22 January 2009

Getting caught

When I go to the train station, the official time it takes to get from the stop (Sibírska) to the train station is 11 minutes. So, in order to save 10 €urocents (because I am so known for my exceptional thrifitude, right?), I buy a 40€urocent ticket that is valid for 10 minutes.

On Sunday, I got caught. This means that I had a ticket, and still got fined.

The situation was remarkably similar to one of my favorite Prešov stories, ever, which happened to a friend of ours, George. He got kind of roughed up by the ticket-checker thugs, and complained about it to the extent that the director of the bus people offered to fire the guys, which he did not want to happen. However, possibly as a result of this, there are now women ticket-checkers, who I would accuse of being even thicker-skinned than the male ticket-checker people (or, possibly because I can not use my feminine wiles on them – yes, I totally would do that, despite having been raised by a politically-active-in-the-70s mother).

My feeling about paying for public transportation is more influenced by the Mediterranean half of my brain than the Rusyn part of my brain. Seriously, in this case, my Mediterranean half always wins. As a result, the way I handle public transportation is to acknowledge the presence of the honor system, and yet also pay as little as possible, treating riding a bus or subway like an adrenaline-inducing game of Russian roulette -- skipping out if checkers come on the bus and I don't have a ticket. This attitude really does not work well north of the Alps. Also, the ticket checkers here are plainclothes, which I think does not contribute to a fair fight the way it might in, for example, Rome.

So back to George’s story. In his case, it was a sunny summer Sunday afternoon, in my case, a gray winter Sunday afternoon. Someone mumbles something to him and waves a small metal disk in his face, and he’s like, “yah, whatever,” thinking they wanted to sell him something, which is when he started to get harassed by the thug-type ticket-checkers. Today, I was on the phone with my mum, and there was an empty seat next to me. This guy mumbles something at me, and I’m like, “yah, whatever,” thinking he wants to sit down next to me. So he taps me on the shoulder and waves this metal badge at me, and I’m like, “ohhhhhh” – and meanwhile, I’m still on the phone, which is totally arrogant in this sort of social situation. So I tell my mum, “I’ll call you right back, I’m about to get __ed by the ticket checker people” and switch to Slovak:
Self: [looking at watch] But it’s only one minute! I’m getting off here!
Man: [speechless]
Woman: [comes over] You should have gotten off at Lesnička.
[I think, yah right lady. We both know what I’m trying to pull off here. Woman ticket-checker lady pulls out timetable and shows that I’m a minute over, like I don’t know. I slightly push her out of the way to look at the official bus timestamp clock, thereby invading her personal space in a way even inappropriate for EastCentral Europe and ponder trying to argue that it’s not my fault that the bus was slow… but decide against it.]
Woman: That’ll be €26, thankyouverymuch.
Me: Right now? [Which I could have paid on the spot, but I am smarter than that.]
Ticket-Checkers: Yes.
Me: Well, can you give me some kind of receipt, I’m getting off here (at the train station) and I’m not going to pay right now.
[Dramatis personæ get off the bus.]
Man: Can you show me some kind of document, your passport?
Woman: [immediately going for the jugular] Your pobyt? [The official thing in my passport – how does she know about this?]
[Man holding the passport can’t find the page, so I direct him to it. He copies down my name, address (in Ružomberok) and my rodné čislo, which is like the Slovak equivalent of a SSN. He hands me the ticket.]
Self: So I can pay this on ulica Weberová?
Woman: Yes, but you have to pay in 5 business days.
Man: [responding to a clueless look in my eyes] By Friday.
Woman: Otherwise, it’ll be another €33.
[Woman is already off in search of her next victim.]
Self, to man [with an exceptional degree of sarcasm, which made me feel better, though only temporarily]: Pekný deň! (Have a nice day!)
[He responds with rolled eyes and a slight smile.]
[Dramtis personæ exeunt.]

On Sunday evening, I mentioned the ticket to Amazing VP, joking about how I would try to get out of the ticket due to the insanity that caused it, etc. Then, on Wednesday at lunch, the very cool head of the house (who happens to be a Prešov native) mentions it to me and asks if I need any help.
I had two questions for her: 1) Do you know anyone who works for the Prešov MHD? and 2) omgz How do you know about everything? Like, really. Her answers: 1) laugh, no and 2) of course we all know about everything, we’re all a big family!
This is nice, but it also is a bit weird sometimes. Seriously. Not something I’m used to. And/or not something I understand the mechanics of.

So fast forward to today, when I went to the office in the center of Prešov. The exquisite irony was that the control came on the bus as I was on my way there.
Self: So, if there’s any way for me to not pay this ticket, I’d be happy thanks.
Woman: [in an annoyingly matter-of-fact tone] You have to pay, you got a ticket. That’ll be 26 euros thanks.
Self: [pays up, takes receipt, leaves…]

I don’t know what is most annoying: the exceptional lack of humor these people have, or the way my normally feisty self was so effectively stifled and neutralized by them.
Alas, as with many of my stories, the end is more of a whimper than a bang.

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