Ok, so as you may know, I was home less in Dallas. And by home less, I mean that I simply did not have one. And, like most people without a home, I didn’t have a car either. Sad story, I know. This was made alright, however, by a few things.
First off, I didn’t mind walking. Yeah, it sucked sometimes but there are worse things in the world, and I understood that. More times than not, I was more-than-okay to pick ’em up and put ’em down until I got wherever I was going.
Secondly, there was this bike that sort of just hung around that office I told you about with the big red couch. It was perfect for late night Taco Bell runs or to just to go find the mid-morning breeze.
However, the most important asset (by far) to me not having a car was the Dallas Area Rapid Transit, or the DART.
It went all over the city and got me through every journey not fit to walk or bike to. At the time, Uber was still mostly a black car service and not nearly as “everywhere” as it is now , so that wasn’t an option— not that me or any of my friends could afford it anyway. Hell, I couldn’t even afford to ride the damn DART itself!
Which actually brings me to the whole point of this story.
The DART operated on an honor system, and the honorable thing to do was to pay to ride it. There were no underground stations, no turnstiles, no scanning or checking, no nothing. To this day, the trains just sit above ground and are easily accessible to the street… but the unwritten rule was to visit the machine, get a ticket, and board.
Ok, it wasn’t unwritten, it was very clearly written on signs all around at every stop:
“RIDING THIS TRAIN WITHOUT A TICKET IS ILLEGAL. VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED!”
Don’t quote me, but it probably said something like that.
Yeahhhh….. I’m quite sure that I don’t have to tell you this, but I never paid for a ticket. I knew what the honorable thing to do was, but there’s no honor amongst thieves and, well, part of being home less sometimes is being a thief.
“The DART was practically made for poor, home less, people like me, right?!” is what I’d tell myself. Whether right or wrong, I figured the Universe would understand.
And sure enough, the Universe understood. I can’t even count the times I turned blind eyes and deaf ears to the posted signs and loudspeaker announcements instructing me to do the right thing. But still, the consequence was a fine and seeing as though I couldn’t even afford a ticket in the first place… well, you catch my drift.
I didn’t even have enough money to be afraid.
I spent many days taking what I could, when I could, and was never caught. I’d ride all over the city to meetings, or to the mall, to parties me and the boys would sneak into, wherever — scot-free. Some would call us lucky, I’d just call us broke.
But mostly lucky.
Well, at a certain point, I got a job. It was just a little part-time gig at the restaurant across the street from the office. Still no car (or home), but I had some scratch and that was a good thing — still though, the DART was my best friend. And that’s where this gets interesting.
Over the previous months, I’d become so accustomed to not paying to ride when I didn’t have a job that I refused to start buying tickets once I did have one. I called myself being fiscally smart, but really I was just being reckless.
The compassion the Universe granted me for being poor would soon disappear when I started to be greedy.
Not even a week after I’d gotten the job I saw my first cop checking passenger tickets ON THE TRAIN in between stops. I didn’t have one (I never had one) but managed to hop off at the next exit unscathed. It was the first time I had ever come close to getting caught.
Now, most people would have taken that as a sign to start paying, but this wouldn’t be a story if I had done that, now would it?
Sure enough, within a couple days I was caught ticket-less and fined $50. Bullseye.
With power (my little restaurant gig across the street) came the responsibility to do the right thing (buying a $2 DART ticket), and I didn’t. I guess I turned a deaf ear to that part too.
There is something to be learned here, because even as a struggling home less person in Dallas, I was taken care of. Whether it was an unexpected meal, a place to lie my head for a night, or a safe ride on the DART that I couldn’t afford, my needs were met.
It wasn’t until I was able to act honorably, and still chose not to that I got “got”. I wasn’t punished for being poor, I was punished for being greedy. When you know better, you do better, and when you try to hog your gifts, they’ll get taken away from you one way or another.
This is no coincidence. Few things are — especially when you’re home less in Dallas like I was. Like I said, it’s even harder to earn your stripes when you have nothing to lose.
So if you ever find yourself in a similar boat, or on a similar train, do the right thing. The first time. Seriously.
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