Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My civic duty

So what was I doing at the Hoyts Highpoint cinema last night, with the well-received trio of Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Neighbors (here called Bad Neighbours) staring me in the face, and purchasing a ticket for a movie that had already been out for two months?

My civic duty, that's what.

Since I am an American expatriate living Australia -- you may have heard me mention this before -- I am always conscious of my own Americanness. I'm acutely aware that every time I open my mouth to a stranger, that person is going to be confronted by the momentary thought "Oh, I'm talking to an American," and whatever he or she associates with that will flicker through his/her mind. Sometimes this is a positive, as when I was at an Aussie rules football game on Sunday night and one of the vendors told me that she loved my accent and had visited Boston (I was wearing a Celtics jersey). When they don't say anything, though, I make the paranoid assumption that they are judging me.

Given this, you can understand why I am hesitant to wear a) my Obama t-shirt, and b) my Captain America t-shirt. The Obama shirt is no great shakes, style-wise, but I love the Cap shirt. I do wear it, but then I am even more conscious of how I am confronting strangers with my Americanness. "Not only is this guy American," they will think, "but he wears his Americanness literally on his sleeve."

I don't feel ashamed of being American -- far from it. But I do feel that my very lack of shame is what I might be judged for. A lack of shame is the most identifiably American trait we have, if you take us at our most stereotypical level. So I feel the need to apologize for whatever foreign policy decision or bit of cultural imperialism for which they may blame me. Hey, at least feeling guilty about it could earn me recognition as one of the "good Americans."

However, I do still feel a kinship to anything American, which includes most of the culture Australians consume. Movies like Captain America: The Winter Soldier are those I want especially to give my blessing, and that translates to seeing them in the theater, even if they have been out here in Australian since April 3rd.

In fact, so much did I want to endorse this movie that I had intended to see it on the fifth day of its theatrical release, until I was forced into a last-minute change of plans in order to successfully execute a double feature (you can read about that here). Having heard so many good things about Captain America, and having really dug the first one, I didn't want the rash decision I had to make back when I caught Noah and The Lego Movie to consign The Winter Soldier to the small screen. I also knew that it might be gone from Highpoint as soon as this Thursday, so now was the time to act.

I ended up really liking the movie -- I would almost say I loved it -- but that's not what I want to spend the rest of this post telling you about. Rather, I want to tell you about something that happened to me at the end of the movie.

I'd reached the Highpoint Shopping Center via the 57 tram, using my wife's Myki card. These green cards, about the size of and twice the thickness of a credit card, are what you swipe when you board. I was using her card, rather than my own, because mine is carrying a balance that decreases whenever I use it, while hers has had unlimited use paid up front for a certain period of time. Whenever she's not using hers, it makes sense for me to use it, as I had also done earlier that day to get to and from work.

It was this card -- which was paid up through the morning of June 19th -- that I couldn't find at the end of the movie.

I slapped every pocket. I rummaged through every compartment of my backpack. I slapped every pocket again. And then I started to swear up a storm.

You see, a Myki card is a precious object. Even if it doesn't have any money on it, it costs six dollars to replace. When it does have money on it, it's basically just like cash. Anyone who's holding it can use it to ride several varieties of Melbourne transportation, from trams to buses to trains.

And riding these is not cheap. It's $3.58 per ride, so paying up for a whole week costs about $30.

The thing is, my wife hadn't paid up for just a week. That's what she had been doing, but this time, she had paid up for a whole month. And there were still more than three weeks until June 19th, the expiration date I'd been seeing flash on the card readers.

That means that my wife's Myki card -- now evidently, irretrievably lost -- was worth close to $100.


After I'd pushed back every seat in the two rows on either side of the one where I'd been sitting, I reluctantly decided that I had to declare the card gone. I grimly noted that my frantic search for the card at least allowed me to see both of the two bonus sequences inserted into, and then after, the movie's credits.

On my way out of the theater, I decided to throw a hail mary and ask the woman cleaning up behind the concessions counter if there was any chance that someone would turn in a lost Myki card. I wasn't even asking her if someone did turn it in -- I was asking her if she thought there was any chance they would. To her credit, she did not take the easy route of giving me the answer I laid out for her on a platter. She called up to her manager to see if someone had turned one in, and indeed, they had not.

I mean, who would? If you found a hundred dollars lying on the ground, would you try to figure out who had lost it? Finders keepers, losers weepers.

I thought what most likely happened was that it fell out of my jacket pocket in the ticket line. Having hoofed it over from the tram stop, I found myself quite toasty when I finally slowed down to queue up, so I shed both my jacket and the long-sleeve shirt underneath it. So as a last-ditch effort to avoid the chewing out I imagined my wife would give me, I made my way over to the velvet ropes and metal posts of the ticket line.

And: there it was.

I couldn't believe it. Resting on the circular metal base of one of the posts was my wife's Myki card. I so couldn't believe it that even though it was obviously the same card, I checked the reverse side for the letter C my wife had scrawled on it with a Sharpie. And there was that glorious letter C.

Grinning wildly, I brought the card back and showed the woman at the concession stand, who mirrored my wide grin.

Now, what may well have happened was that the card landed exactly where I found it. But that's not what I'm choosing to believe. Because it seems imminently more likely -- according to the physics of falling objects, if not the behavioral tendencies of human beings -- I have to believe that a good Samaritan saw my lost card on the ground and specifically placed it on the little incline of the metal post base.

And if I'm believing that, I'm also believing that they consciously chose that spot for the following reason: It was where someone who was looking for it would find it, as opposed to just leaving it on the carpet, where it would attract the attention of any passerby seeking to profit from it. This would also be preferable to turning it in to the lost and found, where it would also be subject to the morality of whoever next possessed it. The spot they chose was specifically designed so that the person who lost it, and no other, would be the most likely person to find it.

They couldn't have known how much money was on it, but doing the right thing cost them close to $100. Of course, to this wonderful person, doing the right thing may have been its own reward.

By the time I exited the mall complex and walked the 15 minutes to the tram stop, the last tram on my line had run for the night. Another tram that could take me part of the way came lurching by, so part of the way I rode. When it diverged from my route, I disembarked, and walked the remaining 50 minutes back to my house, arriving at just after 1 a.m. I was so keyed up that the walk flew by. I was so keyed up that I'm writing this post now, instead of in the morning, even though the clock has just now struck 2 a.m.

It would have been a heck of a sad walk home if I'd lost a hundred dollars. Instead, I bounced along, riding the kind of spring in your step that only comes from having your faith in humanity restored.

And on a night that was designed to appreciate Americans, I ended up appreciating the heck out of some nameless and faceless Australian.

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