I just did something completely unacceptable. I skipped out on my bus fare, and then I traded on unfair social advantages to get away with it.

The skipping out on bus fare part is lame and tacky and juvenile, but as someone who has been waved onto expensive subway systems in NYC and Paris for genuinely fumbling a microsecond too long to provide money I genuinely did have, the $1 that I failed to give to WMATA is not my primary concern. What I want to apologize for and figure out how to remedy is my behavior after I got caught.

I knew getting on the bus that my SmartTrip card was out of money and that I did not have any cash. I was counting on doing the faux-swipe close behind someone with a real card to get on the bus unnoticed. Again: tacky, lame, and juvenile. But the person who got on before me paid in cash, so I brushed my card lightly, heard the mean buzz, brushed it again lightly, heard nothing, and moved far to the back.

A few blocks later the driver called me out: “Hello—you need to come back up and swipe your card. It didn’t go through.”

Lie #1: “Oh no, I know it didn’t go through the first time, but the second time I heard the correct beep!” ::charming smile::

“OK, well I need to come back up and swipe the card again.” Ruh roh.

Lie #2: “I’m sorry—I don’t understand.”

“You need to swipe your card again. It didn’t go through.”

Repeat Lie #1, begin righteous indignation: “No no, I know it didn’t work the first time, but I did swipe it again and it made the right noise. I already paid. I don’t know why you’re asking me to pay again.” And repeat. After a few cycles, the entire front of the bus was assuring me I would not be double charged for re-swiping my card, and I was insistently repeating that I didn’t understand how a machine could be smart enough to know to charge me once when I’d successfully swiped my card twice. The entire front of the bus would be 100% correct for considering me a spoiled asshole brat at this point.

Finally, from the driver: “All right, all right. Let it be. She knows what she’s doing. She knows she doesn’t have the money.” Exactly.

But I was tired, it was late, I wanted to get home, I didn’t want to have to wait for the next bus while I recharged my card or got cash, I thought it was no big deal. So I made a fuss that everyone put up with, grudgingly, because I intentionally made it clear to them that I’m a well-off white girl who has been lucky enough to learn debate in high school, who has experience hassling servicepeople to get what I want, who has learned how to talk to the “lower orders” in a way that commands respect and deference, and who believes that I have the right to skip out on a bus fare if I want badly enough to get home.

The desires that propelled me to act the way I did are minor inconveniences, and I know that many others with greater need would have been kicked off for acting the way I did. I rode the two stops back to my apartment. Not paying the fare was dumb, but wielding my privilege to get home even after having been caught was straight up wrong.

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