Operators on Left in New Brown and Maroon Uniform Next to Operator on Right in Old Blue Uniform with Trolley Coach at Presidio Yard | April 23, 1968

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Free Ride
by Vince Gotera

As a kid in San Francisco, waiting for a bus,
in morning fog, to go to school, I would see
the 6 Masonic appear magically out of what
was essentially a deep, soft cloud resting

on the earth. The bus would shoulder its way
through thick mist like a green and yellow
Triceratops, the loud hiss of its air brakes,
a breathy sound, punctuating its slow approach.

The slight ozone scent of the trolleys arcing
above would counterpoint the salty taste
of the cool air, wafting through the city
from Ocean Beach, from the Pacific.

Getting on the bus, I’d hold out the student
Muni cardboard punch card, and the driver,
big beard like a black Santa, rather than
punching out one of the 10 rides, would click

the air above my hand and card: a free trip.
He smiled huge every morning, glad to be
giving a schoolboy a boost. I bet that man
is wrangling a Muni bus up in heaven today!

PHOTOS: Top — Bus operator with trolley coach at Presidio Yard, San Francisco, April 23, 1968, SFMTA photo archive, used by permission. Bottom — A student punch card from the San Francisco Muni. Shot by Ronald Reiss, from the webpage “Transfers Tell Stories of Muni History,” Muni Diaries, June 4, 2012. 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The poem is not about an essential worker during our quarantine time but rather an essential worker from my childhood. I used to see this bus driver every day and he was the essence of generosity in my young mind.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Vince Gotera is a Professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa, where he served as Editor of the North American Review (2000-2016). He was also Editor of Star*Line, the print journal of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (2017-2020). His poetry collections include Dragonfly, Ghost Wars, Fighting Kite, The Coolest Month, and the upcoming Pacific Crossing. Recent poems appeared in the journals Abyss & Apex, Altered Reality Magazine, Crab Orchard Review, Dreams & Nightmares, Ekphrastic Review, Philippines Graphic (Philippines), Rosebud, Stone Canoe, and the anthologies Multiverse (UK) and Hay(na)ku 15. He blogs at The Man with the Blue Guitar.