The world’s worst scalper
I should introduce you to my friend Erin. She’s the one who got hit in the head with a beer bottle a while back. At least, I thought it was a beer bottle. It turns out it was a whiskey bottle, which is worse. A beer bottle smashes. A whiskey bottle just goes clunk and hurts — a lot.
Fortunately, though the worst possible things happen to Erin, they don’t kill her. Recently some guy hit her van head-on, sheared off most of the driver’s side, and left three out of its four wheels teetering right over the edge of a precipice with a 20-foot drop. She had to kick out the driver’s-side window to get out because trying to get out the other side would have sent the van toppling over into the swamp below. Perhaps ironically, Erin works in construction installing roadside guard rails to prevent just such incidents.
While the worst possible things happen to her, she always seems to come out all right through sheer stubbornness. It was this stubbornness, along with a touch of lunacy, that caused the now-vehicleless Erin to walk out of her warm house deep in the rural hinterlands of eastern Ontario on Friday in search of the Nintendo Wii console she had promised her three children for Christmas and had as yet been unable to deliver, a journey that took her trudging for three hours down snowy country roads before a passing driver picked her up and drove her to the nearest bus stop, onto the first highway coach she could find headed in either direction, in and out of various sold-out stores across the city of Toronto, and finally through my door at one in the morning where this runaway mom finally crashed onto my bed and remained there until morning, empty-handed and stinking of menthol cigarettes and diesel fuel.
On Saturday morning, we rose, drank so many extra-large cups of coffee that my uncollected trash looks like the dumpster behind Tim Hortons, and resumed her pavement-pounding, chain-smoking, store-by-store sweep together. Yet, it was by poring over my old copy of the Yellow Pages and using war-dialing tactics that Erin eventually located the coveted console and by late Saturday night was able to triumphantly go wii wii wii all the way home.
All of this, a story in itself, is simply to explain why I bought a day pass for the transit system on Saturday.
After I put Erin on her bus home just after midnight, I walked back toward through the underground mall leading back to the subway station. A man stopped me and asked me if I was using a Metropass. I said that I wasn’t. He asked if I had tokens. I said that I didn’t. Then he asked if I was paying cash fare to get on the subway. I said that I wasn’t. Rather, I was using a day pass today, because I’d had to make a lot of trips all over town. He asked if I had any spare change to help him get home. I had change, but I don’t have much spare change these days, so I said I was sorry that I didn’t and wished him luck.
After I moved on, I pondered the situation a little. If the guy was really stuck, he could have gotten his shirt cuffs a little damp and picked through the change in the fountain in the now-deserted bit of the underground mall that I’d just come from. It seems a little low, but what are you really stealing if you take change from a fountain? Just other people’s luck, really, and if you’re down on your luck, maybe it’s not so wrong to borrow a bit of somebody else’s. It’s better than letting it go to the management of some underground mall, anyway.
After I went through the turnstile, pulling out my day pass to show the attendant, I read the back as I waited for the train and realized that, though Erin and I had each bought one, two adults could actually travel on one pass on a Saturday, Sunday, or statutory holiday.
I turned around and headed back through the turnstiles to find the guy so I could take him with me. But I looked all over and couldn’t find him.
So, I went back through the turnstiles again and caught the train home, and I decided that since it was my eighth and last trip of the day and I wouldn’t need my day pass anymore, I could at least give it away to a random stranger outside my subway station when I got off. It would still be good for the rest of the night.
I stood outside the station in my so-called burglar outfit of a dark coat and toque, looking shifty. And really, I was actually being a little shifty, since it said on the back of the pass that it was non-transferable, so I’d actually be breaking TTC bylaws by giving it away. No one walked by for a long while.
Eventually three guys in their early twenties came by. I nodded at them as they passed. Then I looked back. They were standing at the front of the station. I walked back over. “You guys getting on the train?” I asked in a low voice.
They gave me queer looks. “Why?” I explained that I had a day pass and was done with it and wanted to give it away. “How much?” one asked, dubiously.
“For free,” I said.
I explained that I was an idiot, how my friend and I had each bought passes, and how only now had I realized that we hadn’t had to. So now that I was done with mine I wanted to give it away. “I’m sticking it to the man,” I explained.
They all smiled. “Right on!” they said. None of them had any use for it, though. One lived in the neighbourhood, and the other two had Metropasses. But we stood out front and chatted while they helped me as I tried to flog my free pass to no avail to other people entering the station, furtively trying to stay out of the line of sight of the ticket collector, like the world’s worst scalper. It was surprisingly hard to get rid of the pass. It just seemed like I couldn’t possibly be on the level, I guess.
“Man, I’m going to be here all night trying to get rid of this thing,” I said. “Sticking it to the man is hard.” I remarked that if I’d been asking even a ridiculously low token price for my pass, it would probably have been impossible to get rid of it. It just would have seemed like I was running a scam of some sort.
“It’s like if you came up to me and said [low voice] ‘Excuse me — you want to buy some marijuana?'” one of the guys said. “I’d be like ‘No way, narc!”
“Maybe I’ll just stick it up here in the window, and if someone finds it, great,” I said, trying to stick it in on the ledge of the front window of the Tim Horton’s adjoining the station. It wouldn’t stay.
“Here comes another guy,” one of the young guys said. “Hey,” he called to the approaching pedestrian. “Want a free pass to get on the subway?”
The guy stopped. “For free?” he repeated.
“Yep,” I said.
“I don’t need it anymore today and I thought I could just give it away.”
“He’s sticking it to the man,” one of the young guys added.
“I’m sticking it to the man quietly,” I added, looking over my shoulder at the fare collector.
“Okay,” the guy shrugged. “Thanks!” He took the pass and went into the station.
The young guys and I briefly celebrated our man-sticking, wished each other a good night, then went our separate ways. As I trudged homeward, I passed a guy at the next corner who asked if I had an extra cigarette.
“Sorry,” I said. “I don’t smoke.”
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