The weather was fine, yet I decided to take a tram. It was late and I wanted to watch “The state of America”. We trundled to the next stop.

Two drunks got in. Plenty empty seats, but they had to settle right behind me. Their faces were flushed. Their speech slurred. They advertised alcohol.

Fortunately, they ignored me. They ignored everybody. While fumes whirled around them, they discussed things. Though not necessarily the same thing at the same time.

They made perfect sense to each other. I couldn’t make sense of their discussions.

Not that I cared. The weather was fine, the sights fine, the passengers fine, the drunks fine. Until we reached the next stop.

Half the tram emptied. Three guys and one woman got on. The door closed.

Ticket checkerOnly then did the four shout “tickets check!” Two headed to the front; two to the back. All of a sudden, nothing was fine. We sighed. We drew out our cards and tickets to be checked.

Bingo! The two drunks had not checked in. Befuddled, they had not bothered to buy tickets either.

The first one slurred: “Ohh, inspector, I never bother. I just take a gamble. Of the ten times I travel, I only meet you once. Then I own up and pay the fine. Felt lucky! Guess my luck was left behind at the previous stop. Gambled. Never bother with tickets!”

The other one took a different line. He was sure he’d checked in. He was sure he’d a card somewhere. Just couldn’t find the thing. Or was it a ticket? “Must’ve lost it!”

“Ohh, you’re always lucky,” number one told number two. “You always get the women. Why do you always get the women? It’s so unfair. You always land the girls.”

The scene froze. He drew blank stares. So he explained his mate always attracted women: “He’s always lucky. It’s so unfair. He’s not even handsome!”

This sparked off a discussion on looks and female versus male officials. The two inspectors sighed and drew out handhelds. They started asking info: address, date of birth, place of birth, name, gotten on where, why no tickets?

Champagne Charley and Hooray Henry supplied info in between discussing looks, plain-clothes, fines, uniforms, good fortune, bad luck – while correcting each other’s statements as well.

Muddled, the two inspectors started asking passengers, but suddenly none of us knew anything.

Finally, the last question. One party-animal repeated he’d taken a gamble. The other owned up. He’d forgotten his card and had no money for a ticket.

Both inspectors tore the tickets out of their machines. They handed them to the mates. Then continued working towards their colleagues at the back.

It was as if a cloud had lifted. We felt fine again.

The two friends continued their journey. The forms to pay their fines would be sent to their addresses. All info was on their tickets and in the handhelds.

Then the two mates compared fines: these differed.
Was there a low fine for a gamble and a higher one for forgetfulness? They compared tickets.

“Your birthplace’s wrong.”
“Your address is wrong.”
“Your name’s wrong.”
“Your nationality is Polish – since when?”
“Polish? It’s not! Lemme-see!”

They went over each other’s tickets again.
They showed them to another passenger: did the fines differ? Sure enough.
Did the one with the lower fine state “Polish”? Sure enough.

Deeply insulted, the gambler stood up. He swaggered to the back shouting “I’m not Polish! Why do the fines differ? I’m not from Poland! The fines differ too!”

Everybody turned round to watch.
Gesticulating, he bumped into the four plain-clothes.
The four plain-clothes compared tickets.
Suddenly, heads were shaking.

Then Champagne Charley swaggered back, smiling broadly.
We looked up expectantly.

“Can teart’up!” he said gleefully.
“Huh?” we responded.

“Can tear it up. It’s all wrong. It’s invalid!” he elaborated.
He showed me his ticket, pointed at nationality, then showed it to another passenger.

“The tickets have mistakes. It makes them invalid. They can’t be bothered writing out new ones. They need to get off here. We can forget all about being fined!”

Turning gleefully to Hooray Henry: “Told you we’d be fine!”

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