April 29, 2004

Angry Letter Writing

I had an incident.

Surprise, surprise.

The trains that run into London from Newbury (and from this entire area, really) are maintained and owned by a company called First. Now, this company recently has decided to have a bee up its nose, and has security guards and police available at every train platform. One is not even allowed on the train platform without a ticket anymore, which is ridiculous, since you can buy tickets on the train (and I have before). I confess I have never, ever ridden a train without buying a ticket.

Catholic guilt, remember.

These guards are a serious pain in the ass. Not only does it mean the queues for tickets are very long, but more often than not you miss the train you had intended to take, so this means hauling my ass out of bed even earlier than usual in order to make sure I make the queue to make the train.

I was in line to buy a ticket. I was running late. The First guards saw me and all the others in the queue and talked amongst themselves. They saw us line up, talk to the teller, produce various bits of shiny plastic, and buy a very expensive little piece of paper (in my case, my little piece of paper cost me 32 pounds and would allow me to full use of the pride of Britain). My train would be leaving in exactly 60 seconds, and in Newbury, they don’t fuck around. They close those doors and don’t re-open them again until the next station. Missing this train would mean a 15 minute wait on the freezing train platform, and trying to crowd into the fast train. I had to catch this one. The woman behind the counter was agonizingly slow. I was hurried. I was frazzled. I wanted that train. I could feel beads of sweat pop up on my back. I was irritated-obviously I couldn’t raise my hands if I’m sure now.

The woman slapped the tickets on the counter and in a flurry of raincoat I grabbed them, hustled out of the office, and started hurtling towards the train, 30 seconds to go. I reached the doorway where the guards were and-as rehearsed-I produced my ticket face up in order to show him. But here’s where the catch was-the receipt was accidentally on top of this (my patented finger trick hadn’t worked) and the ticket wasn’t visible. So the guard did what he shouldn’t have done.

He grabbed my arm to stop me, turned my hand around and read my ticket.
He grabbed my arm.
I couldn’t believe it.

I turned to him and said: “Don’t touch me.” But it didn’t come out all sassy and “I’m Every Woman.” It came out like I was underwater and confused. It came out like a little girl would say. It came out like a confused chick would say. He let me go, I hurtled towards the train and got on just as the doors were closing.

But it was too late for me. The mere motion of him grabbing me had caused me to split. I was no longer Helen, I was Helen watching Helen. I disassociated like a big dog, and stayed that way the entire day. I was inflexible in meetings and demanding (and to be honest, I am usually pretty easy-going in meetings). I was angry.

I became some weird vicious vengeant chick, in complete horrific paranoia that someone would touch me. I wanted to go back to the train platform and push him through a plate glass window. I didn’t get back into myself until later in the day.

The older I get, the more fucked up I am getting.

First Trains are getting a letter from me. In my world, in no way is it ok to touch someone when you work in a service area. There was a line crossed. I mean-if I had been a guy, there is simply no way this man would’ve grabbed me. It was because I am a woman.

Where did this guy learn his customer relations? A hoe-down? Did he completely skip his customer sensitivity training, thinking I'm a man of the millenia. I'm sensitive enough. Where had he missed the part that not only is the customer always right-especially the customer paying 32 pounds a shot for the trains-but the customer reserves the right to not be grabbed like a teenage hooligan by Johnny Law!

Maybe I am just too sensitive. An incident happened two weeks ago that has had me very nervous, and with a second incident, I just got pushed over the edge. But regardless of that, fucknut should not have grabbed me.

This morning on the train I had my grim determination face on. I pictured screaming at him. I pictured lecturing him about how there is no fucking way he should ever have touched me. I pictured calling the police and having him arrested. I pictured him crying in the dockets, begging my forgiveness.

What did I do? I bought my ticket. I exited the office calmly and with my ticket up. I walked past the guy-the same guy-who just looked at my ticket then looked away.

But I took his name on his badge as I walked by, as well as the company he represented, and a letter with the most stringent and strict of terms will be used, a letter which will demand an investigation which First (as I have had it explained to me) will be forced to comply with.

Joe, you are going down.

Consider yourself warned.


PS-I am meeting with Company X today. I am the customer. They are bringing in lunch and preparing slideware.

I can hardly wait.

Posted by Everydaystranger at April 29, 2004 07:10 AM | TrackBack

i have been in this situation before with company x, when it came out that i was a employee there i replied that i had moved on to bigger and better theings, hold head high and look down on them, make them feel benith you and since you,r the costumer make them kiss you,r ass!!!! really feels good, vigince is mine!

Posted by: grady at May 2, 2004 11:24 PM

Re: genders & physical contact.
Helen, you said: "It's like bumping into another guy in a bar. The men just react, they don't take a second. *Shoulders wham* -"Hey buddy! Watch where you're fucking going!" I've seen that many times..."
Exactly. Whereas you brooded over it all day and are planning to write a letter to get the poor underpaid sod in trouble with his boss.

Posted by: Frances at May 2, 2004 09:47 PM

Helen the Hellcat--I love it!

Posted by: Marie at April 30, 2004 04:24 PM

And Angel-QJump will be used.

Drew-You can't buy a 10 trip pass, unfortunately, it's only in calendar weeks or months. Since I only go to London twice a week or so (as I am at other Dream Job locations during the week), it doesn't add up to buy a week pass. And it doesn't add up to buy a month pass. Which sucks, since that would solve my problems!

Posted by: Helen at April 30, 2004 09:36 AM

Roger-I'm still pissed off, and won't write the letter until I calm down and can be constructive, since I think that's what it calls for here.

Joshua-I see your point, but imagine this: Guard grabs a man, dressed in a business suit and trying to hold onto his briefcase, on the wrist as he hurries to the train.

I can see the CCTV footage now.

It's like bumping into another guy in a bar. The men just react, they don't take a second. *Shoulders wham* -"Hey buddy! Watch where you're fucking going!" I've seen that many times...

But your option B did make me laugh.

Donna-I think I got so riotously upset due to the fact that two weeks ago something else happened, something that I haven't blogged about. I mean, I would've been annoyed and angry, but I wouldn't have gone so mental.

What do I want? I definitely DON'T want him to be fired. I've been unemployed, and even the three people I hate most in the world wouldn't have that wished upon them from me. All I want is an apology. And for someone to say that they will make sure their guards know not to grab people to check tickets. That's all. Which I don't think is so outrageous to ask (even if I'm not a British subject), but I take your point on having it mailed to my work address! :)

Posted by: Helen at April 30, 2004 09:29 AM

and what was the incident from two weeks ago? The high guy, and the two teenage boys farting Or the two girls and the creepy guy?
And you said that when you went past this guy again, with your ticket up, he just looked and then looked away. It doesn't sound to me like he's too gung ho for harassing people.
I'm just sayin, Helen. Maybe you might have overreacted cuz of the disassociative disorder? I'm not making light of how you felt, it obviously fucked you up, but I don't think he was so out of line.
And they may not say they are there for anti terrorism purposes, (we don't check for bombs, we are checking for lost items) but I'd bet they are. And I bet you sounded stronger than you thought.

Posted by: Donna at April 30, 2004 05:15 AM

I work security for a medium/large southwestern city, and have for 18 years. I specialize in crowd control, and am probably a little overpaid for what I do, (my biggest stress is the administration), and I have great benefits and retirement so I stay.
I have handled people all over the place Helen, I don't think he handled you because you were a woman, he handled you because he could see you were hauling ass, in a hurry, trying to catch this train before it left, and he knew that asking you to stop and show the ticket etc etc would make you maybe miss it. Joshua is right, it was just easier to grab your wrist and turn the ticket.
Helen he didn't know how it would affect you. He didn't know you'd split off the way you did.
What he did know is that you look approachable, (friendly), and in a hurry and figured he'd do the fastest thing. Now if he'd tried to hold you there and did something like flirt with you or even be too familiar with you, then no, it wouldn't have been ok. As you have written, he just briefly stopped you, didn't try to engage you in conversation, or even show any other interest in you other than your ticket, which is (I think the company will tell you) doing his job. In fact, he may get in trouble for not detaining you longer, actually reading your ticket and letting you go as fast as he did.
By all means, write your letter, but don't be surprised if you don't get the response you want. And what do you want exactly from this company? Do you want him fired? Reprimanded? Or told that someone complained about him grabbing them? And he will know who he grabbed won't he? That's the problem with filing complaints on this kind of thing, I know people who have taken revenge on the people who have complained.
Helen, I'm not telling you not to complain, but be concrete with your complaint, ask for him to be transfered, that way you won't run into him again, and don't expect any action, but ask for a written explaination of what kind of action they took if any. Have it mailed to your office, not home, (see above), and get to the station earlier or buy your ticket ahead of time as others have said. But don't be surprised if you see him everyday, and he jacks you up because he can.....sorry this got so long, but for once, it's actually something I know about, and just be sure you know what a can of worms you may be stirring up before you do, and make sure that you can hang with that.

Posted by: Donna at April 30, 2004 04:53 AM

I would be furious too, as well as beating myself up over not reacing in a way that i later thought I *should have*. I also might have reacted a lot stronger physically as being grabbed when I don't see it and don't excpect it does bad things to me. I would be furious too, and while dissasociation sucks, I don't think your feelings make you fucked up at all. Write a really good letter - he totally deserves it :)

Posted by: O)nyx at April 30, 2004 04:11 AM

I'm just glad that you didn't respond the way that I would and have done when "grabbed" by someone. Not that disassociation is anything to be all happy about, but consider the outcome if you would have lashed out at this man. Been there - done that - never a happy outcome.

Posted by: Sue at April 30, 2004 03:58 AM

Interesting story and responses. I was thinking that the guard would be MORE likely to grab a man's arm than a woman's, yet so many commenters agree with you.
What's very strange is the way this tiny little incident stayed with you all day and with such emotional force. Definitely something else, much more important, is going on that you need to think about.

Posted by: Frances at April 30, 2004 01:58 AM

I'm having difficulty following what happened; things happened so quickly:-) "I reached the doorway where the guards were and-as rehearsed-I produced my ticket face up in order to show him." Was this the doorway of the train or an entrance to the boarding platform? Was there eye contacted before you passed the guard? Usually I get a nod of acknowledgement that they have seen what they needed to see and there is a pause in my step. But seeing the time was very short till the trained pulled away I don't blame you for trying to minimize the little delays that add up to watching a train pull away just as you get to it. Seems, but I don't know, that Joe guard and you were on a collision course of split second events each out of timing.

How are you feeling now? Have you put a stamp on your letter yet? Or maybe reread it?

Posted by: Roger at April 30, 2004 12:57 AM

Actually, I tell a lie, it isn't obsolete, but it is no longer used to describe British citizens. They use 'British citizen' to do that. ;)

Posted by: Ollie at April 30, 2004 12:11 AM

The term 'British subject' has been obsolete since then

No kidding? Huh. Ah well. I got my info from a Candadian. Maybe she was projecting.

Posted by: Joshua at April 29, 2004 11:55 PM

I think you should forgive this guy Helen, yeah, forgive and forget... right after you roast him like a nut. He doesn't know you, he is not an officer of the law, like you said, rent-a-cop (let-a-bobby?), for all he knew you could have just of had surgery or some injury to your arm that he just made much worse. While you are lighting shit up, light up the company who allows this behavior also, I don't know if the UK has the same deep pocket liability laws as the US, but I imagine if it is their policy to grab people by whatever limb is handy to check their tickets the company will be paying the bill when they hurt someone. From how you described it, his actions should, at the very least, have been preceeded by a verbal request to move the reciept so he could see the ticket. It is not your fault if he can't form a sentence, and as you said, he shouldn't be dealing with people.

Posted by: Dane at April 29, 2004 11:43 PM

Actually, since the British Nationality Act of 1948 British nationals and Commonwealth nationals were known as Citizens of the United Kindgom and Colonies. The term 'British subject' has been obsolete since then. Since then there have been a few other changes to British nationality law. The British Nationality Act of 1981 instituted three main statuses, namely British Citizen, British Dependent Territories Citizen (BDTC) and British Overseas Citizen (BOC).

Anyways, none of this has any bearing on what fellow citizens can and cannot do to each other.

Posted by: Ollie at April 29, 2004 11:11 PM

I was typing my comment at the same time as Joshua, and I disagree: the way he grabbed you ("He grabbed my arm to stop me, turned my hand around and read my ticket") doesn't sound like something a man would do to another man. Can you picture a man grabbing another man and turning his hand around? I think a man might be more likely to have his upper arm grabbed, or similar.

But in any case, whether you're a man or a woman, the guards can't just grab you here; whether people are "subjects" or not has no relevance to anything.

Posted by: angel at April 29, 2004 10:12 PM

Drew said:
"For all he knew you could have been rushing the train with a bomb to blow it up as the doors closed."

Well, it's a good thing he made sure she had a valid ticket in order to get on the train in order to blow it up, huh?

Think about it, kids: checking that you have a paid ticket is NOT the same as ensuring the security of other passengers.

You're right that he wouldn't have grabbed a man that way. I think it was probably just an accident, but it's an accident that reflects on the way our culture views women.

Helen: can I direct you to qjump? Alternatively, I have found in the past that it can be easier to buy your ticket for the next day on the night before.

Posted by: angel at April 29, 2004 10:05 PM

"I mean-if I had been a guy, there is simply no way this man would’ve grabbed me. It was because I am a woman."

A of all, I'm a guy (and a large muscular manly-guy to boot) and I've been handled by many guards over the years. In the Washington State it is, effectively, legal for a private citizen (guard) to physically detain you if they have probable cause to think you've committed one of a number of distressingly common crimes. Obviously that plays out on a case-by-case basis, but guards have a great deal of latitude in the courts. I have also been grabbed by guards in Oregon and California (I just have that look to me), so I gather that the "guards can grab you" standard is fairly ubiquitous in the States. One may, of course, expect better behavior from a Brit. But it's worth nothing that Brits (and Canadians for that matter), are legally considered "subjects" and that this may have a bearing on their approach to body buffer zones.

B of all, just as a point of order: if you'd been a guy you probably wouldn't have been as threatened by being grabbed and this would probably be a non-issue. And, for certain, only a very specific type of wealthy guy with a very specific sense of entitlement would be inclined to make a fuss over such a thing.

C of all: he may actually have grabbed you as a kind of courtesy. If you were obviously in a rush, grabbing your hand to look at the ticket would be quicker (on the order of seconds, but that seems to have been the scale of your haste) than explaining to you that he needed to look at your ticket and risking having an argument about it.

Posted by: Joshua Norton at April 29, 2004 10:03 PM

At some point even rent-a-cops need the authority to put their "hands on" someone (not as a 1st response though), otherwise they could never enforce having a ticket to get on the train.

I don't like people ripping me a new one when I make a mistake and generally don't rip others a new one when they make a mistake. It's that whole Golden Rule thing:)

Posted by: Solomon at April 29, 2004 06:39 PM

Sorry when I saw "this company recently has decided to have a bee up its nose, and has security guards and police available at every train platform"

I assumed the security and police were there for security and protection similar to what we have at Penn Station and Grand Station in NY.

Posted by: drew at April 29, 2004 05:37 PM

Guys-one thing to note: these guards aren't there to protect from terrorists. They are there to make sure people have PAID for their tickets.

Big difference.

Security against terrorism? I can afford a bit of inconvenience for that. Security to protect against me riding the train for free (which I couldn't do anyway, since the ticket person comes through the train to check for tickets)? Not ok.

Big angry letter writing is what's going to happen here.

Emphasis on the big.

Posted by: Helen at April 29, 2004 03:03 PM

I agree with Solomon. He had his orders and he was following them. For all he knew you could have been rushing the train with a bomb to blow it up as the doors closed.

From the company's postion they will see that you were running towards a train without showing a ticket. There guard stopped you to confirm you had a ticket. Since the bombing in Spain I am sure all European countries are very careful when it comes to their trains now.

Do they sell 10 trip tickets? May cost more upfront but in the end will save you some time

Posted by: Drew at April 29, 2004 02:34 PM

I have nothing to ad to the train story, but I have been in the Company X coming to lunch position. An agency that screwed me over came in to present to my current employer. I called in every favor I had to get invited to that meeting.

The look on their face when they walked in and knew they weren't going to get the business was delicious.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at April 29, 2004 02:10 PM

I'm remembering the 'Helen' in 'Sliding Doors' that gets 'split off' while rushing for a train.

Posted by: hetty at April 29, 2004 01:55 PM

Everyone wants to be safe, but no one wants to be inconvenienced. What's a train company to do? He may have seen your receipt and thought, "That's the oldest trick in the book...show yesterday's receipt and pretend it's covering today's ticket." Or he may have been a new guy who made a mistake.

I'd give him a break the first time; I'd write a letter but not a harsh one. If you ever see him grab anyone else, then go for the jugular. He may have realized his mistake and learned his lesson already. A little forgiveness goes a long way.

Posted by: Solomon at April 29, 2004 01:23 PM

Grow Up! Possibly it's not the train scene that's the bother.

Posted by: Annette at April 29, 2004 12:48 PM

I would say that, strictly speaking, it was an assault.

However, calling the police wouldn't really have solved anything. It would take up a lot of Helen's time to make the complaint, and in the end the police would probably just give him a slap on the wrist. To be honest, I think a more productive course of action is to make a complaint to the company so that they can deal with him. It was a mistake, undoubtedly, but I'd be surprised if it was malicious.

Posted by: Ollie at April 29, 2004 12:47 PM

OK, I had a rant ready here, but suddenly I realized I was reacting as an american. If some security guard had grabbed me like that (unlikely, as most of them are cop wannabe's and are basically bullies at heart) I'd have called the police and had him arrested for an assault.

But I'm unsure of the laws over there. So all I can really say is go and get him Helen.

Posted by: Easy at April 29, 2004 12:43 PM

Yep, £32 would probably be what we call a saver return, although I don't know, maybe at that time of day you'd have to get an open return?

Newbury to London is a major commuter route. The train would pick up almost all of the Berkshire-based, London-bound train commuters. Because of this, they charge high prices, although travelling by train in Britain is expensive in general.

Posted by: Ollie at April 29, 2004 12:37 PM

32 POUNDS? For one day? And get to be grabbed like that? For that kind of money, I´m sure my darling V. would demand Colin Firth to be checking the tickets. And touching instead of grabbing... ;-). Miguel.

Posted by: msd at April 29, 2004 11:18 AM

Melanie - that ticket would last one day. Sad, but true.

Posted by: Gareth at April 29, 2004 10:56 AM

The problem with store security (and that's what this guy really was) is they forget that they are store security and start thinking they are "The Law". Smack him down, Helen.

Oooh, lunch with Company X with you as the customer. I can't wait to hear about this one! >:-)

Posted by: Jim at April 29, 2004 10:51 AM

how long does that ticket last?? It sounds horrendously expensive!

Posted by: melanie at April 29, 2004 09:58 AM

Hey Helen,

I am not excusing the guard's behaviour at all, what he did was out of line, but I imagine they are a bit twitchy of late. A few days ago there was a bomb scare at Reading station. Still, I wouldn't have confused you for a terrorist, I would have thought you were a commuter in a rush, and as such wouldn't have manhandled you.

Posted by: Ollie at April 29, 2004 08:46 AM

I wonder when the last time you "let go" like was... it sounds like a long time coming.

I bet you felt better when it was all said and done.

Posted by: Curator at April 29, 2004 08:16 AM
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