December 22, 2006

A Pocket Full of Coins

Recently, a correspondent from our Boston (MA) office informed us of something he experienced during his commute. This correspondent—let’s just call him “Chip”—usually takes the bus to work. That way, he can get his fill of toothless derelicts before he even punches the clock in the morning. On this particular occasion, however, “Chip” decided to ride the subway.

Ah, the joys of the Boston subway—or “the T,” as the locals call it (note to non-locals: That’s short for MBTA). Every time you turn around, it seems, the good ole’ T gets more and more expensive. Pretty soon it’ll be just like the lovely subway in DC, where countless unfortunates waste away in metro stations because they haven’t the requisite fare to leave.

Less than a year ago, it seems, the geniuses at the T decided to switch from comparatively inexpensive tokens to a confusing system of cards. Basically, this ensures that the passenger winds up spending way too much for individual rides, loses his card, and gets ripped off like one does by card-operated laundry machines. More money for them, far less convenience for us—sounds like a win-win to the MBTA.

Well, given his decision to ride the T, “Chip” was compelled to figure out the Mongoloid system the delightful transit authority had cooked up. Thus he stood in front of a machine, confusedly scanning its bells and whistles in order to fetch a card with the appropriate fare on it.

Easier said than done. In his midst stood myriad prospective passengers attempting to figure out this Byzantine system. Rocket scientists, engineers, witch doctors—all sorts of folks were mystified by the T’s stunningly moronic card dispensers. To help ease things along, this particular station was equipped with an employee ostensibly aiding the confused. As a worker for the MBTA, however, she was naturally useless.

Finally, “Chip” shoved a crisp new $20 bill into a machine, hopeful that he was simultaneously pushing the correct buttons. “Gosh, I hope this works,” he thought. “That’s easily worth $500 in Canada.”

Since he asked for a $5 ticket (the lowest possible amount available, it seems), he anticipated receiving $15 in return. (Gee: Even if you’re not a math major, we hope you figured out that brainteaser.)

Oh, but he shouldn’t have gotten his spirits up. By way of change, the execrable machine spat back 15 Susan B. Anthony coins in his direction. Just in case you missed it, we’ll repeat that last bit again: The execrable machine spat back 15 Susan B. Anthony coins in his direction. 15 frickin’ Susan B. Anthony coins! Who the heck wants that?

Irked, “Chip” approached the charming T employee. What this woman lacked in helpfulness she more than made up for in missing teeth. Upon hearing “Chip’s” request for $15 in paper money instead of the stupid coins, the woman sassed back: “Them’s coins is legal tender, they is,” she quipped.

To which “Chip” responded: When’s the last time you actually received Susan B. Anthony coins as change? The woman huffed and departed. Thus “Chip” was left with one overpriced fare card—which he lost soon thereafter—and a pocket weighted down with coins no one wants. He was ready to ride the T.

Ah, the delights of life in the city.

Posted at December 22, 2006 12:01 AM | TrackBack