Lame Adventure 461: Four Fateful Dollars

In 1982, when I moved to New York City from San Francisco, the subway token cost seventy-five cents. Last week, subway fare rose again. The single fare is now $2.75, an increase of 266.6667% in the course of 33 years.

Quality of life advice from the service noted for leaking life of any quality.

Quality of life advice from the service noted for leaking quality out of any life.

Almost every two years the Metropolitan Transit Authority increases subway fare. It was not always this way. From 1904 through 1948, a single fare was a nickel. It doubled to a dime in 1948 and increased to fifteen cents in 1953, the year the subway token was introduced because turnstiles could not accept two different coins. It stayed at that price point until 1966 when it was raised to twenty cents. On New Years Day 1970, that decade rang in with a Bronx cheer when subway fare increased 50% to thirty cents. Over the course of the next forty-five years, the increases steadily piled on. In 2003, the token was rendered obsolete in favor of the Metrocard, which offers free transfers.

The Metrocard.

The Metrocard.

The monthly Metrocard has the best volume discount. It has been my go-to means of transportation tool since 2004. That was the year that I quit a job that was walking distance from my hovel in favor of my current Grind in lower Manhattan. Eleven years ago, a 30-day Metrocard cost $70. This year, on March 22nd, that fare card increased from $112 to $116, a 3.5714% increase, if I were the type obsessed with industrial strength nitpicking percentages. This monthly pass is a good deal for someone who rides the subway as frequently as me. I average around sixty rides a month, so each fare costs about $1.93, less than what a single fare cost in 2003 when it held steady at $2 until June 2009.

At The Grind, I participate in a program called TransitChek. $28 is deducted from my pay every week to cover the cost of my Metrocard. In return, I get a tax break, and every four weeks, a new Metrocard. Easy peasy. When it was announced that the monthly Metrocard was increasing four dollars, I was expecting that my weekly deduction would increase to $29. That didn’t happen. I was suspicious.

TransitChek Metrocard.

TransitChek Metrocard with misleading expiration date.

Last week, when I received my new Metrocard, I noticed that the card was still at the old $112 rate. The head bean counter at The Grind, Agnes Pennywise-Dollardumb, oversees the Metrocards. She finagled a way to get employees old Metrocards so we would not have to pay the new $116 rate. She didn’t factor that there was a short grace period between old rate cards and new rate ones. All old rate cards had to be activated by March 29th. After that, when inserted into the turnstile, you don’t pass go. Instead, you go straight to a fare booth wielding your defunct card and tell your sob story to a transit worker. Good luck with that.

The Metrocard that I had activated on March 4th, that was good through April 2nd, I had to stop using on March 29th. That’s the date I needed to start using my new card. Therefore, that savings of $4 for my new monthly pass cost me five days of fares that calculates to a loss of $19.30. My friend, Milton, was outraged. He wants me to demand reimbursement from Agnes. That would not go over well. When I politely pointed out the problem with getting us soon-to-expire Metrocards, instead of saying, “Sorry, I screwed up,” she’s stopped speaking to me and now refers to me with a word that rhymes with shunt. She’s prickly about owning her mistakes.

Meanwhile, around four thirty in the afternoon on Sunday, March 29th, I found myself with two monthly Metrocards, one that I had been using since March 4th and the new one I just activated to avoid losing $112. I also had a dilemma: what to do with my old card? Trashing it seemed wrong, but giving it to a stranger might not be easy. New Yorkers are savvy and skeptical. Would someone think that I was punking them? Fortunately, I am fairly articulate, I don’t drool and I look about as terrifying as puppies. I was determined to find someone deserving with standards. It occurred to me that a good place to center my search was the West 72nd Street subway station, particularly at the Metrocard vending machine.

 

This must be the place!

This must be the place!

Or, better yet, over here!

Or, better yet, over here!

That’s where I encountered Verneda, a seventh grade science teacher, feeding her hard-earned cash into a ravenous MTA Metrocard dispenser. I tested her standards and asked three questions:

Me: Do you love your family? Do you love New York? Are you kind to animals?

She said, enthusiastically:

Verneda: Yeah!

I handed her her award and urged her to read this blog post. She seemed genuinely grateful to be included in this lame adventure and I’m genuinely grateful to have encountered her.

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47 responses to “Lame Adventure 461: Four Fateful Dollars

  1. Ha! Such fascinating history on the cost of subway fares! That’s some fun research to do… And if my name was Agnes Pennywise-Dollardumb, I’d be out for vengeance as well! Glad you could at least spread the love to dear Verneda at the end.

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  2. I think Agnes and I must be related. Normally, I have to spray my wallet with WD-40 to pry it open wide enough to extract a slip of paper with an engraving of Geo. Washington on one side.
    I commend you on your random act of kindness. It’s alway fun to gift a total stranger. Hopefully, she follow up on her side of the deal and read your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d like to think that you’d resist being Tightwad Supreme, Russell if that money in your wallet belonged to other people who would have preferred if you spent their four GW’s, especially if that meant you’d also save them an Andrew Jackson. Of course, the silver certificate lining to this debacle is I got to meet Verneda who was a gracious, class act.

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  3. That was generous of you. I hope Verneda followed up and read this post.

    Transit costs are high. What would you be spending if you had a car? No comparison…right?

    The transit system I am most familiar with is in DC. I have no idea how those costs compare to other places.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am sure that NYC’s transit system, Jim, is amongst the highest priced in the country, but when compared with London’s, it’s probably still a bargain. an added bonus is that the Big Apple’s never sleeps. It’s possible to catch a 3am bus or subway train, but the wait might seem like three hours at that hour. That’s when I’d stick a crowbar in my wallet and take a taxi.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Agnes Pennywise-Dollardumb– I love love this name. Excellent. and your random act of kindness lives on in your good peep karma. Rock on my friend. Thanks for the smile this morning.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. One of the things I love about the large cities in the Northeast is mass transit. I lived in Boston (once upon a time) and loved walking and using the “T.” And since driving and parking were simply a nightmare, it makes total sense. And I guess Agnes was trying to do a good thing, just didn’t think it through.

    Great post as always, V. I’m glad you were able to share the love with Verneda!

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a very diplomatic way to describe Agnes’s frugality with my alms, Cathy. You know the expression “shabby chic”? In this case, I’d be inclined to call Agnes “stupid cheap”. But paying it forward with Verneda eased my irritation with this snafu significantly.

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  6. Karma’s got your back! When in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to be nice.

    Speaking of which, although I suspect your co-worker’s response to you has been comically exaggerated (at least I HOPE it has!!!), she still sounds like a disagreeable gal, which is odd, as you clearly invested more energy in her nickname than in poor Milton’s.

    I love the concept of subways. Trains (which are cool to start with) that go underground (which is gravy), and when they go under bodies of water (as in NY or SF) it’s even cooler.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Agnes holds a doctorate in Profanity, Smak. The way she shoots off her mouth, as my brother, Axel, is fond of saying, “You’d think she brushed her teeth with gunpowder.” I’ve dodged being the subject of her wrath for years, but like Internet spam, mail from AARP and jury duty summonses, sometimes you just find yourself on the receiving end of a big bowl of Unwelcome. I’m in COMPLETE agreement with you that it doesn’t hurt to be nice. I love it when the subway goes above ground in spurts. I always think that’s cool.

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  7. Kind to strangers and knows how to calculate cost and percentage. You are a model citizen.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Agnes sounds like the sort of person who would order supplies for AnyCompany USA. Try to make yourself look good by going cheap and let someone else cover the cost of dealing with the crap you purchased. May good things will come your way for your kindness to Verneda.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve got the same dilemma with my own transit check!!! Ugh, I wish we could go back to the nickel per ride… And the tokens were kinda cool… My dad would always have a dish full of them on his desk… Now people make earrings out of them.. Go figure..
    I’m glad your metrocard went to a good home…. She seems appreciative and she likes pets and NYC!!!
    PS: the temperature today feels like we are reverting back to autumn… It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Normally the transition from one fare increase to the next is seamless for me, but as you can tell from this post, I had help from company sources with deviating from tradition. Winter is very reluctant to pack up and leave. This continued cold is ridiculous. Soon, I anticipate the temperature will have that brief period of feeling perfect. Then, we’ll shift into sweltering summer heat.

      Yes, Verneda did seem to rock.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Cheers to you helping Verneda … and to her for being a appreciative and a good sport. Nonetheless, the monthly pass is the way to go, especially when you use it as often as you do. Let’s face it … it’s your wheels!

    BTW ,,, good questions to her!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hmm…My card didn’t stop working today, but my company has a debit Transit Check. The money is deposited onto a debit card that we use at the kiosks. I need to get in touch with the “People Department” at my office. (BTW– that’s the new term for HR department)

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you started your card on or before the 29th, it would work fine, like the card I passed onto Verneda. But, if you have the old $112 monthly pass and you just activated it today, then you would have invited all kinds of problems including the MTA gremlins popping out of the turnstile and beating you with sacks full of old tokens. That’s why I started my new old fare card on the 29th. Capisce?

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  12. If you think the subway is expensive try owning/maintaining/driving a car. Just sayin’.

    Do you remember when kids used to suck tokens out of the turnstiles? They’d stuff a piece of paper in the slot to block it from dropping all the way down and suck it out. I used to buy slugs that worked in the turnstiles. A bag of slugs was about $20 bucks, I think.

    Yesterday I bought a $39 ticket to Airline Highway through my TDF membership. Just sayin’.

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    • I’ve been involved with people who have had cars in the city. What a headache. Many years ago, one of my exes found a parking space on Amsterdam Avenue where she could keep her car parked without having to move it. She kept it there for three months. I completely forgot about kids sucking tokens out of turnstiles and yes, I remember slugs. I vaguely recall someone trying to use those at my laundromat. I think they only succeeded in screwing up a washer, but nice try.

      Rub it in: your TDF membership. Milton and I would join in a heartbeat but we don’t meet any of the criteria. If earning crummy pay would qualify, we would both make TDF’s A-list. Tonight, we’re going to try for Skylight tickets via the TKTS booth. We have low expectations about getting them. It opens Thursday. If it scores rave reviews, we know that we won’t have a hope in hell of ever seeing it. We got rush tickets to The Heidi Chronicles over the weekend. I saw it 25-26 years ago when it was first staged. I had little recollection of the story other than I didn’t relate to it at all. This time around, I related a little more to it, but it’s still not a story that moves me much, but there was one character, Pater Patrone, that I loved. Both Milton and I were completely brown away by Bryce Pinkham who plays Peter. He felt his character with a degree of depth that the other cast members lacked. We loved Bryce in A Gentleman’s Guide to Murder. He’s a terrific actor. Milton and I have vowed to see him in anything. At the curtain call, we noticed that he even took better bows than the other cast members. If you see this play, see it for him.

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      • Did you score tickets to Skylight? Did you see the reviews today? Jesus! There won’t be any TKTS tix now.

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        • Yes, we did. Very likely the last pair at TKTS for that play. Although our seats were far they were not the absolute worst in the world. But, we had one regret: we wish we had seen the play Brantley gushed about. What we saw was a rather dull, trite yak-fest that offered us no fresh or new take on adultery. Quite the yawn-fest to us. The applause at the end was anemic and people were racing to the exits. I’m telling you buddy if you shell out for this one: buyer beware.

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  13. Oh, you have some good karma coming, V. I’m glad you got this worked out, despite the dreaded Agnes (btw, real women don’t call other women that HORRID name, unless of course it’s warranted and we all know what those incidents are and yours was not) nearly throwing a kink in your future good deed. But it all worked out wonderfully for you and Verneda. Yay! All that math you were doing made my eyes glaze over.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brig, today at The Grind, The Boss decided that all employees must have a uniform signature with their job title on company email. I asked her what should be Agnes’s title? She had a very colorful response. As for my getting good karma, this evening, Milton and I tried to get tickets to a play with no discount and a lot of buzz called Skylight at the TKTS boot in Times Square. We got the last pair, paid half price and the seats were not the worst in the world. I wish we could say the same about the play. It was dreadfully dull. Milton said, “I’ll sleep well tonight.” As for my math skills they’re primarily smoke and calculators.

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  14. The Kingston Trio is updating The M.T.A. Song for the New York transit system but they are having a hard time getting the phrase “an increase of 266.6667% in the course of 33 years” into one of the verses.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Give them time, Cal. They were the poets that wrote these great lyrics:

      Charlie’s wife goes down to the Sculley Square station
      Every day at quarter past two
      And through the open window she hands Charlie a sandwich
      As the train comes rumbling through

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  15. Good karma for you V.
    We always give our active Metro Cards to someone when leaving NYC. The two rude people we encountered in NYC were transit workers in a fare booth. Excuse me for asking a question! I heard ‘The Fanstasticks’ is closing after all these years.

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    • Transit workers in fare booths rival the Canal Street Post Office in rudeness factor, Tom. They eat a big bowl of bitterness for breakfast until they can feast on a plate of loathing for lunch. I wasn’t aware that The Fantasticks is closing. I actually thought it had already closed, but I also assume that both Zsa Zsa Gabor and Abe Vigoda have taken the big dirt nap. Not true (yet)!

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  16. When I next go to NY I shall hang around at the Metro vending machines polishing my halo….clever way to make sure someone had a better week. Loved this post.

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