Like most people, I sometimes forget things. It’s not intentional. It just happens. It might be an important bit of information that has to be remembered, an object that must not be forgotten or task that must be done. Either way it simply disappears into some rarely checked corner of the brain. Sometimes it’s not a problem. Other times it can lead to you trying to explain to an angry train ticket inspector why you’ve spent the last week travelling without a valid ticket. The answer being, you forgot.
Before ticket barriers and OV cards at train stations it was very easy to be a forgetful person. You had to physically buy a paper train ticket. If you forgot (or were less honest) there was nothing to stop you walking onto a train without one. For me this was a problem when it came to renewing my monthly train ticket. I’d forget it had expired and get on the train as normal, thinking I still had a valid ticket.
On one particular day of forgetfulness I was sitting in an empty train carriage as I travelled home from work. When I heard the familiar call of, “Kaartjes alsjeblieft,” I looked up to see a big muscular black man in a NS uniform. With a smile I handed him my train ticket and waited for him to hand it back once he’d checked it. Only he didn’t.
“Dit kaartjes is verlopen,” he said instead.
It took me a moment to realize what he was saying but once I did I burst into apologies. The ticket was out of date. I’d forgotten to renew it once again. I explained my forgetfulness and was met with an indifferent sigh. This was either because I’d just replied in English or he thought I was making up excuses or he thought I was trying to use being English as an excuse.
“Either way you’ll have to pay a fine for not having a valid ticket,” he said, ignoring my very British apologies, “Where are you travelling to?”
I wasn’t going to argue with him. It was my own fault that I’d let the ticket expire without realizing. I certainly didn’t want to give him anything to add to his already growing suspicion that I was simply another dishonest person trying to cheat my way out of a ticket (which I was not). So I happily gave him the details about where I’d come from and where I was going. Then he told me how much the fine would cost and the real trouble quickly began.
When I checked my wallet I discovered a slight technical problem. It lacked the required contents. In fact, it lacked anything coming remotely close to even a quarter of the fine’s cost. The fine was forty- two Euros. I had less than ten. This did nothing to improve the ticket inspector’s mood when I told him.
“Do you have any identification with you?” He asked with a tone of tired frustration. It was standard procedure that if the fine could not be paid on the spot it would be sent to the persons home address instead. He was following the all too familiar script that dictated his daily routine.
Unfortunately I had nothing with me that could prove who I was or where I lived, unless he was willing to accept my DVD rental store membership card as valid ID. I decided it was best not to antagonise him farther and simply replied that I had none.
“You don’t have anything? Why don’t you carry your passport with you?” he asked.
“I don’t want to lose it.” I wasn’t being flippant. I was being honest. He had no idea how forgetful I was or how good at losing things I am.
“That’s no excuse,” he replied, his subtle frustration no longer subtle, “You have to have it with you all the time.”
There was a moment of silence. He was annoyed and out of options. This was bad. I knew what was coming next. I’d seen it happen lots of times to people on the train who’d tried to cheat their way out of a fine. He was going to threaten me with the police and when I was still unable to provide the required money or the ID he would be forced to make good on his threat… Only he didn’t.
“How much money do you have?” he suddenly asked instead.
“Seven Euros and fifty cents,” I replied, after doing an exact count.
“Ok. Give it to me.” He demanded with his hand out stretched.
Again, I did not argue. Had I got lucky? Was he going to write me a cheaper fine? Was there a way out of this after all? Maybe he could not be bothered with all the hassle. Maybe he was giving me a second chance and a smaller fine as a lesson. I handed over the money and waited for him to continue writing on his pad of fines. Only he didn’t.
Without another word the ticket inspector put my money in his own pocket, scrunched up the half written fine, turned and left. For a moment I sat in confusion trying to process what had just happened. He’d not threatened to call the police, he’d not written any kind of ticket. He’d just walked away with my money…
I’d just bribed a NS ticket inspector and I’d not even realized it was happening. That or he’d just mugged me.