Mostly Fighting with Ticket Vending Machine
We planned a fairly complicated agenda yesterday, around a visit to the N.Y. Botanical Garden holiday train show in the Bronx. Read on.
We needed to catch an early train, so we aimed for the 7:06 a.m. from Basking Ridge. With resurging ridership, the 30 or so free parking spots are at a premium (the much larger number of permit-only spots remain largely empty, another example of government interference with the free market). We arrived 15 minutes early just in case; fortunately there were a number of empty spaces. (The alternative is to drive to the Lyons station, where daily parking costs only $2 and in fact leads to an overall lower total cost, since it’s in a lower NJT fare zone. However, when school is in session, all the roads that lead there are blocked by the hundreds of students driving their own cars to the local high school, and this peak is from 7 to 7:30 a.m., so that’s another crapshoot.
The First Ticket Purchase
Next step is to buy tickets. The TVM again and again refused to accept any of the credit cards we had, so in frustration we fed it a $10 bill, which worked fine.
Train 412 ran on time all the way to Hoboken, arriving about 8:13. There were a number of announcements as we approached the last two boarding stops, Short Hills and Millburn, telling passengers to get their stuff off the seats as heavy ridership was expected, and indeed, at least in the front car, the Quiet car, all seats except center seats in 3-seaters on the Arrows were occupied. The ride was pleasant enough although passengers both directly in front of and behind me carried on cell conversations, albeit quietly. At Hoboken there was quite a delay in getting off the train; the steps are slow going, and the crew did not open the front cab steps until most passengers had left.
For reasons that will become clear, we were taking PATH to WTC. We had not used PATH in some time and I was unsure how many trips were left on our senior Smart Link cards. Lynn made it through the turnstile O.K., but I then discovered my card was empty. So I turned to the bank of four PATH TVMs. This was a mess. There were long lines (maybe 5 people each) at 3 of the TVMs, and the fourth was empty but displayed an electronic message, “Single Trips and Smart Link Only.” After waiting long minutes in one of the lines (and a WTC train departed), I had an inspiration: “Hey, I have a Smart Link and it says Smart Link Only!”, so I left my queue and stepped up to the machine. I went through the normal process, asking for $10; then only after multiple tries was my credit card accepted, and the machine said “One Trip Added”. GRR! (I am still not sure how much I was charged.) Time was a-wasting, and my heart was pounding. On to the turnstiles, as Lynn awaited on the far shore.
I tapped my Smart Link. It said “Just Used”. Of course, I hadn’t just used it, but maybe tapping at the TVM counts as usage? (Senior/disabled Smart Links can only be used once in 18 minutes at one location, to inhibit use by a second person.) I tapped again, and the green arrow appeared, signifying that the turnstile was unlocked: but it wasn’t. Abandoning the turnstile, I knew what comes next: head to the phone next to the turnstile bank. I explained the situation to the person who answered (and was probably watching on CCTV), and she said what I expected: “Go through the handicapped gate.” “Your card will unlock in 18 minutes.” I squeezed through the handicapped turnstile behind a woman who had just used it, apologizing to her withering glance; she assumed I was a fare-beater.
The next WTC train arrived, and we got seats but it was packed.
At WTC I decided to add more trips to my Smart Link PATH card. There was a line at every PATH TVM, but only one person at one machine, so I queued up. I watched for long minutes as the woman tried, again and again, to buy a MetroCard. It kept rejecting her credit card. Finally, she succeeded, and I tried to add $10 to my card. Again, the credit card was rejected, several times, but I was saved by an angel: a PATH employee asked me what was going on, and she said, “Oh, I just have to reset the machine.” She did, the credit card went through, and my MetroCard was full.
Refilling Senior MetroCards
We had another task to perform. Both of us have Senior MetroCards, but they are both expiring. Mine expired on December 31 and a replacement arrived 2 weeks before, so I had a new, empty card. Lynn’s expires on January 31, and we had spent it down to 15 cents, so we needed to add value to it also. (Her replacement is still awaited.) At that point I had an inspiration: let’s try the PATH TVM we had just used; it also sells MetroCards. However, for both cards, it said something like “Card not refillable”. This could be serious, because it might mean the cards are no good — always a concern, especially with a brand-new card. GRRR!
So we walked the length of the Oculus to the first MTA MetroCard machines, in the vicinity of the R station. This machine was happy to add value to our MetroCards, but refused to take our credit cards, saying again and again, “Transaction cannot be completed”. Finally we fed three $1 bills to add value to Lynn’s card, and a $20 bill to fill mine—I really wanted only $10, but we had no $10 bills and I was unsure if the thing would give change.
We were not done buying transit fares. We walked across the financial district to the NYC Ferry Wall Street pier to buy the new Senior tickets, $1.30 each (regular fare is now $4.00, so quite a value). There is also an app to buy these tickets, but after extensive discussion with their techies we concluded that my phone is too old to run their app. GRRR! (You need to go through a vetting process online or via the post to get qualified for these senior fares. Allow several weeks.) Paper tickets are sold at the pier, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., weekdays only. GRRRR!
At the pier, there is a building (with restrooms!), but nothing was open. A gent, possibly homeless, asked if we needed help; I explained the situation and he said, “Knock on that door.” I did, and a Hornblower Cruises employee opened it and cast a suspicious glare at us: “What do you want?” I explained our mission and she got much more friendly, especially after I said that we had the letter that NYC Ferry had sent us—it, and a photo ID, are required to buy the tickets. She took our IDs and money inside, and about 10 minutes later emerged with 6 tickets, the flimsy pieces of paper that the Ferry TVMs also issue. She warned us they were good for 90 days only, which we knew; on closer inspection, the tickets are clearly marked as expiring April 5: 3 months, or about 96 days, not 90 days. Go figure.
We headed back crosstown to the Lexington IRT at Wall Street, and just missed an uptown #4 to Woodlawn, which we wanted; but 2 minutes later another #4 came, but only to Burnside Avenue (not far enough). We took it uptown anyway, then changed at Yankee Stadium for a D, which is a block closer to the Garden. Emerging at Bedford Park Boulevard, we jaywalked across Bedford to the bus stop, as a bus could be seen approaching; the Bx25 took it to the Garden in 5 minutes or so, saving a half-mile walk. We arrived about 10:35, 20 minutes late for our 10:15 timed admission tickets, but the place was deserted and the entry booth gave us no grief for being late.
After an hour or so at the train show, we headed out the main gate of the Garden and then, being hungry after jousting with all the TVMs, headed over to Tony & Tina’s Pizzeria on Arthur Avenue, the Bronx’s Italian nexus. They sell a lot of pizza, but the secret attraction is the Albanian bureks—layered pastries with various fillings, prepared by hand in a back room by Old World artisans. I added a cup of yogurt, and we were transported to the Balkans for a half hour.
To the Zoo and Home
On to the Bronx Zoo, where we toured the Rhinos and Komodo Dragons, the Madagascar exhibit, sea lion pool, Sea Birds, the World of Birds, Tiger Mountain, the African monkeys, the lions, and finally Jungle World. By 2:15 we were tired enough (my flat feet are so sore today I can barely walk), and headed for the #2. Arriving NYP at 3:00, we were early for the 3:26 Dover express, but since the 3:22 local had been cancelled, the 3:26 would pick up its stops and its passengers, so it was really crowded. The conductor was old-school, meticulously punching tickets—he had no scanner. Changing at Summit for the Bernardsville turner, we arrive home on schedule, albeit exhausted, physically from all the walking and mentally from fighting the system