The Ticket Checker Magnet Strikes Again
This pecu liar curse came upon me in 1993 when I was liv ing in Slo va kia with my fam ily. We never saw any one use tick ets on pub lic tran sit, so we assumed that nobody both ered to pay to ride. This was pretty dumb; in real ity they all had monthly passes that they could bring out when ever the ticket check ers came to test the legal ity of their rid ing. Well, inevitably, one day I got caught. The fine was 700 crowns (then around 20 bucks) and I only had a 1000 crown note. They had no change and after pulling me off the bus went around to the local kiosks in the dreary com mu nist sub urbs but nobody else had any change, either. Finally they wanted to take me to the police station where they could get the change, but in des per a tion I told them to keep the change so I could just go home.
After that, in one sin gle year of liv ing on the out skirts of Bratislava, I got checked for my ticket 7 more times (of course, I always had one). I knew peo ple who’d lived there their whole lives and com muted in every day and had never been checked once. The sin gu lar abil ity to attract ticket check ers has fol lowed me into other cities as well. One time in Stras bourg I was late pick ing Zeke up at school, and after run ning blocks and blocks saw a tram pull in that would take me only one stop for the last stretch. I had no ticket. I con sid ered hop ping aboard any way… and right then saw a ticket checker step off that very tram. What was to stop him from get ting on again? I took the warn ing and ran the rest of the way.
Well, you can see where this all lead ing. Last night when Andrew and I came in to Pavia we saw the bus we needed to get out to the camp ground where his par ents and Zeke were wait ing for us. We ran for it, jumped on board, and asked the dri ver how to pay; he oblig ingly got out a ticket and gave us the change. So, we con cluded, you can pay the dri ver in Italy just like in Ger many. Easy as pie.
This morn ing we aston ished our selves by get ting up as early as we’d planned and set ting off at a rea son able hour. Roger came with us because our first stop before head ing out for our first day on the Via Fran ci gena was the church of San Pietro Ciel D’Oro, home to St. Augustine’s mor tal remains. In due time a bus arrived at the stop and we climbed aboard, but the dri ver shrugged. Pre sum ably he told us that he didn’t sell the tick ets, though our inabil ity to under stand Ital ian meant we missed some cru cial detail. He didn’t tell us to get off again, so we stayed on, a lit tle mys ti fied. But I knew right then it was just a mat ter of time.
It was, in fact, about 10 min utes. We were nearly at our stop when six, count them SIX, ticket check ers boarded the bus. They asked for our ticket. We said the dri ver wouldn’t sell them to us. They said we were sup posed to buy them at a tobacco shop. We said we bought them on the bus last night. They said get off here and buy your tick ets at that shop over there. (Or so we think the con ver sa tion went; hard to say when you don’t know the lan guage.) So we all got off and figured they’d wait and watch to see if we bought our tick ets to ful fill all right eous ness, but instead the bus drove off. I was so trau ma tized by the recur rence of my mag netic draw on ticket check ers that I insisted we walk the rest of the way. We did, saw the tomb hold ing the remains from a distance (mass was just start ing and we didn’t have time to stay), so that was that and off we went.
Hap pily, the ter rain today was noth ing like yes ter day, and we only spent about 15 min utes alongside a canal that was kind enough to curve through fields and forests. Pavia had a few more pleas antly old churches—we are def i nitely out of Gothic and Baroque ter ri tory and into the Romanesque—and we got out first pil grim pass port stamp for the Via Fran ci gena at San Lazaro on the edge of town. We stopped for lunch in a tiny ham let at what appeared from the out side to be a hole-in-the-wall pizze ria but turned out to be a charm ing lunch room stuffed full of peo ple. We tried a short cut (ha) that had us shoulders-deep in rice pad dies and then slith er ing down a slope full of net tles and pricker bushes into a ditch and back up again the other side. We read a few more can tos of the Divine Com edy (keenly feel ing our igno rance of Greek and Latin poetry today). In the evening we arrived in Santa Cristina to spend the night at the pil grim hos tel here and gave our greet ings to a prayer group gath ered in the con sis tory. And repented heartily of ever board ing a bus with out a ticket.