Booked by the cops!
“Where’s your ID? Are you here legally?” The two police spoke at the same time, loud and threatening, as if that was all they cared about. I was very glad to be a US citizen. And mad at myself for getting caught. “Are you here legally?” Officer Daly repeated. “Oh, come on,” I said, “My dad was American, I’m a citizen. Come on.” He stopped asking.
But I realized how bad it would have been if I’d been illegal, like so many other immigrants in New York. This is when you get caught: a small misdeamour or mistake and you’re on the plane back to Ireland, never to return. That Thursday, I was on my way back from an event at the Irish consulate, where I’d lunched with senior Irish educationalists at a networking event. I was wearing a short black dress, silver pearls and a blazer. I hopped into the 5th Avenue station and used my monthly card. Then I decided to step out again and make a call, to see if a Manhattan friend would like to meet for a drink. She wasn’t in, so I went down to the train again, but this time, as is usual with New York metro cards, my card ($89) wouldn’t work — you need to wait 18 minutes between use.
Feeling a bit rebellious, I snuck under the turnstyle — or “crept under” as my charge card later stated. In fact I’d done it earlier that week rushing to catch a train at my local station, and not gotten caught. Who cares? I thought. I’ve paid for monthly travel.
I was scooting down the platform when my eyes were drawn towards Officer Almodovar. He was smiling at me, and beckoned me to him. At first I smiled too, thinking he’d chastise me and let me go, but as he took my name, address and phone number, writing with incredible slowness, I realized that wasn’t to be. I pleaded, begged, told the officers they’d ruined my day, and finally became stonily silent. The fine was $100.
“But I paid, I have a monthly card!” I argued, several times. “We can’t bend the rules for anyone,” explained Daly with determined logic. He was a narrow-faced fair-skinned short-haired man several years younger than me. “We can’t have different rules for different people.” He pointed out I could have asked the attendant to let me through and this wouldn’t have happened. Not that I’d known that. He started to give me advice on how to get an ID card so I wouldn’t have to show my horrible, out-of-date NYU ID. He was quite nice. Meanwhile middle-aged Almodovar grinned in a way that made my blood boil. Commuters looked at me in surprise as they went by — a nice young woman in a posh part of town, getting booked by the cops.
Last night over drinks, I discussed this with a friend, a German science post-doc. who works at NYU. He told me how he’d been rushing for a train late one evening, and his card was out of money. He sped under the barrier, to find a cop on the other side. “In France, or Germany, there’s always some leeway, you can talk to them,” he said. “But not here. They were really serious and aggressive.” He’d gone through the same emotional cycle as me: friendly surprise, smiles at the cops; attempts to chat and plead; ending up in aggrieved silence.
“It’s $100,” Almodovar said when he’d written down all my details, with faux-reassurance adding, “We’re going to say that you broke the rules but it’s not a criminal act.” I asked if there were alternatives to payment. “You can turn up to a summons, if you want to.”
“Thanks, guys,” I said over my shoulder, as I headed off in a blackened mood. See you in court, I was thinking, already formulating arguments. It felt as if people were still staring; I was trembling, and too embarrassed to look at the yellow slip documenting my crime.
I’ve since mislaid the little yellow sheet, but my hearing’s sometime between 8.30am and 2.30pm on June 4th, in the not-very-glamorous MTA adjudication bureau.
I know I was in the wrong. But my crime was technical, not moral. I’d bought the bloody metrocard after all. I just hope the judge will agree.
For more info. see the MTA rules of conduct.