Halloween Scare

I walked to the bus stop this morning, after a three-day weekend. The 47 bus arrived right on time. I stepped on board and tapped my ORCA card. The reader gave that annoying and effective error tone.

The reader said my card had been BLOCKED. I had never seen that before, but it was clear what it meant. BLOCKED. My ORCA card was no longer valid – no, worse than that, it had been purposely invalidated.

It was the same driver we have every morning, so he let me ride Downtown for free.

I spent the ride trying to figure out what had happened. Had I used the wrong card? No, I used to have an extra ORCA card, one that Metro gave me for agreeing to ride route 44, but that was many,many years ago.

Had my employer forgotten to renew my ORCA card? That made no sense. Something like that would happen on the first day of the month, not the last day.

Had my card been damaged? No, the reader would have told me to try tapping my card again.

The only thing I could thing of, that made any sense, was that the ORCA reader on the bus was faulty.

The ORCA reader in Westlake Station said my card had been BLOCKED. It instructed me to buy a ticket. So I did. I believe in paying my fare, even for a short, two station ride. Besides, I’d already been given one free ride this morning.


I thought about the last time I’d used my ORCA card. It was Friday, on all of those trips between Downtown, Capitol Hill, and the U District. What had happened over the weekend?

A crazy thought went through my mind: What if my badge no longer let me into the building? What had happened over the weekend? If the badge reader wouldn’t accept my badge – if it, too had been BLOCKED – should I check in at the Security desk, or should I phone my supervisor from outside?

My badge let me in, however, and I went directly to my supervisor’s desk. She had no idea why my ORCA card would be BLOCKED. She assured me, with a laugh, that I hadn’t been fired over the weekend, and suggested that I speak with the manager of Employee Services.

The manager of Employee Services had no idea what had happened. She took my ORCA card and promised me a new one this afternoon.

Back at my desk, a coworker, after hearing my story, theorized that someone, somewhere might have entered a wrong card number and BLOCKED my card by mistake.

About an hour into the morning, an employee from Employee Services showed up at my desk with a new ORCA card. In fact, he had a stack of ORCA cards in his hands. He very apologetically explained that his group had BLOCKED several ORCA cards over the weekend – cards assigned to people who no longer worked there, or cards people had lost – and something had gone wrong with the formatting of a spreadsheet, and several valid cards had been BLOCKED by mistake.

A large part of my job involves working with spreadsheets, and I know what a hassle they can be, so I can relate.

Somewhere between Pioneer Square Station and University Street Station, this evening, I remembered that I’d used a new ORCA card, it had tapped just fine without me even thinking about it, and the drama of this morning was behind me.

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