The Metro is a nice perk of this city. It does get one from point A to B most of the time. It allows us to drink as much as we want sans drunken driving, and it allows us to be pretentiously environmentalist with that cute hemp-clothing guy when we talk about how we never drive, ever.
However, these are small buoys of hope in a vast sea of inconveniences that Metro riders deal with daily. It is not just being approached by the occasional America-shorts wearing, mulleted Oklahoman wanting to know where to get off for the White House. It’s not even coming back from a 10-hour day at the office with a blistering headache in the same car as a gaggle of 8-year-olds on their school field trip who decide it would be fun to scream every time the train starts moving forward.
All of these inconveniences pale in comparison to what happens at rush hour, when it seems this carefully planned system, with its immaculate floors and nonretracting doors, goes horribly awry, making life torturous for everyone.
First of all, coming back to campus from anywhere near downtown is impossible, as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority likes to toy with us by making its trains run in slow motion after 5 p.m. between Metro Center and Bethesda. I recently experienced this at Farragut North, where I watched two trains come and haul away everyone that would fit in, ass cheeks pressed to the windows, leaving many others on the platform angrily shoving our ear buds back in and muttering with arms folded.
I think it’s amusing how D.C.-ites, myself included, are so frigid and averse to contact that we make 4-foot radiuses around homeless people and mumble embarrassed apologies after accidentally brushing against another’s cart at Giant. However, we will willingly stand there, face planted squarely in the armpit of the nearest upper-bar holder and purse wedged firmly in our neighbor’s groin area, solely to avoid having to take the next train at rush hour.
Obviously, when you know the trains might be 10 minutes apart, the temptation to run at the familiar whooshing approaching-Metro noise can be overwhelming. Once, in the Wheaton station, I heard the following PA announcement: “Many people are injured or killed each year while running for the Metro. Remember, if this train passes, another is right behind it.”
This, obviously, is a bold-faced lie. While I’ll leave my disdain for Orwellian public service announcements aside, everyone knows the opposite is true. When you run for Metro trains, yes, another one is a minute behind. When you don’t run, the next one is 20 minutes behind. And then, who’s going to explain to your boss why you’re 19 minutes late?
But of course, running for the Metro does put you at risk for being judged all the more sternly by the already judgmental Metro passengers. I once saw a guy sprint down the escalator screaming “Wait! Wait!” and virtually summersaulting onto the Metro, stopping once he got inside to do a full-fisted-arm-tuck-in “Yes, I win!” motion. I then watched as his triumphant smile turned slowly to a shameful flush as the train proceeded to sit there for another 7 minutes or so, and the tiny grandma that he knocked over on his way down hobbled angrily on beside him, shaking her fist.
In short, I’m not sure what, but something must be done. Maybe we could make the Metro double-decker and tell the tourists that upstairs is the “scenic” sitting area. Maybe there should be an escalator marked “tourists only” because they clearly are not capable of understanding the necessity of standing to the right and have proven unresponsive to our scornful glances. Finally, would it really be so bad to let us drink coffee on the Metro? It might at least make the face-to-armpit travel sessions a little more enjoyable.
Olga Khazan is a senior in the School of Public Affairs and a social commentary columnist for The Eagle.