April 23, 2013

RANT: Quitting Your Job is an Option

Here's a true story:

My friend and I enter a Montreal subway station. It's a quiet day - one person at the ticket booth, two employees at work. I have a pass and go through the turnstile. We can hear the woman at the booth explaining that she has lost her pass, and the man behind the glass is listening patiently. My friend waits to buy a ticket. And waits. And waits. A subway train comes and goes.  Maybe the guy at the booth will let my friend through so that we can get on with our journey? But no, he's trained to listen and we're trained to wait. There's no one else around. I'm pacing on the other side of the barrier.

As the discussion between the ticket-man and the elderly woman continues, my friend decides to buy a ticket from the machine instead. She crosses the station and puts in the requisite $3, but nothing happens. "Montant du $2" says the machine. She curses (how many of us have been stumped by machines eating our coins since they changed the weight of the toonie?) and puts another coin in. "Montant du $.25" the machine says. She gets frustrated and heads back to the ticket booth, where the discussion is still going on. I approach the booth from my side and motion with my hands that we are having trouble with the machine. The female employee says (in French) "You have to wait, can't you see that he's serving another customer?" Again, aside from this one other person, the entire station is empty. They can see that we are simply trying to get on our way. We are ignored. My friend waits. Another train comes and goes.

Finally, the elderly woman goes on her way and the ticket-man comes out of the booth. He talks to my friend in French, she responds in English. They both seem to understand each other. She explains that the machine has taken $5.25 and not issued a ticket. He says (in French) - How do I know you put the right amount of money in? There's really no possible answer to that, besides the obvious "You'll have to trust that I'm telling you the truth." I realize they are both getting agitated. I go over to the man and say - "Monsieur! On cherche une solution - on veut juste acheter un billet!" (Translation: We are looking for a solution, we just want to buy a ticket") He doesn't like my tone, and tells me to stay calm. I stop talking, aware of my aggressive energy.

He puts coins in the machine and a ticket comes out. He looks at my friend and says (in French) "See? It works. Try again." She erupts in protest. All of a sudden they're talking over each other again. He tells her there's nothing he can do and she says she has already spent $5.25 and why should she have to spend another $3? As I try not to interfere, I realize the man is saying he will call the authorities. I'm not sure my friend has heard this. I reach over and tug her coat to get her attention. We realize that if the authorities are called, it can strand us there for hours, and that it is within the STM's rights to do so. At least, that's what this man is saying, still speaking calmly and quickly. No doubt he has rehearsed it many times.

While I'm considering just jumping over the turnstile and leaving, the man returns to his ticket booth. My friend follows, still hoping for a quick resolution. No, he says he has to make a phone call before he can do anything. She waits. And waits. Now there are more people coming into the station and standing behind her. He asks my friend to step aside and allows two people through the gate (a courtesy that, unfortunately, he didn't extend to us earlier, which baffles me). Another train comes and goes.

Finally he makes his call, puts down the phone, and waves her through, acting as if he is a hero of some sort. There is tension and bad will in the air. No refund is offered and my friend pays $5.25 for her $3 fare. We walk down the stairs to wait for the next train, and try to shake it off, but it's impossible not to feel that we've been intimidated for no good reason.

What's up, civil servants? Mad at your bosses and taking it out on us? Don't feel you're paid enough to deal with frustrated passengers? Tired of hearing complaints about the machines? A simple courtesy would have been to ask the elderly woman to wait a moment while you let one passenger through. A genuine respect for your job might have lead you to want to assist someone having trouble with the machine. And a willingness to provide good customer service would have altered the experience altogether.


  1. You surely describe a frustrating situation. Perhaps some of the frustration comes from a perception of being trapped in a job. Trapped by stale skills, a salary or retirement package that can never be matched by a new employer, fear of the unknown devil. In the situation you described, when irritation passes, I suspect pity took its place.

  2. I got mad just reading this. I've been in similar situations before and it is so outrageously frustrating because there is simply nothing you can do other than shut your mouth and try to move on with your day. The only thing that makes me feel slightly better about the situation is knowing that the people who behave this way are miserable ALL of the time, while we only have to deal with them temporarily.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Nancy. Your insight about pity replacing irritation is a nice thought; and if we all started our day thinking this way, perhaps these events would be less jarring. In terms of the big picture though, if someone feels "trapped", they should be looking for another way to make an income. People have been made to feel powerless, but we're not.

  4. Good point, Tasha. Perhaps we can see these moments as opportunities to feel grateful that we have made better choices.

  5. I would definitely be writing some letters to somebody. This is very wrong. I will definitely share your post, and maybe we can shame them into doing something.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Deb. I wish I had faith that letter-writing would produce some results, but I don't. And it's certainly not my aim to get anyone in trouble. People have bad days and I always take that into consideration. I guess society has to take some of the blame, too, and I'm sure if we asked a transit worker to tell us about his/her typical day, we might see it from their perspective (sigh, it's so hard to be balanced). :)


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