Mind the gap

If I were a nicer person, I would stop telling the story about the first time my mother rode the Philadelphia subway.

But I’m not, so here goes.

We were at the 34th Street station when I gave her two tokens and precious little instruction about what to do with them.

My mistake became clear on the return trip.

I said, “OK, use your other token.”

“What token?” she asked.

“The one I gave you before,” I said. “I gave you two, didn’t I?”

“I thought those were nickels,” she replied. “I put them both in the first time.”


This past weekend, my mother had an opportunity for redemption when she, along with my father and two other family members, were in town visiting my brother.

“Get your nickels ready,” I joked as we walked down the steps to the Westbound platform.

A train happened to be pulling into the station and I watched enviously as everyone around us flew through the turnstiles and leapt into the waiting cars just as the doors slid shut. Happiness is catching a train mere seconds before it departs.

We, of course, were not among the happy. We were standing by the ticket window, comparing tokens and lining up at a row of turnstiles like a group of synchronized swimmers about to begin a routine. If there was anyone left waiting on the platform, I would have been embarrassed.

“See?” my mother said without an ounce of sarcasm, as we met on the other side of the gates. “That went perfectly!”

“We just missed the train!” I yelled. “It couldn’t have gone any worse!!”

But it could have, of course. We could have tried to catch the train and left someone in the station. Or rushed down the stairs only to have someone (me) trip.

We could have dropped all the nickels.


Later that evening, my brother and I considered calling a cab to take our parents and the rest of our family back to their hotel. But since I was heading downtown to visit a friend anyway, we decided to take the train together.

A new challenge: The subway after dark.

“They’re doing work on the trolley,” my brother said. “So the gates will be open. You don’t need the tokens.”

I remembered that about Philly. Rather than having a proper transfer system for passengers changing from the trolley to the subway during construction projects, the attendants just propped the entrances open and let everyone go through.

It’s not exactly ethical for passengers to skip paying the fare, but if you’ve ever seen the look a SEPTA official gives when you try to hand him $2 while the gates are standing wide open, you’ll never be so foolish twice.

“Now the gates will be open,” I reminded my family as we walked down the stairs. “So we can just go through.”

What I didn’t say, specifically, was that we weren’t going to pay to walk through those gates. I thought that was implied.

It was not.

We were about two steps down the platform before each of them realized that not a single nickel had been used.




Would you shut up?” I hissed. “Just… be cool, would you?”

But still. Could have gone worse.


After visiting my friend at a Meetup for board game enthusiasts (which is a story for another time), I offered to split a cab with her back to West Philly, where she also lived.

“I was just going to take the bus,” she shrugged.

“Well I’m going to 40-something anyway if you just want to come,” I said, hoping that she would take me up on the offer. Ladies don’t let ladies ride the bus after midnight in Philadelphia.

She agreed – and it was almost too perfect that as I stepped off the curb to hail a cab, I said, “Oh there are a few coming.”

But only one driver had his call light on. And as I stepped back to let him pull over, the driver of a second vehicle, which did not have its light on, made a last-second decision to try and catch one final fare for the night.

In his haste to pick us up, he cut across the right lane, side-swiping the first cab and cracking its headlight. Arguments ensued.

I looked at my friend, whose face seemed to say, “I think I’ll take my chances with the bus.”

I wasted no time hailing a third cab.

And that went perfectly.

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