Once upon a time about a year ago, I forgot to buy one until I was three days into the next month. Actually, this has happened more than once. This has happened, if I remember correctly, three or four times. I always buy a ticket, and usually I buy the next month's ticket in the last week of the month. But as I say, I forgot to buy the thing soon enough on a very few occasions.
The first time I got caught I barely spoke a word of German, so that I did not understand the man when he said there would be no fine, but that I just had to go buy my ticket. But the Germans . . . they keep records. He took my name and address. The second time, months after the fact, I actually had a ticket, but I'd left my wallet at home during an altercation with a child who either did not want to wear a jacket in sub-zero weather or who could not find a musical instrument. This time I'd forgotten that I'd forgotten my ticket. Only during the minute when I was searching for my wallet in my bag, the indignant official tapping his foot impatiently, did I see, in my mind's eye, my orange wallet lying on the bottom step of the stairs, where I, at that very nanosecond, realized had left it--and where I found it when I got home--later than usual--as a result of my altercation with the official.
That's when I had to go to the authorities, get a finger-wagging lecture, and pay for my next month's ticket right in front of them, sofort! instead of buying it from the machine at my stop, as I normally do, for convenience.
Ah, but there was a third time, you see, during another altercation about Where Is My Sweater or I Can't Find Any Underwear! And that time, I had to pay a fine. A large fine.
Just a few weeks ago, I was on the tram again when I realized that I'd left my wallet on the stairs again. This time I can only blame myself--I hadn't had more than four hours of sleep. Along came the official and I thought I Just Cannot Do This Again Because They'll Ask Me To Pay A Figure In Three Digits Which Is The Cost of Four Months Of Cards.
I had my card at home, remember. My legitimate card.
"May I see your ticket?" said the spider to the fly.
"I'm so sorry," I explained, "I left it at home with my wallet." Which was perfectly true. So I had to exit the train, at a stop not too excruciatingly distant from my own, and I was asked to give my name. Which I have always done in the past. This time, what came out of my mouth was:
(1) The first name of the last person I had spoken to at work that day
(2) The last name of the first Austrian novelist who popped into my head. Why? Because I went to graduate school with a person who also happened to have that name.
I gave as my address something vaguely in the same street, but well, not exactly mine. The thing that tripped me up was my birthday. Even though I know that thirty days hath September, April, June, and November . . . . you get the picture. Rattled by the thought that Zeus would fling a thunderbolt at me for lying, I gave a date that does not exist, and fluttered off some explanation with the checker, who spoke German as well as I do--almost not at all. I tottered away with my piece of paper: my fictitious counterpart had two weeks in which to pay. Somehow, that person has not showed up.
When I got home, I scooped up the wallet that was cooling its heels on the stairs, took out my monthly ticket, kissed it and promised I'd never forget it again. Then I discussed the matter with my boys, one of whom has used exactly the same technique and worried about doing so in exactly the same way: his card was at the bottom of his bag, but he thought he'd left it at home. The other kid is sure they're coming after me. Brrrrr.
In these times, you should watch this classic film that is nominally, but not exactly, about being a Schwarzfahrer: