I boarded the train in the middle of a ticket inspection – an ex military styled team of 4 men and 2 women, clad in black uniforms, metal badges and a chill of authority. As an Undercover Watcher of Authority, I’m always looking out for the little guy, (whoever they are) so I scanned the carriage for possible underdogs. One hardened junkie swigging from a jumbo plastic ‘coffee’ cup & one teenaged girl (concession cards are always problematic) – UWA agent reporting for duty.
The man staggers towards the 2 women who were checking our section – he clearly lived outside of general social structure but even through inebriation (& most likely no fixed address to send the fine to) he went through the motions of excusing why he was travelling without a ticket.
One of the officers engaged with him very kindly even going as far as working through the reasons why he ‘couldn’t get the machine to work’. Bless.
The teenager was next & didn’t have her concession card but instead of doing their usual wide-stance-shuffle as they settle in to issue a fine, they talked her through it as well and again, no penalty & no aggression.
I folded my cape & popped it back into my bag, pleased that there was no need for it today.
Fast forward 2 weeks and I wait for the same carriage to pull up at the same train station (it’s the one that drops me right to the exit at Flinders St station). The doors open and who should be there but exactly the same two ticket inspectors who were generous to the man & teenager. I smiled broadly at both of them as I stepped onto the train, greeting them like long lost friends, “Hello there!” I look lovingly at them as they prepare for stage one of their terrorist training.
Suspicion is understandable – what kind of jerk is happy to see metro rail soldiers?
As I started explaining the story of two weeks ago to Number 1, marvelling at the coincidence, Number 2 did that thing that law enforcement does – let’s call it ‘crowding the perp’. She moved close to me to defend her friend but I kept plodding along, telling my story of how lovely they were to the 2 ticketless passengers.
It wasn’t until Number 1 relaxed that Number 2 rested her hand. Phew.
There should be a name for those moments between trying to establish a connection and being understood – does it already? It’s an equivalent to aquaplaning where your conversational tyres aren’t gripping the road & you just coast along, trying to get traction.
Encounter Two happened for a reason – maybe it was a chance for me to tell them that I noticed the choice they’d made to issue kindness instead of fines. Public transport is a rare melting pot of one of the most diverse crowds I can think of and a visit from the transit police always blasts a nervous shot of cold air through the carriage. As Frank Herbert wrote, “Power attracts the corruptible. Suspect any who seek it” so it’s just as important to praise good behaviour as to call out the bad. It’s helpful to let authority know that someone’s always watching them.
Original story, written by Victoria Mason.