Wednesday, August 19, 2009

At The Station

I was smart. Really smart. Smart like a whip. My train was the 9:56am out of Port Chester. My house? 3 minutes from the station. I entered my car at 9:31am determined that all the little peccadilloes of commuting would not have me miss my desired train. Train station arrival: 9:34am.

And that's where we sort of went off the rails. I have not yet bought my annual parking pass - no matter, the internet assured me I could park for the day for the eminently reasonable fee of $4. When I pulled into the parking lot there were tons of free spaces and a helpful sign indicating where I would pay for my parking. But, on closer inspection, all of the parking spaces were for permit holders. I couldn't even see the parking spots for metered parking. And, come to think of it, if at 9:30am on a weekday there were still permit places available, doesn't it stand to reason that a day parker could use one of the 75 or so spaces reserved for permitters? Ok, so, obviously not. I asked the only man on the platform who looked as though he spoke English if he knew where someone in my position was supposed to park. He was incredibly nice and helpful, welcoming me to the neighborhood etc. etc. telling me not to park below the power lines not, as I had assumed due to radiation or the propensity for such things to fall on my car, but because of the bird shit. He shared my confusion about parking spots and suggested I get my annual permit quickly. We asked a cop who indicated the full parking spots farthest from the platform and, wouldn't luck have it, there was one waiting for me.

Which was no longer waiting for me by the time I got into my car and pulled it around. Now it was 9:46am. Ten minutes and not a parking spot in sight. At the mall, two blocks away, though was additional parking. I felt certain that I could park and run back in these ten minutes. Of course this didn't factor in the non-timed lights in downtown Port Chester. The one in front of you turns green at the same moment the one on the next block turns red. Thanks for that. At 9:51am I park the car in the lot and run to the ticket machine knowing that a New Yorker can clearly run two blocks in 5 minutes. Oops, but this meter works based on what spot you're in, not the far more reasonable, just pay for a ticket and stick it in your windshield variety utilized by, oh, I don't know, THE ENTIRE WORLD (for eff's sake, when I visit Etienne and want to park downtown I give the machine some euros, it gives me a ticket, I put the ticket in my windshield, end of story - no one cares what number spot I'm in). So I jog back to verify my number, jog back to the machine, punch it in and feed it my bill. Which it rejects. A helpful sign tells me that in 2010 this machine will accept credit cards. I try again. Now, not only will the machine not accept my bill, it won't accept any bills - the bill acceptor just stops working. The mall cop tells me I should park 100 additional feet away nearer the working machine.

Now I have missed my train, and I'm ok with this provided there's no chance in hell I can miss the next one at 10:29am. I have now parked close to the working machine, know my spot number in advance and feed my bill in. The bill is spit back at me. I recall something crazy the mall cop said to me which I couldn't possibly have believed to be true: oh, it won't take the new bills. The machine isn't programmed to accept my $5 bill because it's new. Very well, machine, I have 4 mostly uncrumpled one dollar bills. Will you accept those?


Sort of.

While the machine happily took my bills and told me I could leave my car at the mall until 2am for the four dollars I had just deposited, it didn't give me a receipt for the transaction. Or what it called a receipt. How am I supposed to know the receipt isn't the thing I'm supposed to stick in my windshield? Similarly, am I supposed to trust that a machine that couldn't take my five bucks will know that it just told me I was safe to be in my parking spot? I am unfamiliar with the rules of parking in Port Chester. If the powers that be don't like the location of my car will they simply provide me with a ticket I can perhaps contest, or will they boot, or god forbid, tow my car? If they tow my car, will they leave a note, or will I return to the shady parking lot this evening to no car and assume it was stolen and then cry a lot? This experience (let's for a moment leave aside that the damned machine won't take credit cards until 2010, as if credit card acceptance is a space-age notion) has not filled me with tons of confidence in the commuting department.

But that's ok, because the actual train station is run by the MTA, people I've known my whole life who...hey, wait, why is the ticket office closed? This is during business hours. I have questions about monthly passes and would like to speak to a human. Ah, no human? Ok, I'll talk to a machine. At least this one understands magic plastic money cards. Finally, once on the train which is, blissfully, air conditioned, I speak to my first human of the transactional day - the ticket taker. He is a simply lovely man who informs me that I don't want to buy a monthly pass until September because a monthly pass isn't a 30-day pass, it's a per month pass. Can you taste the idiocy? Sure, I understand that this means the person checking your pass doesn't have to read, he just needs to glance at the color of the card or the big print that says something like SEPT, but honestly, couldn't that big type read 9/14/09, and if it was after 9/14/09 he would know your pass expired and you owe someone some money? No? Ok, fine. The $226 card I will be buying from the MTA will be about as sophisticated as the bus pass from middle school.

At least at 10:30 in the morning there were lots of empty seats!

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