The police cruiser didn't flash its lights, but the 180 in the middle of Market Street indicated a relative sense of urgency. It cruised to a halt at Sutter Street, pulling abruptly over to the wrong side of the road.
A female Muni driver piled out of a disabled bus and hurriedly pointed back the way the officers had came. They fast-walked in that direction, their heads swiveling all the while. They returned back to the driver, with their hands on their belts. Wisps of the ensuing conversation could be heard over the morning bustle, and they were not pleasant.
Again and again the words "spit" and "nigger" caught the ear, as the driver dried her tears with a gloved hand. The police listened intensely. If they blinked even once, it was subtle. A story emerged.
Not 10 minutes before, at around 10:45, a man boarded the bus. Unlike most customers, however, he took umbrage at the notion of paying his fare. He showered the driver, Theresa, with epithets, repeatedly calling her a nigger. Afraid that she was going to receive a blow from his cane, she pulled back in her chair. Instead, however, he reared back and spat upon her.
A large wet spot was still visible on her brown Dickies pants. Outraged, Thresa said she spat back at the man; she showed officers images on her cracked iPhone of a hunched-over older man wearing a hoodie and pulling a rolling bag.
The incredible disrespect of the moment wasn't so easily dissipated. She breathed heavily and continued to dab her eyes. "You just don't do that to people. You just don't," she said several times.
The cops still didn't blink. The taller one said they'd find this man. "We'll talk to him," he said, pausing for effect. "We'll have a very friendly conversation." The other officer concurred. "We'll search him," he said. "We'll search him very thoroughly."
The officers headed back toward their car. One turned back to the driver and offered a wan grin. "We wouldn't want to do your job."
Theresa stepped back on the bus and took a deep breath. "You just don't do that to people," she said to no one in particular.
A bedraggled young woman with magenta hair leaned in the door. She'd just checked out of the hospital and was wondering if the bus was headed toward Ellis Street -- or, really, anyplace where there was a shelter she could stay at.
Thresa wasn't handling that route, and she wasn't in any condition to drive just yet. That neighborhood, as best as anyone could guess, was about a mile and a half or so up the block.
The magenta-haired woman glanced west. She wished Theresa well and took off for parts unknown.