Everybody likes to get something for nothing. Whether it’s the complete stranger walking up to you outside a
cinemamovie theat reer and offering you tickets that they can no longer use, or a snack company giving away sample products on the streets, there’s no greater bargain than ‘free’.
But like a junkie desperate for just one more fix, the joy of the occasional complimentary Mars bar sends some people into a desperate downward cycle to get everything for free. Whether it’s a few illicit music downloads or a pad of Post-It notes from the office, no ill-gotten cost saving is too small for the true freeloader.
I don’t have categorical proof, but I bet Buster Edwards and the rest of the Great Train Robbers pinched a pint of milk or two off Mrs Miggins’ doorstep when they were mere nippers. And if Jesse James worked as an intern in Corporate America today, I’d say there’s a fair chance you’d need to pay closer-than-normal attention to your paper clip supplies in the stationery cupboard. The acorn of today is the oak tree of tomorrow. Actually the acorn of today is still an acorn tomorrow, but I think you take my point.
Most freeloading I can deal with. That’s not surprising given that I work in the entertainment industry, the whole foundations of which would fall apart if it weren’t for the phrases ‘guestlist’ and ‘plus one’. But sometimes, the something-for-nothing brigade really just get my goat. Especially when they’re breaking The Rules.
The Special One often tires of my unwillingness to break The Rules. She’ll happily get up on a plane when the seatbelt signs are illuminated, or smuggle food into the movies, leaving me to harrumph quietly in the corner. She thinks her refusal to play the game makes her a maverick. I tried to point out that mavericks don’t read the Pottery Barn catalog
ue, but she was too busy plotting her next coup d’etat to listen.
In any case, I’ve got no problem with rule breaking. It’s just that if I’ve got to pay for a product or service, it’s pretty galling to see somebody next to me taking the same thing for free. Particularly when it comes to public transport.
In London, the fare evader generally takes one of two forms. There’s The Athlete, who looks at the ticket barrier in the same eager-to-jump kind of way that Colin Jackson or Ed Moses used to look at hurdles on a sports track. If you see somebody travelling on a tube train casually carrying around a pole vault pole, you can pretty much be sure that they’re just planning to do a runner when they get off at Edgware Road. Well, either that or they’re Sergei Bubka, obviously.
And then there’s The Close Companion. It may initially seem that The Close Companion is attracted to you by your irresistible scent or ability to pull off that ‘just stepped out of a hedge’ look. But don’t be fooled, he’s just trying to get through the ticket barrier in the same 2.8 seconds as you. By the time you realise what’s happened, you’re either flat on the floor or you’re being sworn at by a scrawny man with ‘love’ and ‘hate’ tattooed on his knuckles.
Here in New York, the fare evader takes on a completely different guise. Sure, there’s the occasional student jumping the barrier, or the otherwise well-to-do person who forgot their Metrocard and hasn’t got time – or more likely, the inclination – to go home for it. But when it comes down to it, the ultimate New York fare evader is The Parent Of A Six Year Old.
Apparently travel on the subway is free until you reach the height of 44 inches. But given that there’s no
Alton TowersSix Flags style height measurement by the turnstiles into the subway, it’s difficult to prove who is or isn’t entitled to travel for nothing.
The ridiculousness of the whole thing reached new heights this morning when a kid who was practically as tall as me was prompted to duck the barriers by his mum. Such was his size, he practically had to slither sniper-style to get underneath. It was like watching Shaquille O’Neal’s mother forcing him to duck under the turnstile on a shopping trip to the Big Apple.
With the desire for free stuff so strong among New Yorkers, most parents seem to shove any child they can lay their hands on under the turnstile paddles in an attempt to beat the system. Don’t even think of crouching down to tie your shoelaces near the entrance to the subway – you’ll be mistaken for little Johnny and thrust under the barriers before you can say Harry Potter.