(this happened a few weeks ago, but I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time)
It’s 10:30 PM, and I am on the train home after a Yankee game. A boy walks into the train car, with a look of desperation on his face. Well, he wasn’t a boy, really – he was on the cusp of manhood. Tall, black, maybe 16 or 17 years old. He looks around the car frantically, unsure of what to do. I look up from my seat, curiously, to see him pace back and forth before finally sitting down.
Moments later, the conductor walks through the car. Tickets please. It’s the same old fanfare we train-dwellers are accustomed to. The boy stands and walks up to the conductor.
I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t have a ticket on me.
The boy is clearly not from New York – he has a long Southern drawl.
The conductor stares at him for a few seconds. Oh. Where are you going? Do you have any cash on you?
The boy responds: I’m going to Poughkeepsie, but I only have five dollars. It’s not nearly enough.
Now the conductor really starts to get angry. We made an announcement earlier that all on-board transactions are cash-only. You should have left the train and bought a ticket when you had the chance. And now you are putting me on the spot, in front of all these customers. Maybe if you had pulled me over in private, I would have been able to assist you.
The boy looks horrified. I’m sorry, sir. I have my driver’s license if you need that. Please, I’m just trying to get to a friend’s house.
The conductor stares at the boy for another few seconds. Look, I need to attend to the other passengers first. Don’t move, I’ll be back shortly.
As the conductor leaves the car, a woman sitting a seat over gives the boy some cash. Here you go. Just like that. And they say New Yorkers aren’t nice.
Moments later the conductor is back with a binder and a walkie-talkie.
You said you had a license on you?
Please hand it over to me.
The boy hands the conductor his license. Even with the donated cash, he still doesn’t have enough to pay the fare. The conductor starts jotting down a few notes, and the boy is just sitting there, watching. And then, suddenly, the conductor stops writing. He wipes his face, takes off his glasses, and shuts the binder.
You said you were going to Poughkeepsie?
You have a place to stay there?
Alright. Look, you’re a young kid, so I’ll let you off the hook this time. But I will ask you one favor – when you get some cash on you, buy an extra train ticket and throw it away.
Thank you, sir. I really appreciate that.
The conductor stands up, gives the boy back his license, and the two shake hands. Get home safe, kid.
After the conductor leaves the car, the boy stands up, gives the woman back her money, and walks away.
I’ll never know whether the boy bought an extra ticket. But, for the sake of all that is right with the world, I will choose to believe he did.