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Jun 18 2009

Tales from the Commute: Nightmare Edition

It all started a week ago Tuesday when my monthly commuter card mysteriously disappeared from its specially designated pocket on my backpack. Which of course I didn’t realize until I was already sitting in the Quiet Car on the way to Landskrona. This prompted me to hide from the conductor in the unisex bathroom, which already smelled like old pee at 7:10 a.m. NOT a nice way to start the day, I can assure you.

And yes, I could have paid the conductor for a ticket, but they charge you an obscene amount extra to buy it on the train…and as far as I was concerned, I’d already paid for the trip, I just didn’t have the card on my person. When the commuter card did not turn up at my office, I rode “stealth” on the way home, hoping to find it on the dresser in The Batcave. No such luck. And there was no point in buying a new monthly card since the transportation company’s discount Summer Card was going to be available on the 15th.

So I spent the remainder of the week either paying for single trips at 62 SEK (a little over $8) a pop and resenting the hell out of it, riding “stealth” and sweating the possibility of facing a big fine if caught, and hitching a ride with my scary-driving boss who sees her commute as “work time” and spends the entire drive on her mobile phone (hands-free, but still a HUGE distraction).

So needless to say, I was very relieved when the week was finally over and I could anticipate starting Monday with a Summer Card.  I should have realized it wouldn’t be that simple when Dr. Darling and I went to the ticket office on Sunday afternoon and had to wait in a queue over 30 people deep to buy it.

This is a prime example of customer service in Sweden…on a Sunday afternoon at the start of tourist season, the day before their hugely popular discount Summer Card becomes valid, the ticket office thinks it’s okay to have just two windows open to serve customers.

I'd had a similar experience on Thursday morning when my rebate card (which has been loaded with money that can be used to buy tickets at a discount) suddenly stopped working in the station's self-service machines, and I had to go in to the ticket office to get it straightened out. On a week day, during the morning rush hour, they had just one customer window open despite there being at least three other staff members on hand…two of which had to interrupt the clerk when it was finally my turn to be served. Needless to say, I missed my train and was late for work that morning.

So I guess it shouldn't have been much of a surprise when my brand new Summer Card wouldn't work in the self-service machines on Monday. Unlike my monthly commuter card that's valid for unlimited travel for a specific period of time and can just be shown to the conductor after I board, the Summer Card is only good for 50 trips. You have to put it in a self-service machine, which then issues you a "ticket" that shows how many trips you've got left. Failure to get this ticket before getting on the train means you'll be charged the highway-robbery price to buy a regular ticket onboard.

Fortunately, in this case it was a problem that virtually every other Summer Card holder had…so we all got a "free" trip while the train company fixed the technical glitch.  Tuesday was amazingly trouble-free, and then Wednesday morning a switching-error put my Landskrona-bound train on the tracks headed for Copenhagen. That's right…the train took a WRONG TURN. We had to wait for clearance to reverse direction…and then get in a queue behind several other trains that left the station AFTER we did. Another day late for work.

On the way home, my Summer Card was rejected by the ticket machine in Landskrona, but the train was so crowded that the staff onboard didn't even bother to check if people had them. Once in Malmö, I went straight into the ticket office and remarkably, there wasn't an interminable line for service. The clerk informed me that the card had become de-magnetized, probably from being too close to my mobile phone or iPod. GREAT.

So they replaced the card, which I promptly shoved in my pocket next to my mobile phone.  Quickly realizing the folly of that, I started to move it to the outside pocket of my backpack…where my iPod was parked.  Clearly keeping my Summer Card separate from my electronics was going to be tougher than I thought. So when I got home, I traded my backpack for a messenger bag that has an outside pocket so narrow that ONLY my Summer Card will fit in it.

I set off on Thursday morning confident that I finally had my commuting act together. The Summer Card worked as expected and the train was only 5 minutes late departing Malmö. I strode up to my office relatively on time and ready to have a productive day.

And that's when I realized that the key-card I needed to get in the building had not made the transition from the backpack to the messenger bag.

Thank God tomorrow is a holiday.

Feed my ego!

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