Extending the Benefit of the Doubt on a Train

For the many of us who use public transit to get to our daily jobs, we interact and come into contact with quite a few people every single day — whether the interaction is to move out of the way when the doors open so that more people can get in, or it is to acknowledge someone else’s existence as they come into our personal space. The majority of the people we see are strangers, and on occasion people do things that just seem — well, to put it lightly, wrong. We see someone do something and wonder what would cause them to do it?

I really try to extend everyone the benefit of the doubt. When I was walking down the street the other day and someone shoulder checked me really hard, I tried not to think that they did it intentionally but that they stumbled into me, having no other way to walk as the sidewalk was crowded. I had a really hard time doing this the other day on the train coming in from a visit to my mother’s in New Jersey, however.

It was Monday morning and the train was quite crowded. I was fortunate to find a seat next to a gentleman who had curiously placed a receipt in the area where tickets usually go. I thought nothing of it and put some music on while I continued to read the third book in the Song of Ice and Fire series that I have been working on.

The ticket collector came around and I noticed that she seemed puzzled by the receipt as I had been. She picked it up and looked at it and said that she needed a ticket, not a receipt. He said that he had paid for two tickets, and this was all that he had. She said that it was a receipt for a ticket, not an actual ticket, and he dug out his wallet. I am not sure what else they said to one another but the long and short of it was that she let it go and he did not purchase a ticket.

I am sad to say that I immediately felt badly because my first thought was that this person was clearly trying to scam the ticket collector — that nobody could be naive enough to think that a receipt was a ticket. “Maybe he really thought that he had no choice, or maybe the ticket machine didn’t have enough ticket paper to print and he didn’t realize that he didn’t get the right number until it was too late!” I tried thinking to myself.

It was a battle that went back and forth in my mind. He seemed quite clever. Maybe this man was clever enough that he had done this stunt before. Perhaps he really was gaming the system. As the train pulled into Newark Penn Station, the man leaned over to me and said, “Excuse me, did they just say that this is New York Penn Station?”

“No,” I said, “This is Newark Penn Station — it sounds similar but it’s not the same state or station. You’ll know we’ve arrived at New York Penn Station because it’s the last stop that the train makes.”

Either he was really extending his gaming to make it look as though he was lost and confused — or, more likely, he really had genuinely gotten confused by the ticketing system. Regardless, it was quite clear that I was right in extending him the benefit of the doubt — something to do more often!

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5 thoughts on “Extending the Benefit of the Doubt on a Train

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