It’s not nearly as exciting as getting arrested could (should?) be. But it happened nonetheless. In Prague, of all places…
A little backstory: the metro and tram system in Prague require a ticket to be punched upon entry, but there aren’t turnstiles or even people watching, so it’s quite easy to sneak into the metro or onto a tram without a ticket. The clincher is that metro police (sometimes in plainclothes- at least when I lived in Prague they would often be in plainclothes) ride the trams, trains, and sometimes stand at the exit of a station to check for tickets. If you don’t have a ticket, you have to pay a fine. If you don’t have money to pay the fine, you will be escorted to an ATM to withdraw the appropriate amount. If you refuse this, you will be arrested.
This is where we got into a little bit of trouble, even though we tried multiple times to buy a ticket…
I’ve been adamant that we buy tickets for the metro. I told Andrew all about the police and how a few of my friends were caught. I might have even been caught as well when I was pick-pocketed and my monthly pass was taken in my wallet! Anyway, I’m all for sticking it to the man, but not when it come to the Prague metro.
We got down to the metro station without any change for the machines and an unmanned metro office. So we bought some expensive water to break a bigger bill and promptly returned to the machine and slipped in a 50 koruna coin for two tickets. The machine ate our coin. No worries- there was a person behind the ticket office now, we could get help! No dice. The woman refused to listen to us, going so far as to hold up her arms in the Korean-style “X.”
Twenty minutes had passed trying to do the right thing by getting a stupid ticket, the machine ate more than enough for two tickets worth, and now we didn’t have any change (again) to get tickets from the machine that could possibly eat more of our money.
“Let’s just go.” I suggested, annoyed and not wanting to lose any more money in a broken machine.
Two stops later, coming up out of the escalator tunnel, two metro men in uniform were checking for tickets. Of course. The one and only time we didn’t have a ticket, they stop us. I prepare myself to spend an hour looking through my backpack until the officers get bored and let me go. Andrew, had another idea. He wanted to be all honest about it… like it would work or something…
“We tried to buy a ticket, but the machine ate our money, and no one would help us.” he started to explain.
“But you got on the metro without a ticket! You have to pay the fine. Why would you get on without a ticket?” The metro officer asked.
“Because we paid for the tickets! And it’s the hottest day of the year!” I responded, as it was, really, the hottest day of the year in Prague.
There was a lot of back and forth. Andrew started walking towards the ATM machine to withdraw the equivalent of $80.00 to pay the fine for both of us. But then I got indignant. If I really hadn’t gone to such lengths to buy a ticket, let alone lost my money in the process, I would have immediately withdrawn the money. But we really did try to buy a ticket and the machine really did eat our money and the woman really did refuse to help us!
“Andrew, NO! Don’t get money out. I want to talk to the police!” I called over to him halfway across the station and the metro policeman got on his phone.
“They are on my side.” The metro policeman told me.
“Ok.” I said, as Andrew started pacing and going into a bit of a silent panic (he later told me he was trying to play it up, although I’m not so sure…) in front of the officers. I pulled out my camera and asked if I could take their picture while we waited. They declined. I didn’t ask about taking video…
Andrew sat down. I stood next to the officers, clearly not making any attempts to go anywhere, filming the process of checking tickets, and occasionally haggling them a bit when they missed checking someone.
“If you don’t pay, you go to the station, you can spend the night and call your embassy tomorrow” One of the metro men threatened.
“Ok.” I responded, rolling my eyes at the thought of calling my embassy. I wondered how long Andrew would let me be indignant. Would we really ride in a police car to the station? Would I be able to take pictures? How long would we stay at the station? Would I be able to video the station? Would there be an ATM inside the station for Andrew to withdraw money when he got tired of my antics?
And then a wave of commuters came up the escalator and the other metro policeman quietly, but rather sharply told me to “Leave immediately.”
I said thank you, signaled to Andrew, and we left. I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed I didn’t get to see what would happen once the police showed up, but I was excited to return to Radost FX for a delicious brunch and an overpriced (and under liquored) bloody mary instead.