Tuesday, February 3, 2004, was truly a great day for public transportation. But it sure didn’t seem that way when I showed up to take my usual seat on the morning train to Boston. For one thing, there were people already sitting in my usual seat. For another thing, almost all the other seats were taken too. And by loud, drunken revelers on their way to celebrate the Patriots’ big Super Bowl win at City Hall. And, the sky was overcast, the wind was a little chilly, and I wasn’t happy about the morning’s radio reports that Homeland Security hadn’t yet sent any funding to the National Geographic Society. But that’s just being picky.
You see, it’s not pretty after major sporting events involving our local teams. There were “riots” after the U of New Hampshire’s big loss in the NCAA hockey championship, and again after the Red Sox once again failed to get past the dreaded Yankees. But when the Patriots won the Super Bowl on Sunday, nobody so much as blinked. As the game ended, I opened my front door, expecting all manner of fireworks, gunshots and drunken screaming. But there was nothing. Even the regular daily lunatics weren’t lighting fires or smashing windows.
What was going on? Did the extra police presence keep those drunken revelers in line? Was the weather a factor? Or was it just that people were so surprised to have won something that they were too stunned to riot?
Nah. As it turns out the usual rioting suspects were just biding their time. And, I confess, my first thought on seeing all these loud Pats fans, taking my usual seat and making all sorts of noise not meant for a 9 AM crowd, was to do a Bruce Lee and fight them all off, one by one. But I recalled my probation officer’s stern, friendly advice: “Use some self-control or we’ll muzzle you when you come back here,” and I decided to look on the bright side: here, in front of me, was possibly the largest train-riding constituency since, well, ever. And with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority raising rates in desperation, you had to be happy that the crowds had finally come. It was truly a magical day for public transportation.
As a longtime rail-rider, I was thrilled. I didn’t even mind the guy kicking my seat or blowing his rally horn in my ear every ten minutes, because my pride in public transportation was larger than the short-term hearing loss or lower back pain. I bounded off the train with glee, thrilled that a new day for public transportation had dawned, that the masses had finally realized their folly and banded together to save the train!
It wasn’t until I got off the return trip home that I realized something important: I hadn’t seen a single conductor on the train to Boston, nor on the way back. Which meant that I hadn’t had to show my train pass. And if I hadn’t, neither had anyone else. The biggest crowds in the history of public trains, and nobody had to pay. The MBTA windfall I was so proud of didn’t exist.
I drove home, pulled into my lot, walked in the door and called my probation officer. “Get that muzzle, ready, Jerry,” I said. “I’m sure I’ll see you in the morning.”