"Where are you going today?" I asked curtly, not trying to mask my annoyance.
"New Rochelle." He answered with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Ugggh!" I grumbled in disgust.
I ran for the bottle of Purell hand sanitizer that I keep in my railroad bag and squirted several droplets into my palms. While vigorously rubbing my hands together, I thought about Bill, a germaphobic coworker who collects tickets in latex gloves, a practice I once thought of as eccentric, but now think of as ingenious.
I wish I could say that this disgusting episode was unique, but I can't. For example; I frequently catch passengers holding tickets in their mouths. Sometimes they'll go as far as using them as dental floss, spending the better part of the ride mining molars for forgotten bits of a $200 business lunch and then handing me a ticket covered in spit and shreds of steak tartar.
Frequently, I spy someone coughing or sneezing into their ticket. They act as if nothing untoward has happened and try to pass their mucus covered ticket to me. I'll usually hold up my hand and say something like: "Today's your lucky day...you get to keep that ticket as a souvenir."
A passenger on my morning train passes his time by picking his nose and then eating it. Every morning it's the same thing, picking...eating, eating...picking, picking...eating. Luckily, he has a monthly commutation ticket and there's no hand to ticket contact between us. If he ever forgets his pass...he gets a free ride.
A few years back, on a hot August afternoon, a young man boarded my train in his high school basketball uniform. "Tickets please!" I asked, as I watched droplets of sweat pour down his face. "One minute" he said. He then reached down for his size 13 Air Jordans. I waited as he slowly untied his shoe, took it off and reached inside for his ticket. Once retrieved he proudly displayed a sweat soaked ticket. It drooped in his fingers, looking as soggy and limp as a cornflake left in day old milk. "You can't be serious" I said. "Sorry man," he said with a smile, "Ain't got no pockets."
There is an upside to this story. Because of all this bacterial exposure, I believe I've built up immunity and I rarely get sick. I guess that's what happens when you work in a Petri dish.