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Adventures in Public Transportation

May 26, 2006

Last Sunday I traveled down the East Coast almost entirely by public transportation. More for the personal challenge than the money-saving aspect, the trip was relatively uneventful, with only a track switch on my Metro-North train and a slapstick fight between me, my suitcase, and the ADA-unfriendly New York subway.

Between my attempts at environmental consciousness and love of people-watching, public transportation, especially around major cities, holds a special place in my memories. When I think of Montreal, I think of “moshens stacion” (apologies to Francophones everywhere), the projection TVs at the Berri-UQAM stop, the rotation of music that greeted us at Guy-Concordia. Then there is the St. Patty’s Day I spent in Boston, and the unfortunate ride in the T car that had already been puked upon at 11 o’ clock.

My favorite public transportation system of course is the DC Metro. Say what you will about the restrictions on eating and drinking (including the possibly apocryphal tale of a 12 year old arrested for eating French fries), but underneath its bureaucratic exterior, the Metro is a quirky, strange place.

But my love for the Metro does not come from it’s cleanliness, or the runner lights that blink on and off when a train is arriving in the station, but instead from the way it is inexorably tied up in the time I have lived in DC.

In the fall of 2003 I was looking at colleges, and stayed at American University for a night with a friend from high school. We left AU at midnight to go to one of the Cosi’s in Dupont Circle (an idea, at the time, I thought was really daring). As we stood in the hollowed out concrete tunnel that makes up every Metro station in the District, the train rushed in and pushed my hair in front of my face. The next day, turning from a girl who gave me a tour of GW towards the Foggy Bottom escalators, I ran smack into a man with a striped shirt. Flustered for a moment, I started down the escalator, wondering if GW’s admissions tagline (“Something Happens Here”) was more than a marketing ploy. (Answer: From my own experience: yes).

As I commuted my way back to Bethesda this past Tuesday, I stood waiting for a train at Metro Center. It was 10 o’clock at night and the LED told me a train towards Shady Grove wouldn’t be arriving for 13 minutes. I took a book out of my bag and started reading. A few minutes later, I heard a chorus of voices starting “So in Love”. Across the track, three men gathered around a torn open coffee box, singing a cappella. The fifty or so people in the station all looked up, shocked out of their newspaper and iPod worlds. There are sometimes performers outside of Metro stations; very rarely do they actually perform in the tunnel.

They were good, making a wonderful sound with three people and concrete acoustics. The next thing that happened was even more shocking. As they finished, the station, quiet before, erupted into cheers. A guy behind me whistled. It was good to know that as cynical as DC is sometimes, an impromptu performance is always appreciated.

A recommendation: Attention, Passengers: A short story by Len Kruger from Zoetrope All-Story that is both creepy and wonderful, and makes me think of Moby Dick every time I step into a station. Extra points for the Foggy Bottom-GWU reference.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. sarah permalink
    July 23, 2006 5:51 pm

    Ah! I love the Metro too. Miss it so much…moved to Florida last year. Public transpo? Sucks. So much.

  2. len permalink
    July 30, 2006 10:12 am

    hey — thanks for the recommendation!

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