Learning the ropes of paying for a CTA bus ride from one of the drivers

Learning the ropes of paying for a CTA bus ride from one of the drivers

I've been on a CTA bus maybe four or five times since moving to Chicago. And every time, I've been unsure about how to go about paying for the trip. Do I need all quarters? Will people behind me in line to get on the bus get mad if they see me staring at the payment machine perplexed? Can I pay in arcade tickets?

On my bus ride from downtown back home today, I was finally set straight when it comes to paying for a bus ride.

I had successfully used a CTA card from a recent 'L' ride on my trip downtown in the morning, but was afraid I didn't have enough money on it for the trip back. So I stopped by a Walgreens and bought some chocolate-covered pretzels so I could have some change if I needed it. (Best excuse to buy chocolate-covered pretzels EVER.)

As I got on the bus, I put my card into the card reader and noticed that it said 50 cents when it spit the card back at me. I promptly placed two quarters in the machine – better safe than sorry – and started walking toward a seat.

"Son, I need you to come back here."

Was my father on the train? Surely not. I turned around just to be sure and saw that the bus driver was looking directly at me. Had I committed some kind of bus sin?

"C'mere, son. I want to show you something."

The bus is on Michigan Avenue. There are people on the bus who want to get going. But for some reason the bus driver needs to talk with me. I duly walked back to the bus driver.

"Why did you put 50 cents in the machine?"

"Um, because the machine told me to." (This line will become much more handy once the machines take over, Terminator-style.)

The bus driver then kindly explained to me that the amount that came up on the machine was how much I had left on the card and that if the card didn't have enough money, the machine wouldn't spit it back at me. The city of Chicago appreciates my donation of 50 cents, he summarized, but perhaps it would be better in the future if I kept my spare change in my pockets. Who knows? It could come in handy. Find two more quarters and I could buy another bag of chocolate-covered pretzels.

I thanked the bus driver for the information, apologized for overspending for a bus ride – something I did not see myself doing when I woke up this morning – and made the walk of shame up the aisle as the other riders looked in disdain at what had to be a tourist – probably from Oklahoma or something.

But at least I know how to properly pay for a bus ride now. And I still have a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels. So, overall, a good day.

• Joe Grace is a writer who lives in Chicago with his wife. Write to him at joewriter81@gmail.com.

Filed under: Joe Grace Columns

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