I knew I was being too cynical about it. The system is there, it’s been there for a long time, so it has to have some useful function, right? But it’s the MTA, so cynicism is natural.

A few weeks ago my 30-day metrocard suddenly became “defective” after only a week of use. That left about $101 cash on the card. An MTA worker confirmed the card was dead and, with a glum look of futility, handed me an envelope with a bunch of paperwork I had to fill out and mail within 24 hours of the card’s defectiveness being discovered. I’m not sure how they would know when I discovered the defectiveness, or if they could ever have enough information in that respect to reject my refund for having taken too long to mail it in. It’s possible the MTA worker did something to tag the card itself after I gave it to her, tagging it with physical proof of the day and time the defect was discovered. Otherwise I don’t see how they could know if I sent it within 24 hours of discovery.

Doesn’t matter. I did everything as told, followed all instructions, and slipped it into a blue mailbox with little hope of ever even being acknowledged. 

Sure enough, though, the check arrived two days ago. What to do with all that money?

In the past I had imagined a similar well-oiled-machine for issuing refunds to people who lost coins to New York City payphones. Over the years I made all those hundreds and even thousands of Payphone Radio calls I lost a small fortune to phones that failed to complete calls and ate money without returning it, or else they sounded like they completed calls but when I played the voicemail recordings back it was silent. Neither the City nor the privately-owned payphone service providers offered any way to get your money back when things like that happened.

In a not-so-distant past refunds like this were, in fact, issued. I wish I had saved the mailer I got from … it was probably GTE … with a coin taped to a piece of cardboard stock paper with a note apologizing for the lost coin in a payphone. The processing and postage and overhead would have cost more than the coin being returned but I guess that wasn’t the point. It was public relations.

In more recent times I had called 311 a number of times to report a lost coin. All that came of these reports was the payphone company allegedly was issued a summons, meaning I lost my coin but the City made itself a few bucks. In fact, the summons was probably waived, but not without scheduled hearings and presentations and grousing from the payphone owner. Yes, reporting a lost coin triggers a domino effect of wasted time.

What I had imagined those times I called to report lost coin was that a simple, one-click mechanism existed to print up a check for 25 cents and have it mailed to the address provided by the complainant, presuming that person gave a reasonably believable account of having actually lost coin to that phone. In earlier times you would simply dial 0 and tell the operator “this phone at my dime” and the operator would trigger a mechanism to spit a dime out into the coin return. I should add that this is a foggy memory I think I remember from high school. I never did that myself but witnessed others who did. I tried to stay away from criminality in my phone phun but eventually it caught up to me. Long story that.

I’m at work on a Saturday. Yesterday was a mess, and today will likely be more of the same. Seems everyone called out sick, leaving it all up to me and one other person. This is like working at the McDonald’s again, where as long as someone is doing everything no one else has to do anything. I remember a woman at a company I used to work at, which was staffed predominantly by women. I think her name was Lourde. She warned me “Don’t ever work for women.” She was serious but also sarcastic, but not lying.

Unfortunately you rarely get to choose your boss.