I walked left off lower Broadway onto Stone Street. The sign on the window said MTA Customer Service Center. The room looked like my old public school gym, but without the basketball hoops. Four telephone company tables, each surrounded by clunky metal chairs. Arranged far enough away from the Plexiglass windows to allow for people to get on line.
There was no one on line. There were a few old folks hangin’ out at the tables. Some of ‘em were looking at their smartphones. Others were rummaging through plastic bags. One was reading a hardcover book.
The guy at the Information Table said to me, “You look like you’re here for the first time.”
I said, “Isn’t everybody? Senior MetroCards are for life, no?”
“The Cards are for life, but some people don’t use computers.”
I contemplated this incomplete haiku as I stepped to Window 1 and handed in my paperwork.
“You got ID?” I slid my driver’s license into the aluminum valley under the Plexiglass. He made a photocopy and slid it back.
I sat at one of the tables and checked email on my iPhone. Before I could finish, I heard my name. And an instruction to go to Window 2. She asked me to place my feet in the outlines on the floor. Then took my picture. Click/flash. Twice. Then she said, “Have a seat. It’ll be only a few minutes.”
I finished checking my email. I heard my name again. Window 3 this time. He handed me my temporary MetroCard. The picture came out real good.
* * * * *
I have history with the subway system. Started riding in ‘63 when I was eleven. The fare was fifteen cents. The same as a slice of pizza at the hole-in-the-wall place in Astoria, a half block from the Broadway station. That token/slice price equivalence was maintained through several fare increases.
They had the small clunky tokens in those days. No one even imagined a MetroCard. Much less one you could pay for automatically, online. The tokens had the Y cut out in the middle.
The new tokens, which came out in 1970, were bigger. And thinner. They had the Y cut out in the middle too. They were same size and depth as the aluminum slugs electricians popped out of standard junction boxes to run wires inside.
By 1975, the fare had risen to fifty cents. As had the price of pizza. I knew a woman who sold bags of those aluminum electrical slugs. Called ‘em subway slugs. A hundred for seven bucks. Seven cents a ride. A bargain worth the risk, I thought.
I got busted using the subway slugs. Twice. Ten days apart. At the same station. By the same cop.
“You are one dumb kid,” he said, pulling me over to the side of the platform, “Now I’m gonna have to write you up.”
I hadn’t paid the ticket from the first time yet. I asked him if I had to.
“Not my department,” he said, as he put the handcuffs on my wrists that were conveniently behind my back at the time.
He took me to the precinct where I filled out some forms and had my fingerprints taken. It was just like I’d seen on TV. An officer placed each of my fingers on an inkpad, one by one. Rolled them back and forth so the ink stuck real good. Then he pressed each digit on its designated place on a piece of beige cardboard. A few weeks later, I went to court in downtown Manhattan. The judge asked me if I had an attorney. I said, “No.”
He said, “So you’re representing yourself?” I nodded; “The charge is Theft of Service. Class E Felony. Maximum penalty, four years probation.”
“I want to cop a plea,” I said.
The judge adopted a condescending posture, “This is not a movie, son.”
I’d actually learned the phrase from TV, but this didn’t seem like the time for splitting hairs.
He gave me an ACD, Adjournment Contemplating Dismissal. If I kept my nose clean for six months, my record would be expunged. And they’d give me my prints back. Fat chance of that, I thought.
The prints arrived in the mail seven months later. I put them on display in my house. I fastened the beige cardboard to the wall next to the stairs. With scotch tape.
It didn’t take long for the cardboard to fall off the wall. I put it in a manila folder. I lost the folder when I moved out a year later. No matter. The NSA probably has a digital copy of my prints. that they made from the copy the cops kept when they mailed me back the original.
That’s how the world works.