The day after I retired from the oil industry, I took the train out to a suburb of Philadelphia to take a dance class. I know the woman who teaches the class; she lives a few blocks away from me in the city. I bought a one-way ticket because the teacher offered to drive me back to the city after class. That would have been great, except that when I got to the dance studio, I found out class had been cancelled. The teacher, who didn’t have my phone number, had sent me an email letting me know. An email I clearly didn’t get in time. She was very apologetic and told me that she was meeting her husband for happy hour and Quizzo at a local bar. She also said that I was welcome to join and that I could ride back with them after.
I went with her and her husband to the bar, which was crowded. We got seats, beers, and food. By the time we’d exhausted your standard small talk, it was a little after 6 o’clock. Quizzo didn’t start until 8. I really didn’t want to be there for another three or four hours. But crap, I only got the one-way ticket. Oh, and shit, I only have my debit card and, like, four dollars cash. Pretty sure the ticket is $6.
Now, none of this would be a problem, mind you, if SEPTA (Philadelphia’s public transportation authority) made using their services user friendly in anyway. But no. Much like the mob, they run a cash-only operation most of the time.
I ended up staying longer than I should have, mostly because I’m socially awkward with new people, and I just couldn’t work up the nerve to say that I was going to leave. By the time I left the bar, it was getting dark. I walked down the tree-lined streets until I got to the town’s Main Street, the only place I had a hope of finding an ATM. All the stores were closed. Everything was dark expect for the street lights. At the very end of the street I saw the green light of a Citizens Bank. Like everything else in town, it was closed. I don’t have an account with Citizens but they had an outdoor ATM, so I was going to use it.
“Do you accept the $3.50 ATM fee because you don’t have an account with Citizens Bank?”
I hit the “Return Card” button. No, no I do not accept. And I do not accept that this fee will be in addition to the $2.50
punishment fee that I’ll pay Wells Fargo for using an ATM that doesn’t belong to them. ON PRINCIPLE, I can’t do it. I can’t pay $6 to get a twenty-dollar bill because I’m $2 short of the train fare. And if SEPTA didn’t make buying a ticket as difficult and inconvenient as possible, we wouldn’t even be talking about this. I started to get mad, and I mean legitimately and viscerally angry at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority because I didn’t have cash on me to pay for a train ticket I didn’t think I was going to need. I was seriously starting to stress out about the whole thing. I felt anxious, because what the hell am I supposed to do now, SEPTA?!?! I was getting all kinds of bent and heated. But in very short order, I got a hold of myself.
Dude, relax. What’s the worst that’s going to happen?
I decided to take my chances and just get on the train and explain myself. Seriously, what was the worst that was going happen? The SEPTA ticket taker was going to be rude and indignant? Chances are that was going to happen anyway, whether I could pay for the ticket or not. I’ll tell you what’s going to happen: When we get to the station, I’ll be taken to SEPTA jail, where I will I will explain that I am able to pay for ticket, just not in cash. I will point out, diplomatically of course, how this all could have been avoided if the ticket booth in Narberth stayed open past noon. I will get a stern talking to and then pay for the ticket, which I’ve been trying to do from the jump. And then I will get on with my life and this will never matter again. It was that simple when I broke it down.
Once I had resigned myself to the SEPTA jail fate, I walked back to the station and up the steps to the platform. I asked a girl on the bench how much the fare was just to make sure I had the math right when I gave my impassioned speech to the SEPTA people. And I waited. I was standing there on that platform, quite proud of myself and just how ballsy I had gotten in the last hour, when a twenty-something kid approached me.
“Do you need a ticket?” he asked.
What the what?
“It’s an all day pass, I think it’s good until midnight. You can use it if you want, since I’m home already.”
No, I won’t shut up. That really happened. I resigned to just let go and have faith that the train ticket situation would work itself out and thirty seconds later, SOME DUDE HANDS ME A TICKET. I still can’t believe it. And the day after I retire? Come on, that shit was straight up magical.
All my life, I have had this worried way of thinking. That I could somehow avoid failure and pain and disappointment if I just worried the shit out of every situation and every potential situation. And so long as I white-knuckled my way through life, trying to control everything, making sure to always mentally prepare for the worst case scenario, there’d be no surprises and everything would be ok. I keep that ticket out so that I can see it everyday as a reminder. A reminder that if I just let go, ease up on that kung fu death grip, and trust that it will work itself out, that I will figure it out, that it’s all going to be fine, in the end it will be.
And now I have proof.