Someone Bought Me a Subway Ride

As is common with a twenty-year old fare payment system, I was having trouble with my Metrocard. As I tried to enter the West 4th Street subway station, I kept getting a Please Swipe Again error message. I also had quite the yoke with me: a rolling cart carrying three silk screens, a box of eighty American Apparel t-shirts, and all the ink and supplies to print those shirts.

NYC Transit Metrocard Vending Machine's "AMBIOS System Configuration" screen.

The Metrocard system was state of the art in 1997.

At first, I tried to use the service gate so I could roll through to the other side. For the uninitiated, you are supposed to get the attention of the token booth attendant, swipe your card, turn the turnstile, and then open the service gate and proceed. But since my card would not swipe, I couldn’t demonstrate that I had paid my fare.

After a few attempts to swipe my card, the booth attendant started helping someone else. Having lost her attention, I then started to lift my heavy rolling cart over the turnstile so I could just swipe my card and enter like everyone else. But my cart got stuck in the turnstile. As I struggled trying to push the cart to the other side, a young lady appeared and pulled my cart through. Then she waited with my stuff on the other side to keep it from getting stolen. However, I couldn’t pass fare control section because my Metrocard still wouldn’t work.

Please Swipe Again

After seeing me struggling to pay my fare, she handed me her Metrocard and said, “here, use mine.” I swiped, and I saw that $2.50 came off her card, leaving her a $11.00 balance. She not only helped me with my heavy load, she also bought me a subway ride.

I thanked her, and then she went on her way.

In this week’s episode of Back to Work, a productivity podcast I enjoy, Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann describe the following as “Newton’s Fifth Law of Politeness.” Around 0:26:20, Mann explains:

There are those rare instances where you see somebody being unnecessarily kind to a stranger without expecting anything in return. And it changes your day….

Has this ever happened to you? You go to the drive-thru, and you pull up to pay, and [the cashier says,] the person in front paid for you.

Yesterday, it did. The next time I am at a coffee shop, I’m buying the person behind me a cup.

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