#303: Joining the Boop Boops

April 4th, 2014

The biggest casualty of that slice of pizza was my transit pass.

Basically, the story goes like this:

Boy wants pizza. Boy gets pizza. Pizza place’s credit card machine had been hacked, so bank cancels debit card boy used to get slice of pizza. Boy thinks replacement card that came in the mail was a free credit card offer, so boy throws out replacement card.

Mid purchase of Thai for lunch (boy eats out a lot), boy’s debit card stops working. Boy gets temporary card until the new card comes, “boy meets girl” conceit gets old and then I had to beat the clock to add the new info to all the auto bill pays I use so that my phone, Internet, utilities, car share and domain hosting don’t get canceled.

I missed a big one. I forgot to update my Chicago Card Plus.

You’ll note I said “Chicago Card Plus,” not “Suckling Hellbeast” or its more common name “Ventra.”

Ventra is the new fare system for the CTA’s trains and buses. It debuted last year to replace a fare system that was completely fine. Seriously. The old way worked well. No one had any problem with it. It worked.

Ventra, however, didn’t. Cards didn’t show up in the mail. Fares were overcharged. People couldn’t get set up. The card readers were scanning people’s credit cards and charging them instead of the Ventra cards. Government workers realized their ID badges could get them rides for free. At one point in November, all the cards stopped working during rush hour, jamming up the city and costing more than $33,000 in lost fares.

I’m sure there were buddy buddy deals and some low-level CTA purchasing department employee now owns a boat, but for me the worst effect of the Ventra is the boops.

Boop boop, the machine goes every time a Ventra card fails to read. Boop boop. Every morning and every afternoon on the bus, boop boop. Boop boop. Boop boop. The line is delayed while some poor Ventra-wielding schmuck has to stand there tapping his or her card over and over and over and over until the reader either decides to do its job or the bus driver gets sick of it and waves the Ventra user aboard for free just to keep things moving. More riders, more chances to either get on board or suffer an endless and random series of boops, Russian roulette with a gray piece of plastic.

Then I step up and quickly, smugly smash my perfectly perfect Chicago Card Plus against its reader and get on board the first time. What I lost in free rides I gained in never having hold up a line of people with embarrassing boops.

I had a Ventra card. Got it in September. But I decided to keep my old system running until either the problems were fixed or they canceled the old system.

Or until I forget to update my auto bill pay info and the website won’t let me re-up my Chicago Card.

I set up my Ventra tonight. Tomorrow morning, I join the begging, screaming, booping gray world of the Ventra. Because I got a slice of pizza.

We keep such worlds in our wallets. The little pieces of plastic in there can access my life savings, get me to a doctor, get me library books, get me behind the wheel of a car, get me on a train, tell the world who I am, where I live, my birthday, my height, my fake weight, my eye color and that I’m a member in good standing of the Society of Professional Journalists.

I can waltz into certain office buildings with those cards, see some museums. These little, weird, terrifying pieces of plastic can divvy out the $25 worth of Starbucks coffees my uncle gave me for Christmas or they can try to rip off every cent I own but just end up canceling my transit plan.

If you ever want a way to wrap your head around this weird, scary, connected world of ours and the sheer amount of personal info we let fly willy nilly for the sake of convenience and maybe a member’s discount, imagine me standing in the front of a bus, screaming at a plastic card that goes boop boop.

And know I’m there because I wanted a slice of pizza.

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Not thematically related, but here’s a story with a cabbie from Togo

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You are currently reading #303: Joining the Boop Boops by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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