(Un)Common Commuting


I live in metropolitan DC. Five days a week, I ride WMATA’s Metro system to and from work, like most federal wage slaves in the region. (I’m not one, but since I work on K Street, it’s a fine line…) So many times, I am inevitably asked by an out-of-town guest what my commute is like.

Now, before the whole June 22 Metrorail “incident,” it wasn’t a bad thing to ride the train in and out. Afterwards? Well, for those of you who follow my articles on WeLoveDC, you know it’s not been a picnic. Still, considering I don’t ride the Red Line, it’s not all vinegar and brussell sprouts, so I can deal.

A couple weeks ago, I posted this article on WLDC. The response was, shall we say, supportive. (I love my twitter peeps. You guys are hysterical.) Normally I don’t cross-post, but I am for this one. Because I’ll be totally honest – it’s hysterical. (And yes, I am tooting my own horn. My blog. My rules. Nyaaaah!)

So, without further digression, I give you the average day in the life of a Washington commuter (who happens to be a blogger and works downtown).*

7:06 a.m. Pulling into the parking garage at Franconia-Springfield a little early; traffic for once was cooperative so I am optimistic it’s a good sign for today. Until I nearly collide head-on with a driver coming up the ramp in the opposite direction who happens to be driving in the center of the lane, rather than sticking to one side or the other. Awkwardness ensues as I back into my selected space…and he parks next to me.

In situations like this, I put on my “Metro mask” and just avoid eye contact.

7:13 a.m. The electronic sign says the Blue Line train awaiting me on the platform below is departing in 3 minutes. I am amused as suddenly everyone’s pace picks up as we surge towards the turnstiles, only to be derailed by a gaggle of tourists attempting to figure out how they’re used. Two teenagers can’t seem to shove their paper farecard into the one clearly marked with the “do not enter” light; a mother wrestles with her stroller at the handicapped gate and suddenly, there’s only one lane for the rest of us regulars to use. And its not reading all the SmarTrip cards on first pass. I glance back at the electronic sign, noting that we’ve got two minutes…and hear the door chimes ring down below.

The train leaves, clearly not in touch with its electronic gatekeeper. The group of commuters I’m with collectively groan silently and take our time getting to the platform, as there’s no train waiting for us yet. Won’t be long, though, as the Blue Line is pretty efficient in cycling the morning rush.

7:23 a.m. Commuters and tourists are stretched out up and down the platform, anticipating where the next train will appear. Because the platform is still empty. Those of us who are regulars at this time of morning – we see each other nearly every day, though we only recognize one another by sight – know something’s up. And because it’s Metro, it’s not good. We share looks and frowns and bury our faces into the Express.

7:25 a.m. A Blue Line train approaches the platform and the crowd begins to align with its arrival. Until we hear the operator demanding we step back as “this train is out of service, don’t even board this train.” Oh, joy.

7:34 a.m. Finally, another Blue arrives…with the same message. “This train is out of service at this time.” That low rumble you hear over the squealing brakes? The collective groan of everyone crowding the platform. Us regulars know it’s going to be one long, hot commute into town at this point – and we’re only at the start of the line.

7:38 a.m. Relief! Another Blue arrives – with no announcements. The more savvy of us slip into position and beeline for seats as the train fills up. It’s already standing-room only in my car – the second in line (and fortunately, a 3000-series car) and the doors are closing within 30 seconds. I think some of the tourists got left lollygagging on the platform.

7:39 a.m. My morning is made even more memorable with the large man squeezing in next to me who apparently likes onions and garlic for breakfast. I try to hold my own down.

7:46 a.m. We are graced with piercing feedback from the overhead speaker, followed by guttural mumbling that would make Charlie Brown’s teacher sound like Luciano Pavoratti. If there were any foggy-brained commuters on that car, they weren’t any more. Who needs coffee with that type of wake-up call?

7:58 a.m. A gaggle of tourists squeeze onto the train at Pentagon City. Entertainment at last! I listen in to their conversation. Apparently, they’re going to the “money building,” that “Jewish museum where some guy shot a cop,” to the White House to “knock on the door and see if Obama’s home – he goes around town, right?” but first to the Washington Monument. “Where do we get off at, mom?”

“Capitol South. It’s right in front of it.”

My lip bleeds from biting it so hard. [Those of you unfamiliar with the layout of DC… let’s just say that the Washington Monument most assuredly does NOT sit across the street from the Capitol Building; though you can indeed SEE it from the Capitol, it’s not the same thing. It – and the Ellipse it adorns – sits over 16 blocks away in front of the White House…]

8:10 a.m. Rosslyn. Usually the press of commuters eases off here but not this morning. I note wryly the next song on my mp3 player, Weird Al’s “Another One Rides the Bus.”

There’s a suitcase poking me in the ribs
There’s an elbow in my ear
There’s a smelly old bum standing next to me
Hasn’t showered in a year
I think I’m missing a contact lens
I think my wallet’s gone
And I think this bus is stopping again
To let a couple more freaks get on look out…

“Doors closing.”

Make it stop, mommy.

8:12 a.m. As we scream under the Potomac, the infant child nestled in one tourist mommy’s arms decides to add her distinctive shriek to the chorus. There is no ovation when finished.

8:15 a.m. Heard as a “hipster” tourist couple exits: “So this is Georgetown? That’s like Soho in New York, right?” “Right!”

At this, I and those around me laugh. We can’t help it now.

8:22 a.m. Finally, my stop at McPherson. But wait! Standing between me and those doors is a firmly-wedged pile of tourists and strollers. “Excuse me, my stop!” I yell, leading an apparent charge as three others follow behind me. I bulldoze through successfully, only kicking (by accident) a stroller. Heard as we depart, “Man, how rude. You’d think they were late to work or something.”

8:24 a.m. Riding the escalator up, I’m too tired to yell “stand right, walk left” to the group of tourists ahead of me.

Is it time to go home yet?

*I wish I made this all up. Really, I do…

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