A while back I got caught in a thunderstorm, I ran down into the nearest subway station and figured I’d just call it a day, head home. But it was bad luck, poor placement and worse timing, I was something like twenty-three cents short for a single ride, and the only two Metrocard machines in the station had the same big handwritten signs taped to the front, “cash only.”
I didn’t have any cash and, since I was relatively dry, I couldn’t imagine taking my chances outside, running the five or six blocks for the next station. The downpour had driven in a steady stream of likeminded people, and so I figured, I don’t have a choice, I’m going to have to ask somebody for a swipe.
I mean, I’m not one to beg for change, but it’s not like I didn’t have the money, I had it, it was just somewhere else, not in my pocket. And besides, I’ve seen people ask for swipes before, I’ve even given them out. Wasn’t it about time that I cashed in on some very minor subterranean cosmic karma?
“Excuse me,” I stood by the turnstile and started addressing the line, not anybody in particular, but just kind of directly ahead, “I’m stuck, the machine’s not working, can anybody give me a swipe?”
And whatever, I wasn’t expecting everyone in the city to just stop what they were doing to give me their attention, but I was kind of hoping that maybe one person might, maybe one or two, and like right away, like come on, I’m stuck here, you can’t help somebody else get on the train?
But nobody, I asked one time, and nobody even so much as looked. So I got all self-conscious, like do I ask again? Do I say the same exact thing? Or should I let the line advance a little more so I’m not repeating the same questions to the same people? I fell into a pattern, it was like every twenty-five seconds or so, I’d ask another five to ten people, and my requests got shorter, “Excuse me? Do you have an extra swipe?”
The best that I got was some lady who at least acknowledged my problem, she looked at me, not really sympathetically, and she said, “It’s unlimited,” referring to her Metrocard, “They’re all unlimited.” And yeah, I hadn’t thought about that, those unlimited cards make it impossible to swipe more than once in something like a fifteen-minute period. But come on, somebody had to have a regular card, I always kept a regular card, someone had to have a swipe.
But just as I was getting ready to ask the fifth or sixth group of people, I heard a man’s voice right behind me, “You!” he said. I turned around, it was a cop, he was pointing at me. “I’m sorry, do you have me confused with someone else?” and he continued, “Oh no, no, no, it’s you all right, you think I wouldn’t forget? That you’d get away with it?”
And I seriously had no idea what he was talking about, but he started getting closer, “Two summers ago, you hopped the turnstile, you thought you got away,” and I totally remembered. This was impossible. Two summers ago, yes, I was out for a long run, when out of nowhere the sky turned pitch black and started pouring. Look, I’m fine with running in a little rain, even a downpour, it’s like, what am I going to do? I’m already soaked from sweat, there’s no sense in stopping now.
But this storm, there was loud thunder, I saw a building two blocks in front of me take a direct hit from a bolt of lightning. That crack, that deafening thoom that I felt vibrate throughout my entire body, yeah, I guess I got a little spooked. I sprinted toward the nearest subway station.
When I got inside, I had no money, I didn’t have anything on me except for my keys, but I was all hopped up on adrenaline, there was a massive throng of bodies all trying to escape mother nature, and so, I wasn’t even thinking, I just acted, I kept running and I jumped right over the turnstile. It was much easier than I expected, but no sooner had I made it to the other side, I heard, “You!” it was a cop. They’re pretty strict about fare enforcement, I think the fine is something like over a hundred bucks, and so I saw this guy and I made a run for it.
Again, I wasn’t thinking. The platform has a finite amount of room, and this guy was on my tail. But, it was unbelievable, my luck, there was a train idling in the station with its doors open. I ran down a few cars, and right before the bell went off to signal their imminent closing, I slipped inside, I made it. Then I got cocky, the train started pulling away, and I gave a little shit-eating grin, a slight wave to the cop still on the other side of those doors.
And now here I was face to face with that same officer, I couldn’t believe he remembered me. Was he that consumed by my getting away? He remembered my face after all this time? I tried to fake my way out, “Hey officer, I think you’ve got the wrong guy,” but he wasn’t buying it. I abruptly changed course, “Listen, I’m not doing anything wrong here, what’s the problem?”
“Oh yeah? What are you a lawyer?” he was even closer, “No panhandling on the subway.” Was he going to take me in? Was this going to be something on my record, like I’d have to explain it every time I filled out a job application or applied for a loan? No, I thought, , it worked before, I can only hope that it works again.
And so I jumped the turnstile. But this time I didn’t make it across. The tip of my foot got caught on the pole and I face-planted right to the cement floor. My nose was bleeding, I chipped one of my front teeth. And nobody even really stopped, they just kept walking around me, that ceaseless line of bodies escaping the rain and heading for the train.
But it was bad, there was a significant amount of blood, even the cop started to feel sorry for me. “Just … just get the hell out of here. Just cut the shit, all right?” and that was it, he let me go. So yeah, another free subway ride, but now I had to find a dentist, I had to clean up. I’d have much rather just been wet, not this, bruised, caked in blood, humiliated.