Unemployment gets a man off the subway platform for a change

Have card, will not travel

Have card, will not travel

Life used to be so easy when I had a job. Okay, maybe that’s overstating it a little. Subway travel was easy, or at least buying a fare card was. Life was hard then too, just in a different, more financially enriching way. And subway travel was and is always an adventure, like the flume ride at Busch Gardens with a few minor differences…

  • No one wants to be splashed with any liquids found on the subway.
  • Those clothes some people wear near subway station entrances aren’t quaint and historic, they’re just old.
  • People smell worse on the subway, sit closer and are generally not having a good time. They might be screaming and waving their hands in the air though.
  • Occasionally someone makes a pass at a woman on the subway and touches himself in a highly inappropriate way. This may happen at Busch Gardens too, but I’ve never seen it.

When employed, I didn’t have to do anything to get a fare card. It just showed up in the mail or on my desk once each month, like magic. Every company I’ve ever worked for subsidizes the cost of commuting in some form. Employees can set aside up to about $100 each month through a system like TransitChek. That money is automatically deducted from their paycheck – pre-tax – and used to buy a subway fare card or commuter rail tickets or transporter passes for beaming to and from the USS Enterprise. The employee chooses the preferred method of travel and type of ticket, and the rest takes care of itself. (I advise against beaming, unless you’re a main character. It won’t end well.) Those were the days, when subway travel required no more thought than where to go and who not to sit next to.

I always opted for the 30-day unlimited fare card, which gave me full access to the trains and city buses. The pass cost $81 when I was last employed, or about $60 after the tax savings. It was a pretty good deal. Any given month includes about 22 workdays on which I’d commute to and from the office. That’s 44 subway rides, each costing $2 then, for a grand total of $88. So even without using the fare card for any other travel, I saved $7, which was really more like $21 given the tax benefit. The savings were usually much greater, since I used it evenings and weekends to gallivant around the city in search of revelry.

Fast-forward to my post-layoff, pre-employment existence, currently known as “the rest of my life.” A monthly unlimited fare card now costs $89, and a single ride $2.25. I don’t take the subway as much these days, as even a brain-dead hamster might deduce from the facts at hand. Where is there to go anyway? No office chair requires the presence of my ass every weekday morning at 9:00 a.m. Aside from some networking meetings and the occasional interview or field trip, I rarely have to ride the train.

I don’t buy an unlimited monthly fare card anymore either. It’s no longer cost-efficient. Only a rare and very busy month would get me on the train 40 times – enough to make it worth the price. And the freedom of having it is an expensive luxury for an unemployed guy. I usually put $20 on a fare card, which gives me a $3 bonus, and then use as needed. That lasts me a couple of weeks. If my schedule is packed with meetings and errands and tea dates with royalty, I buy an unlimited weekly card for $27, and time the start for maximum usage. Then it’s back to pay-as-you-go.

When on an unlimited card, I don’t think twice about subway travel. It’s paid for, and more rides mean better value. When not on an unlimited card, I find myself avoiding subway travel. Is the $4.50 this trip will cost really worth it? “No” is most often the answer. I go to the local gym instead of the nicer one in the city. I go to the local coffee shop rather than the bigger one a few stops away. I shop in the neighborhood rather than in some other neighborhood. Most anything worth traveling for can be found in Jackson Heights, in some way, shape or form. The other day I met a contact for coffee in Manhattan and had an errand to run after. I walked the ten or so blocks instead of grabbing a bus or the train. This wasn’t any inconvenience. If employed and/or packing an unlimited card, I might have still walked. But that would have been my choice. Saving money wins out these days.

The seemingly insignificant difference between an unlimited fare card and a pay-as-you-go fare card has changed my life. I don’t go out as much, even for free activities. I think about whether I really need to spend the couple bucks on subway travel. Small amounts of money dictate my actions in unemployment. My days may be more free, but, ironically, they’re less free as well. I avoid spending money, and as a result, avoid going anywhere.

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  1. Shirley wrote:

    Thank you so much! Your thoughts always give me a laugh, such as about not beaming up if you are not a major character, haha. I also find my days of unemployment less than exciting, because of conserving gasoline, thus not going anywhere and the boredom of making only the most austere purchases. Have you ever thought of using your situation in a novel? Unemployed guy, walking to avoid the subway fare, thinking your humorous thoughts, stumbles upon mystery, which he has the time to solve, because he’s unemployed, etc.? In former days, I’d buy that novel. Now, I’ll have to wait for it to hit the libraries ha. Please keep writing! – Shirley, unemployed in Denver

    Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 10:01 pm | Permalink
  2. NYC_Chic wrote:

    I hate everything. I hate being unemployed, broke and I hate Metrocards and train stations. And people. I hate life.

    I just found your site and I haven’t discovered yet how long you’ve been unemployed but please somehow promise me it hasn’t been more than three months and you’ve been rejecting the job offers that eventually started rolling in so you could be true to your blog title. Or something.

    I have no job, no prospects and I’m not even getting interviews. I hate everything. I hate jobs. People with jobs. People without jobs. People that maximize Metrocards by using it to hang out after getting to and from their jobs. Everything.

    Monday, October 19, 2009 at 5:44 pm | Permalink