Sometimes all it takes is one simple question to unearth a fun, juicy story. Such was the case at a press conference in Boston yesterday, where Governor Mitt Romney, trying to reassure Hub riders that their subway is safe despite another round of bombings in London, could not say, when asked by a reporter, how much a subway fare costs.

“‘A buck,’ he gamely responded,” the Boston Globe reported, adding: “That was the correct price — in 2003. Informed of the $1.25 it now costs, Romney told reporters ‘OK, I’ll give you a quarter,’ then laughed and descended into Park Street Station.”

As a multimillionaire who chipped in $6.1 million of his own fortune for his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Romney has some extra quarters to go around.

The governor was put on the spot a second time yesterday when he was asked when he last rode the subway and “could only recall recent press events at [subway] stops”:

“Let’s see it was, we did it with the Charlie card and then also the … it was with [Senate] President [Robert E.] Travaglini — I’m trying to recall,” he said, asking aloud, “We were at a station, what was it … Ashmont station? Ashmont station, it was Ashmont station … It’s not my regular commute.”

For an accomplished businessman and Olympic savior (of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games) eyeing a presidential run, it was a refreshing, unscripted moment of uncertainty — and showed that perhaps Romney needs to pay more attention to what’s going on in his own backyard. It also highlighted a certain disconnect with less plebian subway riders, who were hit with the 25 percent fare increase at the start of 2004 by the perennially cash-strapped MBTA.

And that kind of thing, too, is the job of an alert press.

Edward B. Colby

Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.