Jan 30 2008
Look, we ALWAYS buy tickets for the metro/bus/tram in every city we visit, no matter how many people we see successfully jumping turnstiles, or how few officials we see actually checking passengers’ tickets. But on the morning we were to catch a bus from Seville to Arcos de la Frontera, we found ourselves running late getting out of our hostel. Rolling luggage in tow, we booked it for the nearest tram stop, where we could catch a ride across the city to the bus station. We hurried through several city blocks, and as the tram stop came into view, we could see a yellow tram pulling up to the boarding platform. There wasn’t time to fumble with the platform’s ticket machine AND catch this tram before it took off again, and it had been something like two months since we’d even seen a transportation controller checking tickets on a ride like this. So we made the quick decision to go ahead and board the tram without buying a ticket, for ONCE in our law-abiding, goody-two-shoes lives.
The Seville tram has only four stops. We boarded at Stop 1, and were bound for the bus station, located at Stop 4. With so few stops, riding the length of the journey takes only a few minutes. Common sense said: “Waste time buying a tram ticket, and you’ll miss your bus to Arcos! You’re only going to be on the tram for five minutes anyway; what could possibly go wrong?” Or maybe it was the wee devil on my shoulder who said that, because wouldn’t you know it? At Stop 2, for the first time in MONTHS I TELL YOU, controllers boarded our tram to check tickets.
To my own credit, I spotted the controllers before they boarded the tram. But to my eternal discredit, I hesitated. I wasn’t 100% sure that these men in green coats were actually Seville’s public transportation officials, and sitting around considering it wasted valuable escape time. I got my confirmation when they boarded the tram, clipboards in hand, but by now it was too late. I whispered to Brittany, “We need to GO!”, and pulled her behind me as I sprang for the door. Smashing fellow passengers’ knees with our awkward suitcases, we managed to reach the door JUST IN TIME for it to close in my face. Desperately, I tugged at the door handle in hopes of springing us, but my thrashing efforts only succeeded in catching the eye of the nearest controller, who hustled over to rebuke me in Spanish for trying to pry open the closed door. He forced me to back away from the exit, and I watched freedom pass us by at the speed of the accelerating tram.
There was a moment or two here, in between the closing of the doors and the inevitable ticket check from this controller, which would be my only chance to evaluate the specifics of our predicament, and try to formulate any sort of plan, escapade or caper. I said to myself: OK, old boy, it’s time to think fast. I said this quietly so the controller couldn’t hear. As best I can recall, my thoughts happened like this:
From where I stand, I can see that there are two controllers on board. One is already checking tickets at the other end of our tram car, and the other is now, rather inconveniently, focused squarely on us. We have no ticket, and there is really no getting around this fact. Based on prior close calls (see Italy) I know that the fine for riding without a ticket is in the lofty realm of 50 euros. And I also know that these men in green are trained to not accept ignorance of the rules as an excuse for disobedience. And finally, I know that there’s no getting off this tram before it reaches Stop 3 in two minutes. All visual evidence indicates that the tram windows are shatter-proof, but even if they aren’t, there’s the issue of getting these heavy suitcases out of here too. Probably not viable. In conclusion, it’s just us and this controller for the next two minutes, and he’s got me right where we wants any dirty no-ticket-buying tram-hopping lowlife. All evidence considered, things aren’t really looking good for my hopes of a successful caper. Instead, I can really only think of one possible approach to this scenario: stall like crazy, in an effort to hold out until these doors open again at Stop 3.
I’ve mentioned before that I studied a little bit of Spanish in school. I believe I learned just enough to make myself more of a nuisance in Spain than a tourist who speaks no Spanish at all. Nonetheless, if there were ever a time for the hours spent in those classes to pay off, this would be it. Please note: in the following account of my conversation with the controller, I apologize for the lack of proper Spanish punctuation. This English keyboard lacks fun things like upside-down question marks.
Ben (our hero): Por favor, senor! Hay estacion numero dos? Please, sir! is this station number two?
Evil Controller: Si, Hay estacion dos. Yes, this is station two.
B: No! Dios mio! Necesitamos estacion numero dos, pero las puertas! Cerrado! No! My God! We need station number two, but the doors! Closed!
EC: Por que? Adonde quiere ir? Why? Where do you want to go?
B: Este tram, es a estacion de autobuses y regresar? Es posible a (here I motion getting off the tram) en estacio tres y regresar con un otro tram? This tram, is to the bus station and to return? Is it possible to (here I motion getting off the tram) in station three and to return with another tram?
EC: Hmm, si, es posible. No es una problema, senor, pero adonde quiere ir? Hmm, yes, it’s possible. It’s not a problem, sir, but where do you want to go?
B: Es bueno, es la verdad. Ai! Pero mi carta! Is good, is the truth. Ahh! But my map!
EC: Su carta? No comprendo… Your map? I don’t understand…
B: Mi carta dice que nosotros hostel esta de estacion numero dos! My map speaks that we hostel is from station number two!
EC: Creo que comprendo, pero… I think I understand, but…
(Here he rattles off a string of upper-level Spanish, clearly oblivious to the fact that I only made it through 202. And what little hope I do have of understanding him is shot due to my concentration on the current speed of the tram. Is it slowing down yet? How much longer until it starts slowing down? Also, I’m running out of things that I know how to say. Is he still talking?)
B: Ayudame! Donde esta la biblioteca? Help me! Where is the library?
EC: Como? La biblioteca publica? What? The library? The public library?
B: Si! Nosotros hostel esta en la proxima de la biblioteca publica! Donde esta, por favor? Yes! We hostel is in the near of the public library! Where is, please?
EC: La biblioteca publica. No es dificile del estacion tres. Se va a la izquierda del estacion, y… The public library. It is not difficult from station three. Go to the left from the station, and…
(Another indecipherable monologue ensues. But suddenly, I feel something. The tram… it’s starting to slow down! Just a little longer, old bean…)
B: Es perfecto! De aqui, la biblioteca a la izquierda y vamos a el hostel con la carta! Is perfect! From here, the library to the left and we go to the hostel with the map!
(Pulling up to the tram station now…)
B: Muchas gracias, senor! Muchas gracias por todos! Thank you very much, sir! Thank you very much for everything!
I’ll never know if he heard my last words of thanks, because the doors opened while I was mid-sentence, and I sprang from the tram faster than the words from my mouth.* Feeling the controller’s eyes behind us, we headed to the left from the station, in accordance with his directions to the library. We hid behind a building for a while, and when we felt assured he had gone, we re-emerged and headed right, along the tram tracks, to the bus station and Arcos de la Frontera. And perhaps most importantly, to a future where we always wake up early in order to have ample time to buy required tram tickets.
Although, if you think about it, that’s really only ONE controller in two-plus months. What are the chances of actually running into another one?
*No small feat, if you ask those who have had to endure a lifetime of me.