bus zone is part of our responsibility, such as with intending passengers and the determination of pass-up.
This gets to the core of why I love this job. I am confronted about my own beliefs and values by the diverse sedimentation of deposits laying all around me at a bus stop! Is the dispatcher’s fear of leaving the laptop in the office any different than the fear I have that a wallet and the cash inside will disappear before or after the mail room employee comes to pick it up? Can the trust of Lost and Found or another employee be higher or lower than a person on the street? The opening of the heart reveals so much more.
One sweet grandma had left the entire contents of her wallet with coin purse on the bus with about six paper dollars and heavy change. I described the item as soon as I found it on the seat where she had been sitting across from me at the next stop, when I called Central. She was waiting for me back on the other side when I came back outbound.
“I am sorry I can’t give you anything for returning this.” she said in a gentle voice. “Oh but you have.” I responded without hesitation. The feeling of reward without monetary consideration is such a rare wonderful feeling. True abundance may be found without counting money. Once I start figuring on the dollar amount of where finders keepers becomes the reward theory, I am already in trouble. Trouble with karma, trouble with dharma. I also question my belief as to why a wallet loaded with twenties is “less valuable” as a return item than a coin purse full of nickels and pennies. The thought that some young tech professional does not need her twenties, but a senior’s pennies from heaven do, is a value judgement full of lessons and experience that may or may not be true.
It gets back to the difference between the second and third grade. Second graders want what they want and they want it now! Third graders realize that listening and believing the first thought that pops into our head may not be good, or have a good outcome. All of us need be taught that the first thought that comes in to our mind should not necessarily be acted upon. This becomes no more evident in the dialogue of a crack addict or meth head on the bus mumbling or shouting in the seat behind me! When impulse becomes primary, the circuit breaker of thinking about our thinking gets lost, or turned-off. This results in bad decision-making! God bless the angels that come our way on the bus!
The number one big ticket tech item lost are cell phones. Smart phones are left when the passenger falls asleep. Most of us are so connected to our smart phone, such that the likelihood of leaving it has actually diminished from the text and talk clamshell flip phone of an earlier generation. Older cells are easily returnable because they are unlocked.
I can wait for a call to come in, pop the brake, step off the coach, and give the bus number and location of my coach, so their friend can meet and intercept. Usually, the owner is with the friend, as they are asking them to call their phone to see if someone answers. I love returning this item because it frees me up from making a lost and found tag when I pull-in. I can’t get in trouble for not following protocol.
Other times, a savvy rider realizes the item was on the bus, and they wait in the following direction to scan for me and the item on the seat. Either they find the item where they left it, or I hold the item in my hand as I approach the stop. The look of relief on their face is worth at least two or three profane disruptions that may also occur that day. Though it is interesting to note that the quality of the day is based on the energy I am putting out, good deeds and disruptions have a difficult time in happening close together, or side by side, if you will. By keeping the Zen, I may be keeping the problems at bay. In this case, somewhere near pier 90!