So yesterday I was hopping on the Max, Portland's version of the light rail, to go pick up Jordan at the airport. When I purchased my ticket, the machine didn't give me change back, and I was a little cranky about that because both of the machines had broken card readers, and I wanted that $2.50 to buy Jordan's ticket on the way back. Luckily, one of the roving bands of ticket-checkers happened to arrive at my stop, and I told them about my lack of change - so they banged the side of the machine, and it went all Las Vegas on us, dropping change like a bum's Christmas. (And I don't use that phrase lightly, "bum's Christmas," since I suspect that a smart homeless person put a piece of cardboard in the machine, and came by daily to see what they found. I don't blame them - I'd do the same if I was homeless.)
The Max ticket-checkers used a couple of linguistic tricks to make sure I was being honest - then gave me my $2.50 in dollar coins and quarters. Folks in authority who randomly come upon me tend to think I'm up to no good - I thought this effect would fade as I aged, but no, me at 31 is just as suspicious as me at 19. So as I sat in the Max, being whisked towards Jordan, my brain went on strange ethical flights of fancy.
Like, say that the ticket-checkers arrived on the platform as the smart bum collected on his/her Christmas, and they heard the rattling waterfall of cheer and eased their way towards the miscreant. Who would say, naturally, "I just wanted my change back," but whose messy hair and twitchy manner would only increase suspicion. And then what could the Max folks do? Well, they could check the log and find out that no $20 bill went in the machine just then, and so they'd have suspicions, but they couldn't charge with theft from the Max, since it was really theft from un-identifiable folks riding the Max. And then, in my overblown fantasy, the Max folks asked if anyone on the platform hadn't received change - because then they'd have someone who had actually been stolen from. My brain decided quite rapidly that I wouldn't speak up. Someone who puts cardboard into Max change machines needs that $2.50 more than me, and I won't be responsible for someone in desperate straits getting in trouble. This waking dream ended with the homeless person being let go, but without the money - which would be okay, because that person would just collect their harvest from other machines around the city.
Then I thought: what if I had banged the machine and gotten all that change? Well, okay, I'd take the $2.50 I'm owed, but if I leave the rest in the machine, I'm hardly able to guarantee that it ends up in the right place - wherever that is. (And frankly, given that the entire Max system operates without turnstiles or ticket verification, Portland is probably the best place to leave piles of change around. Likely, most folks would just take the change that they're due...) Anyway, somehow, it seemed like the Max's money. So I'd collect the rest, to give to the Max person who is always at the airport, but then, of course, the Max ticket-checkers would be just then getting off the train, and suddenly I'd be the suspicious manky person taking a bunch of change out of the machine. Frankly, the "I was just taking it to give to the live person I know is at the end of the line" sounds totally far-fetched, especially since the ticket-checkers hear sob stories every day about missing tickets - when they go home at night, and their significant other says, "I wasn't able to pick up the milk because I got a flat tire," they must have a hard time remembering to believe the person they love. A skeptic dial turned up to 11. Regardless, given the traditional distaste of authority figures for me, then they'd be asking folks on the platform if anyone was missing change, so they'd have a plaintiff in their case against me. And suddenly I'd be hoping other people on the platform, like me in my first dreaming vignette, would turn their faces away and think, "The smart bum deserves another chance."