Saturday, December 6, 2014

Public Transport

I caught a train in a small station north of Monza, Italy several weeks ago, where there wasn't a ticket office.  I figured I could buy a ticket on board from the conductor as he made his rounds.  As it turned out that's not how it works.  If you don't buy the ticket at a tobacco shop before boarding, then you must go to the front car and buy one from the conductor before you take your seat.  The ticket checkers do not sell tickets.  The ticket checker who I spoke to was an amiable sort, even after he found out nobody in the car I was riding in had tickets.  He let me off the hook once he realized I was an Italian-American, but he didn't let the three other non-ticket holders off the hook. He called the police to deal with them, but they got off the train at the next stop before the police could apprehend them. The two other people on board without tickets managed to argue their way out of a fine, or arrest.   I overheard the amiable ticket checker assure another ticket checker, the one who had become agitated by the lack of tickets, (there were now three ticket checkers), that there are many worse things happening in today's world than people not having a valid train ticket.  All of the other passengers without tickets were people of color.  Italy's demographics are changing.  Many Africans are making their way to Italy to find prosperity, but with an unemployment rate of currently 40%,  they are not finding it.  For a short train ride I witnessed, I played a part in, this drama that is being staged in Italy. I felt privileged to have shared it and guilty for not having been treated the same way the three young, black men had been treated.  I felt the anger and frustration of the ticket taker.  If you go into a store for bread you must pay for it; so if you take the train you must pay for that too, isn't that true, he asked.  I understood the rage of the black woman on her way to work.  She had a train pass, but she hadn't signed it.  An unsigned pass is invalid, because, as the ticket taker explained, it could be used by anyone.  The woman probably shared the ticket with someone else in her family, someone else who depended on the pass to go to school, or work.