It has been said that the difference between a schlemiel and a schlimazel is that a schlemiel will fumble a container of water and the schlimazel is the dope it lands on.
I have a New York City variation on that theme: A schlemiel is the smart aleck (AKA a petty criminal) who will not fork over the $2.75 bus fare at those blue machines all over the city while the schlimazel dutifully does.
Raise your hand if you are a fellow schlimazel, too. Yep, I most certainly am one.
You see, I religiously pay the fare – except one time (I’ll get to that in a moment). I have even had pitch-black late nights when I stood at a machine on 34th Street, 23rd Street or 14th Street, flailing around for my Metro Card, as the crosstown bus deigns to arrive on one of its very infrequent appearances.
I helplessly, hopelessly fail to insert the Metro Card neatly into the machine slot in time. Sure enough, the bus pulls away from the curb, leaving me to continue cursing my lameness. But I can take pride in being an honest man!
Big Deal, Right?
I’d have saved myself 20 minutes or so on each occasion if I had just jumped on the bus.
And why not? Nobody ever checks, anyway!
Oh, the one time I did not pay occurred a day one time after I lost those precious 20 minutes. I had concluded that the MTA OWED ME the $2.75, for my aggravation incurred alone.
And you know what? I felt guilty the whole time. I was sure I’d be caught and forced to pay a $100 fine for not obtaining a ticket. Fat chance!
Free Bus Trips?
During the early stage of the COVID pandemic, the MTA allowed riders to travel for free on buses. (This produced confusion later. I remember laughing to myself when the driver told passengers they again had to pay the $2.75 fee, much later on, and a tourist shouted at the hapless driver, “What do you mean, now we have to PAY the fare?”).
Local New York media are beating the drums to push for free bus use as a permanent way of life, like other cities have. I’d love to see it, but it seems rather impractical, as even if a percentage of the millions of residents here pay their fare, that would translate into a huge amount of money for the City of New York.
Why I Pay the $2.75
I take a certain amount of pride in being honest.
I can afford the fare, God knows. I suspect that anybody reading this article can, too.
Sure, I can appreciate the fact that fare-jumping is appealing for many reasons. It frees up our rebellious streak. It lets us think, for however fleeting a time, that we are indeed Sticking It to the Man – and the man’s name is the MTA.
We are exacting revenge on every bus driver who intentionally drove through a puddle and splashed us on the sidewalk or didn’t make a designated stop and made us late for an appointment or grunted something unintelligible when we asked if the bus would stop at a certain street.
At the same time, as the mythical character Ralph Kramden asserted on The Honeymooners, bus drivers have it rough. Customers seldom thank them for a safe, pleasant ride and are always quick to insult them when they mess up.
The verdict is in: I am, indeed, a jerk for paying the fare when I don’t have to.
Yet, I will continue to pay the fare. I’m honest – and paranoid about getting caught. I’d be in the Schlimazel Hall of Fame if I challenged the system one more time – and got caught.
At a time like this, we have to remember the law of the New York City streets: No good deed goes unpunished.