Friday, August 17, 2012

Ticket Trouble

The first time I traveled long-distance by train in France, I had my mother with me. We arrived at the station at 7:45 a.m. for an 8:05 departure. Since I had purchased our tickets on-line, I had to retrieve them from the automated kiosk. But when I entered my reservation number, the message "No itinerary found" flashed back at me. I decided to try a different route, and I put my ATM card in the appropriate slot. "There is no itinerary associated with this card" stared back at me from the screen. In French of course. Hmmmm. It was now 7:53. I decided to go to the ticketing office to see if a real-live un-automated person might be able to help. Unfortunately, there was a large crowd gathered just outside of the ticketing office, which was pitch black inside. A sticker on the window promised an 8 a.m.opening.

David was still with us, and he and devised a plan. I would queue up for the machine that gives out the numbered tickets that establish your "place" in line--a system which is found in every French business office. David, on the other hand, would break all protocol and head directly to the man at the counter--ticketless (gasp), and throw himself at the official's mercy.

Against all odds, the ticketing office opened promptly at 8. I battled the crowds for my number, while David stealthily bee-lined for the agent. He explained our dilemma, and voilĂ , had our tickets in hand two minutes later. My mom and I were comfortable in our seats as the train pulled out of the station.

Lesson? Do not use an American debit card to purchase train tickets on the Internet because the automated machines only recognize European cards.

We have traveled by train many times since that fateful morning last October. We feel like professionals at the whole system--never a hiccup. Until this week.

I was on my way to spend a few days with some dear friends who live just north of Paris. My train left at 6:19 a.m.; David dropped me at the station at 6:05. All the yellow automated machines we in use, but a purple one was available. I put in my FRENCH debit card, and received the "No itinerary is associated with this card" message. Oh bother. I tried the reference number route--no dice. At this point I notice that ALL of the yellow machines are suddenly available, and thinking that perhaps there is a difference, I go and repeat my efforts there. I have the same sad results.

It is now 6:13. Happily, I see that the ticketing office is already opened! Sadly, I see that there are about 20 people in line. I begin to wonder if all the machines are broken. What to do? At the end of my myself, I prayed. Yes, I know. I should have started there, but I often wait until I am frantic to pray. Just to keep things exciting.

Lord, I know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results. But since I know I don't have a shot at getting through that line in 6 5minutes, can you please give me a hand? If in this half-asleep state, I am somehow pressing the wrong buttons, have mercy!

And then I slipped my card in one more time. Suddenly an itinerary flashed before me, and since I had purchased round trip tickets and I wanted my return ticket as well, I  quickly pressed the "print all" button at the bottom of the screen. Next moment, I see the message "Printing 7 Tickets."

I am Sister Maria in the Reverend Mother's office. "Yes, I love children tickets, but SEVEN?!?!"

I glance at the giant clock. 6:16.What I had not realized is that I had asked the machine to print ALL of the tickets associated with my debit card. It turns out that since I had already purchased tickets for some other upcoming trips, all of them were now being printed. I guess that's because "print all" means, you know, print all.

It appears I've hit the ticket jackpot, as ticket after ticket spills from the machine. 6:17, the final ticket falls.

Shuffling through them to find the one I need to validate, I hurry towards the platform. Praying my gratitude as I go.

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