I have always wanted to start a collection of something, but I inevitably lose interest after I have, say, fifty stamps or coins, and I remain not a collector but a mere hoarder. And so I am always amazed by the collections of others, and it’s funny how what people collect differ from country to country. In the United States it was often Coca-Cola paraphernalia or bottle caps. In a German house I came across a staggering assemblage of beer-related articles alongside a budding toy car collection. And here I have met more than one Czech obsessed with public transit vehicles, amassing vast collections models, pictures and memorabilia from Prague’s MHD, or municipal transit authority.
It is a good transit system – very well though out with hardly any holes in the net where you would get stuck – you can generally get from just about anywhere to anywhere in the greater city centre in 15 to 20 minutes. And the best thing is that it’s free, as long as you follow certain rules, all of which involve the ‘revizor’, a word that strikes fear into the heart of every anarchist.
A revizor is a magical entity that appears out of thin air when you haven’t purchased a ticket and demands 700 crowns. If you do purchase tickets you will almost never see one. In order to avoid the revizor, I will relate the following advice that I, let’s say, once overheard. Sit near the front of the tram and keep a look out for 45-year-old men in denim jackets. Tram stops in Prague are generally half a kilometre apart, so you can escape before he reaches you. In the metro, the escalator is the thing to avoid because the revizor bottlenecks its victim and picks its prey discerningly. When going up, choose a person who is younger and dressed worse then you and stand behind him – he will be stopped first. In the absence of such a person, hold your breath to make your face flush, exit the escalator at a harried pace and write someone a text message. The revisor usually cannot be bothered to stop someone who is busy, when two-thirds of people ride for free. Never look a revizor in the eye. If you have time, take the elevator: it’s mind-numbingly slow, but safe, and even gives you some time to write or scratch some of your thoughts on the doors and walls. Lastly, if you are cornered, your best and last weapon is honesty and humbleness. The revizor listens to excuses and lies for a living. The only way to defang him and liberate yourself, is to say that you didn’t buy a ticket because you just didn’t. Usually he will be so shocked that he will let you go. Other, less effective, last-ditch methods include carrying about a hundred old tickets with you and making the revizor sift through all of them, or approaching him before he stops you, hand him a camera and ask him in a foreign language to take your picture. Alternatively, stopping him to ask how to get to Old Town Square is risky but funny: most of the time he will send you back down the escalator to the metro.
So in the end the transit system isn’t really free, because if the
inspector wins your match once a month then it all evens out. One person I
know was actually tracked down for a fine he never paid seven years before
and was charged 65,000 crowns. At 24 crowns a ticket, he reckons he came
out only slightly in the red overall. And so maybe I have found just the
thing to start a collection with in the form of aged receipts for MHD fines
that I can look over and reminisce about all the fun the revizors and I had
together back in the day – the times my capture was quick and painless,
the times it turned into a conversation about their nephew living in
America, or the times they said “You don’t have 700? Well just give me
what you do have then” – all those memories in each little pink ticket.
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