It’s finally summertime in Washington DC and therefore, it’s time to partake in a season ritual known as “complain about metro.” (There’s even a whole blog about it)
Don’t get me wrong….this is a sport that can be played year round. It’s just that it becomes especially strident when the town is (a) incredibly muggy and odor-producing and (b) overrun by tourists.
I have nothing inherently against tourist. I, myself, am often a tourist in strange locales. If tourists stop and ask me questions, I generally try to keep the eye-rolling to a minimal and not only answer their stupid questions, but point out the steps I took to come to that answer. For example, here’s a typical exchange I have with a tourist about 90 days of the year:
Red sweaty tourist: “Do you know if I’m on the right side of the platform?”
(Sometimes there’s even a timid “excuse me” thrown in there, which is actually appreciated, unless it’s followed by a “ma’am,” which will get you cut. Other times there’s a whole life story involved before the question, which is not appreciated. I don’t care what part of the Appalachian you came from or how many of your children you brought with you or how this is your first time riding public transportation. I’d already figured that last one out, by the way.)
Cool composed me: “Where are you going?”
RST: “Washington DC.”
CCM: “Well, if we look at the clearly marked electronic signs above our head, they indicate that trains going in this direction end at Largo Town Center. Then, if we cross reference that with the sweat-stained map you’re holding in your hand, or the identical metro maps emblazoned every two feet along the platform, or even the tall brown pillars with a little dot-by-dot list of stops serviced by this platform, we can deduct by the names of the stops that you are indeed on the correct side to go to Washington.”
RST: “When is the next train coming?”
CCM: “Well, I don’t actually control the trains with my Big City Magic, but I can refer you again to the electronic signs above our head which clearly indicates that the next train is in 3 minutes. Don’t worry. There’s no reason to be suspicious of that information. It is generally true and reliable, and the signs are located on every platform in every station on every line.”
There’s a lot more I can add to this, but these tend to be the most often asked questions, although other questions about specific landmarks or locations are often thrown in, to which I have to reply that there is no metro stop called “Lincoln Memorial,” and since I don’t often travel to the memorial because I don’t work there and there isn’t really a restaurant or bar there, I can’t help them any further.
So back to my point: I don’t mind tourists. I understand that they bring money into our fair region – money that, in some magical accounting mystery, doesn’t actually lead to better metro service or lower fares. I just wish the tourists wouldn’t ride the metro when I’m trying to ride it. They can have at it between the hours of 8:30 am and 5 pm and again after 8 pm. Actually, let’s make that 9 pm. Sometimes Happy Hour runs long.
No, today I’d like to complain about my commute last Friday. Let me set the scene, which is easily done in about four sentences: It was a hellacious workday. My normal team of three was just down to me. I had worked harder than a preacher in Las Vegas. I just wanted to go home and have some wine.
My home metro station is serviced by the blue and yellow lines, which runs together for a little while before splitting and going two different directions. The metro station near my work is the blue line, so I take blue line trains to work and home.
But some days, especially on very bad Fridays, you get to the metro station near work and the platform is packed. Which indicates that there are delays on the metro. Probably from someone trying to commit suicide by jumping on the tracks – it actually happens a lot and seriously tests your humanity because while you know that someone has been seriously hurt and probably even killed, all you can think is “dammit, this is so freaking inconvenient.”
When there is a delay on the blue line, I have a serious calculation to do based on very little information: Do I go down and pack myself in with the rest of the herd and wait for the blue line train, or do I resort to Plan B? Plan B involves backtracking several stops in the opposite direction I wish to go in and then switching to a yellow line train, which is (a) obviously less direct and (b) requires changing lines in the intimidatingly large and exceptionally crowded L’Enfant station (which services four different train lines and therefore has about eight platforms, plus a Virginia Rail Express, I think).
So I have to decide whether I think the time it will take to navigate the yellow line option is less time than what it will take for the metro crew to scrape a body off the train tracks and get the train moving again. Sorry, but those are the factors to the formula. No way to sugar coat it.
Unless we’re just dealing with a sick passenger (usually some heat-stroked tourist). Then, things could, hypothetically, be resolved in slightly less time. Unless, that sick passenger got sick all over the train, in which case everyone on the train will have to be off-loaded, the train will have to be taken out of service, which involves backing it to an unused platform, then adding another train to service to pick up all the offloaded passengers, etc. etc. etc.
The point is, there’s really no way to know. It’s a crap shoot. I usually find that whatever Sophie’s Choice I’ve made, I have a sneaking suspicion it was the wrong one. On Friday, I decided to go with the platform that had moving trains on it versus the one that didn’t, and went in the direction of the yellow line. (This is my station. My platform is on the right. Plan B is on the left. Which would you choose?)
Another calculated risk when riding the metro: When the doors open, you have about 3 seconds to discern whether an empty seat on a very crowded metro during rush hour is empty for a reason, ie: crazy person sitting there. But when I looked at my potential seatmate, no bells went off. I had no gut check, so I sat. (To be fair, neither the train nor station were air conditioned, so perhaps this fogged up my situational awareness ability.)
It wasn’t him I should have been worried about. It was the group of about eight hooligan teenagers who were heckling him mercilessly with very loud questions like, “Oh, are we bothering you? Are we? Huh? I bet you wish we would just get off this train, huh? Oh you’re not going to talk to me? You’re just going to ignore me? Why are you so angry? We’re just all going home to party, right? What do you drink when you party? I bet you drink wine coolers! Did y’all hear what I said? I told him I bet he drinks wine coolers!”
We all heard what you said. Because you said it repeatedly and very, very loudly.
This went on for about four stops, or around 15 minutes. They made sure to beat the windows next to me (he was seated in the aisle seat) to get his attention and wish him a fond journey to his destination. By fond journey, I mean, flip him off and jeer at him.
Switching train lines, I patiently wait on another packed platform for the next yellow line train (by the way, there was a National’s game that night, so extra special times). One pulls up and there’s a mad push towards the doors. It’s not quite Tokyo style where there are little men pushing you in from the back, but as I said, I’m already hot and sweaty and not looking forward to jamming in.
But I need not worry because a woman wearing about 12 laminated work badges, some Reebok/Sketcher fake workout shoes, and the world’s largest gym bag/body duffel (unused, I’m fairly certain) appears out of nowhere and wedged her wide acid-washed jean-covered ass in front of me. She basically shoved me into the side of the train. To which I commented out loud, “Oh yes, please, you should totally go first. I didn’t realize that YOU were waiting for the train. Don’t mind me at all.”
Then, as the doors opened, she maneuvered herself in front of – I kid you not – a man in a wheelchair. A wheelchair!! To which I huffed into the back of her thinning, cotton-candy textured hair, “Oh, you’re going to cut this guy off too? Are you kidding me??”
She did indeed, cut him off too. And she seemed quite satisfied in her seat for the next two stops, while I glared at her from the aisle.
I eventually got home, quite worked up and rattled, which isn’t at all the way you want to attack a bottle of wine on a Friday night.
I’m telling you, if you hear about a shoot-up in a DC metro station, please delete this blog post. Or use it as evidence for why my actions were justified in the name of humanity.