February 19, 2004

The Metrorail Commandments, Fin

Part Three: Farecards of Doom, Also, Amy Breaks All the Rules

For God’s sake be aware of how much it costs to get where you are going. This rule is in place to spare you the embarrassment of an Inadequate Fare Card that gets spat back at you as you walk into the orange turnstile thingie as they don’t open for you and you must take your Inadequate Fare Card and act confused and immensely puzzled and push through the all people back to the exitfare machines—when everyone knows there’s nothing to be puzzled about; you are an idiot who needs 80 cents added onto your card.

At the exitfare machine you will be embarrassed again if you don’t have 80 cents but only have a five-dollar bill. After you insert the aforementioned denomination, 80 cents will be added to your card, while 16 quarters and four nickels will be spat back at you and which jingle loudly in your pocket as you return to the orange gate things, with your fare card 80 cents richer and your pockets 20 times heavier and louder.

Metro has attempted to make knowing how much it costs to get where you are going fairly easy. At each stop there is a big shiny board with a colorful map and the fare prices for every station. But the passenger is expected to know how to spell their destination and I believe this must be where the whole system crumbles.

This might be a good point to tell all everyone that I’m not really that obnoxious of a Metro rider. Much. The Great and Mighty Metrorail System has the ability to make even the most seasoned Regular look like an immense fool.

Case in point. A plague of escalator troubles had knocked out a couple in Bethesda for quite a stretch of time. The Down escalator would only go Up, and the Up escalator went Nowhere At All. So the Mad Frantic Rush down to the train platform was rerouted to the left, and the Mass Exodus was rerouted to, well, their left. (For commuters, this is the walking equivalent to driving in England.)

This escalator switch was well-marked by pieces of paper with the word DOWN on them taped to orange cones. For days I abided by these signs to the point that I no longer noticed them.

Until the day I saw my train on the platform below and made a Mad Frantic Rush for it. I didn’t notice until I was about halfway down that this was no longer the Down escalator. I realized this when the mass Exodus was headed for me. Headed for me and hungry for a trampling.

I looked over and saw that the Down escalator that for days had been only going Up was now going Nowhere At All. And everyone who was calmly walking down was looking at me like I was an Immense Moron. And everyone who was Exodusing in the upward direction was looking at me like I was Satan. I tried explaining the situation in a British accent but I don’t think anyone heard me and I got squashed, stepped on and shoved all the way down to the platform where I was greeted by the doors slamming in my face. Doors Closing. Ding Dong.

Second case in point. My Dumbass Self got on without realizing that Peak Hours are now in effect. Peak Hours are during Washington, D.C.’s three-hour-long rush hours in the morning and afternoon. Since more people are riding the trains are full and you can’t get a seat, and because you get the privilege of standing and hanging onto a bar with 237 other people in the same three foot area Metro feels it is only fair and just that you get charged more to ride during these times.

So I got off, slipped my Inadequate Fare Card into the turnstile thingie which spat it right back out and told me to go to the extifare machines. So I took my card and acted confused and immensely puzzled and pushed through the people who were in a Terrible Hurry back to the exitfare machines.

And I thought about the very harsh and arrogant words I had written about people in this very situation and laughed a bit. Oh well silly me. Until I realized that I needed a dollar added to my card and I had a $10 bill and a nickel in my wallet. I groaned at the thought of nine dollars in change but laughed again. Oh silly dumb me.

Until I realized that the Exitfare machines only take one- and five-dollar bills and there was no one to make change for a ten. Oh silly dumb me, who now had absolutely no way of getting out of the damn Metrorail system. I considered jumping the turnstile. But this was the Shady Grove station in Maryland and you just didn’t jump turnstiles in the suburban stations -- they watch you too closely because there aren’t any murders or important crimes happening nearby.

I had to beg my fellow passengers for change for a ten. And of course no one had it. Everybody was like me -- coming back from a big money-spending excursion downtown. Finally a couple took pity on me and just gave me a dollar, which I then proceeded to put into the exitfare machine in the wrong direction no less than five times. The Station Manager came over and put it in for me. As I finally left the station, I thought of every mean word I had written about idiots on the Metro and vowed to rewrite this essay and dedicate it to the couple that gave me a dollar.

It was kind of like a late night promise to God to never drink again if He will just make you stop vomiting.

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February 18, 2004

The Metrorail Commandments, Cont'd

Part Two: Seating Etiquette


Center-facing seats on Metro are “Priority Seating for the Disabled and Senior Citizens,” which I think is just the sweetest idea. However, living in the barbaric culture that we do, they are really priority seating for whoever can run over the most people and get to them. When someone for whom those seats are meant gets on, the people sitting in the priority seating suddenly develop disabilities of their own:

1) Blindness
2) Narcolepsy
3) Paralysis
4) Varying degrees of various vegetative states.

Once in a blue moon, I have indeed seen someone give up their seat. It’s a beautiful gesture. It’s usually a young college student in his best interview suit. Sometimes it’s a kindly businessman. It is never a woman. Why is this? Well, we’re just bitches I guess.

Some people hate being “on the inside.” This refers to the seat next to the window. Windows on the Metro do not hold the appeal that they do on airplanes. Windows on the Metro mean you get to watch the inside of tunnels. They are not great. Although they do make very good mirrors. Once you enter a tunnel, you can see a perfectly clear reflection of yourself. All through the train, you see people discreetly touching hair -- tucking it back into place or giving it a little *lift* with the fingers. Some people feel no shame about whipping out the hair brushes. Hell, I once saw a woman put on a full face of makeup and put her hair into a French twist just using the window.

But anyway, some people don’t like sitting next to windows. I don’t think it’s really about the window though; it’s about being “on the inside.” You never know who will sit on the outside seat and subsequently trap you in. You might get squished or asphyxiated by a bad-smelling person. Believe me when I tell you this: You will never know to what extent some human beings stink until you have ridden Metro.

One time a rather oversized individual sat next to me and proceeded to clip her fingernails. Little clippings started flying in all directions, but most of them seemed to favor my direction. This is a little-known peril of the inside seat -- you cannot dodge flying fingernail clippings.

(I must diverge at this point from seating etiquette and point out the obvious. Some people feel the need to use their time on Metro to perform assorted tasks that really ought to be done at home. Clipping one’s fingernails is a good example. Do you really think the rest of the world enjoys watching you perform this ritual? Likewise for q-tipping one’s ears (which is a big no-no anyway, So. Shame. On. You.), squeezing pimples, delousing, plucking eyebrows, and checking for ticks.)

However, no matter what side you sit on, you must participate in the Getting Up Dance. Here are the basic steps: 1) The inside individual gives the signal that his or her stop is approaching. They clear their throat, shuffle their belongings, and begin to stand up. 2) The outside person is startled and awkwardly stands up and steps into the aisle, taking care to still be in the other passenger’s way. 3) As the train lurches to a stop, both passengers sway, trip, shuffle this way and that. 4) The inner passenger steps on the outer passenger’s feet, excuse me’s and thank you’s are grunted as the inner heads towards the doors.

Yeah, this one was lame. Tomorrow's will be funnier and then my Metro tantrums are done. Anyway. Tomorrow's installment: Don't Cry Little Tourist, Amy's an Idiot Too

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February 17, 2004

The Metrorail Commandments

Preface, sort of: Metro is D.C.'s subway system. It's short for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, because Metro sounds better than Wmata. I love Metro, but it drives me batshit crazy sometimes. Well, most of the time. So here I present to you, innocent readers who could not give less of a crap, Amy's Holy Testament of Metro Rules to Live By, Cherish, and For God's Sakes Quit It. First of Three Parts. Because I Like to Ramble Something Crazy.

Part One: Escalators of Doom

If you stand still on an escalator within the D.C. Metrorail System, please stand to the right side. Riders who are in terrible hurry walk up the left side. Yes, most of the time they are rushing to stand and wait on the platform for their connecting train, but it makes them feel better to dash frantically up the escalator before the boring pacing and standing on the platform. Please don’t take this away from them. Some people have a favorite granite bench that they like to sit on everyday, or a favorite concrete pillar to lean against, and need to rush up and get it before someone else gets there and ruins their whole day.

Some people have a legitimate reason for rushing—they must catch a bus. And be advised that if they miss it because you chose to stand on the left side of the escalator and gawk about yourself in oblivion and blocked their mad frantic bolt . . . well, people have killed for less and Rock Creek Park, in addition to many lovely jogging trails, has lots of good places to hide bodies. Hi Chandra! (Oh, so very wrong. So very evil and wrong.)

This in itself is a sub-rule: Do not underestimate your fellow riders’ simmering repressed rage.

How the escalator rule started we shall never know, like most Lore and Legends of Public Transportation. It’s a damn fine idea, anyway. Smelly monument tourists who are on their way to museums have their own side of the escalator to stand on and gape and ooh and ahh at the impressive domed station ceiling; commuters who ever-so-desperately needed to be somewhere vitally important a good 10 minutes ago have their side.

All above rules are null and void when the escalators break down, which is not uncommon, which is the understatment of the century.

You can tell that an escalator is not working by taking note of 1) A big gaping hole where you would usually put your feet; 2) A big sign blocking the entrance with a smiling cartoon escalator on it and a cute saying like “Even escalators have their ups and downs,” or “Please pardon the inconvenience while I get back in shape for another safe run.” What the Metrorail system hopes to accomplish by humanizing the escalators is unknown. It might be a riot control tactic. And/Or 3), You get on the escalator but don’t go anywhere.

If you have determined that an escalator is not working, you may be as selfish and annoying as you like. People expect it. If you see a Mass Exodus of riders coming down an escalator, or vice versa, feel free to walk up it and force the Exodus into single file formation. If you are part of an Exodus, stop dead halfway up and turn around and walk down, mumbling on about forgetting your Magic Beans at home or whatnot. Be creative.

Or consider taking the elevator.

Tomorrow: Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Momma, It Ain't Your Train.

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December 21, 2003

This Guy I Saw on the Metro Today

Red Line: Union Station to Tenleytown
Errand—Bucks County Coffee Kiosk for Embarrassing Amounts of Coffee to Make it Through the Holidays

A very harried businessman gets on at Metro Center.  I don’t even notice him until I hear his audible sigh of exhaustion as he sits—make that collapses—into the nearest seat, as if completely overwhelmed and irritated by just how far one must walk on public transportation.

Two rows back, a small bald man gazes wistfully at the back of his head.  This guy does have amazing hair.  It’s thick, curly and golden brown.  He’s probably the only middle-aged man I’ve ever seen with hair that could be described as “lush,” although I don’t think I’d use that word to his face.  He looks a little pissy.

He’s good-looking in a rotund, jolly way.  He’s wearing a very well-cut wool dress coat over a bright blue tailored shirt.  A yellow tie hangs undone around his neck.  The rest of him is obscured by a seat, which is disappointing, because I wonder what kind of socks he’s wearing.  Business-like or whimsical?  (I’ve been surprised before, so socks are a must-see for proper people-watching now.)

His face is round; his eyes are blue.  I picture a cherubic little boy with bright eyes and a halo of blond curls dressed, inexplicably, in a little blue sailor suit.

He pulls a crumpled magazine and gold wire-rim glasses from his breast pockest.  He puts the glasses on, licks his thumb and pages through the magazine.  Then he pulls the glasses off and lets them dangle from one ear.  Licks his thumb; turns a page.  Rinse and repeat.  I can’t determine whether it’s a nervous tic of if he just needs new glasses.

He’s poring over the magazine in a way I’ve seen few people read anything—much less on Metro.  No, most people on Metro read in a distracted, leisurely way.  Almost as if their reading material is only a tad more interesting than staring at their own reflection in the greasy windows.  No one ever gets too engrossed in anything on Metro—reading, sleeping, cuddling—lest they get distracted and (horrors of horrors) Miss Their Stop.

(Cuddling is actually very common on Metro.  Young couples slide into the gently yielding orange seats and fold themselves around each other.  Often they’re tired from a long night out—these are the couples that burrow deep into each other like pillows.  And then there are the couples who are just on the way out—they cuddle gingerly so not to muss freshly ironed clothes, carefully arranged hair and newly applied lipstick.

But no matter what, one half of the couple is always on the lookout, mentally checking off the station stops.  You’ll know it when you see it—the boy gazing cautiously out the window with his cheek resting on his beloved’s hair, playing with her fingers.  He lets her doze on his shoulder, and she's content with the knowledge that he’ll softly nudge her and whisper, “This is us” at the proper time.  It’s a D.C. sign of trust.)


The man with the terrific lush hair is really engrossed in his magazine.  He holds it close to his face, furrowing his thick lush eyebrows.  He reminds me of someone from a montage of a movie—perhaps a lawyer poring over thick volumes in an 11th hour attempt to save his client.  Or a college student in a hijinks film who has one night left to study for exams (which are all curiously scheduled back-to-back the next day) and he must pass them all or be kicked out and lose the heart of the pretty Dean’s List co-ed.

And of course he suceeds and much partying commences.

At this point I’ve become so distracted by the inaneness of college hijinks movies that I completely miss the strapping young man in biker shorts who got on at Cleveland Park.  But Lush Hair Man sure didn’t.  He yanks his glasses off his ear and holds them in front of his face like a magnifying glass.  (Wedding band, check.) He looks up, down.  He twists in his seat in order to watch Biker Shorts all the way down the aisle. 
I just barely see the Burberry scarf that has fallen into the aisle.  Lush Hair reaches for it and his glasses drop from his ears.  As he picks them up, he drops his magazine.  Scarf falls again.  Just as I think how boring this routine is getting, I realize that his magazine is an old copy of Soap Opera Digest.  (How old?  Well, the actress on the cover has been replaced twice since it was published.)  (Shut up. I was laid off in the dot.com bust so I know these things now.)

Van Ness/UDC.  Doors opening.

He stands up.  He ties the Burberry scarf around his waist.  It appears to be holding his pyjama bottoms up.  The cuffs have been rolled up several times and are just below his knee.  His legs are covered with the same curly, golden hair.  His socks a strictly business-like and navy, and his shoes are ladies’ Keds with pink polka dots.

Dinnnnng. "Doors closing," the Metro lady sings.

Out on the platform, he stops to knot his tie.  The next stop is mine and I’m glad.  Because that was just Weird.

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December 05, 2003

An Open Letter to the Asshat Drivers of the DC Area

Re: Today's Wintry Mix Commute, a Few Suggestions:

1) Two hands on the wheel, one foot on the gas pedal.

Stop riding the brake for one cotton-pickin' minute.  Put the cell phones, french fries, lipsticks, vibrators and what-have-you DOWN and PAY ATTENTION.  Rinse, repeat, wipe hands on pants.

2) Slamming on the brakes in slippery conditions doesn't help you; it doesn't help me.  You know who it helps?  Auto collision repair shops.  Quit it.

3) Turn your effing lights on!  Are you retarded?

4) If you are driving on the Beltway at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, I'm guessing this is not the first time you've driven this route.  In fact, I'm willing to bet this is your regular commute.  Trust me, the Dept. of Transportation did NOT choose this day to repaint all the lines or redirect River Road into a nearby gaping chasm.  You know where you're going, so freaking drive already.

5) Everytime you change lanes for no reason, God kills a kitten.

6) Just because it's snowing does NOT give you license to drive 25 MPH in the left lane, especially in some misguided, self-righteous crusade to get everyone else to slow down.

On the other hand, just because you have a big honkin' SUV does NOT crown you the Invincible Overlord of Nature who can be an aggressive asshat and drive 90 MPH on the backroads.  I'm confident we can find a middle ground in the spirit of togetherness and brotherhood and whatnot.

7) Anyone who buys a Hummer should be automatically drafted for military service in Iraq.  Christ.

Thank you for your time.  Drive safe.

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December 01, 2003

Come On In, We've Got Pandas

Tourists and Washington, DC share that odd, semi-symbiotic relationship that all cities have with their tourists.  Tourists are mostly annoying.  They travel in big, sidewalk-monopolizing groups.  They either walk veeeerrry slooowly or do that dreaded stop-start-stop walk as they exclaim over the History and Culture of everything.  They almost always box in an extremely irritated businessperson on a cell phone who just wants to get past this group of matching T-shirts so they can then insult them to the person on the other end of the line.  “Effing tourists,”  they’ll say.  “Goddamned bus tours.”

But they will wait until the tourists are safely out of earshot—we in Our Nation’s Capital are generally polite to their faces.  Call us Southern-Fried New Yorkers.  We’ll slow down when asked where you can get a decent meal around here, knowing full well that’s code for where’s-the-nearest-Pizza-Hut.  Most of the time I’ll oblige, though I did once send a family to Michel Richard’s Citronelle after the father specifically requested “nothing foreign or hoity-toity.”

Like I said, mostly annoying.

Tourists are the reason there was an actual movement (with petitions and everything) to get metro to post WALK LEFT STAND RIGHT signs on the escalators.  Commuters use Metro to escape Road Rage, as Escalator Rage has fewer fatalities, but there was a growing tourist problem.

If there’s anything worse than big groups of tourists on the sidewalks, it’s big groups of tourists on the escalator at Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan, all zoo-funky and blocking the entire escalator as they compare panda merchandise and complain that they threw their farecard away because how would anyone know they needed to keep it?

Meanwhile, a pack of Washingtonians seethe behind them in murderous rage, thinking about their bus/expired parking meter/Senate Ethics Committee Meeting that awaits them beyond the escalator.  Occasionally someone will try to make a point by excusemeexcusemeecxcuseme pushing through.  The crowd will part for a second and then step right back in your way, commenting that People Here Sure Are In A Hurry.

But we aren’t in such a hurry that we didn’t notice when the tourists went away.  In spite of living life under Code Orange and walking in a zig-zag pattern to avoid sniper fire, we still noticed.  Everyone took Metro because they were afraid to get gas or because the anti-war protestors had shut down the Key Bridge again, and we all walked left and stood right and it wasn’t worth it.  The newspapers had charts of the fallout zones if a hypothetical dirty bomb or nuke hypothetically hit the non-hypothetical White House. 

The Pentagon was page 10 news after the World Trade Center, but even New Yorkers were scared to come visit.  You could get a dinner reservation anywhere.  SARS didn’t appear in Washington but everyone assumed it was just a matter of time and stayed away.  We felt snubbed. 

The pandas need to mate and have babies, fast.  Should we change our license plate slogan from Taxation Without Representation to Life in the No-Fly Zone?  I tried to tell my friends that the city was safer than the ‘burbs—we had fewer trees for the sniper to hide behind.  A friend expressed regret that her child’s DC school trip got canceled because how many more chances would the children have to see the monuments before they got bombed?

It was all absurd.  I went downtown and visited museums as part of my patriotic duty.  I stood left on the Metro escalator and no one even asked me to move.

Come back tourists; we love you.

If anyone wants to visit DC this spring, I will personally take you to see the cherry blossoms. The sniper is toast, the last few anthrax scares have been false alarms, and I can take you to a kick-ass sushi place.

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November 28, 2003

Life in DeeSee


Just, grr.

Most days I love this town. I really do. I love the monuments and the museums and the fact that there are at least three restaurants for every cuisine in the world.  I love the Metro and Georgetown and Dupont Circle and 18th St. NW. Hell, I even love the Waterfront and its sucky eurotrash restaurants. 

Most days, I am Carrie Bradshaw, skipping around exploding manholes in my Manolo Blahnik-rip-offs.

Then there are DAYS, people. Days where I cannot stand our nation's capital.  I can't stand the tourists getting on the Metro at Adams Morgan who positively REEK of the zoo -- of sawdust and BO and panda-funk.  I can't stand the protesters who decide that snarling morning rush hour by laying across Massachusetts Ave. or chaining themselves to the Metro turnstiles is a good way to get their message across. (Hint: You're wrong, I hate you.) 

I can't stand that a tiny rowhouse costs half a million dollars -- even when one of the "bedrooms" is a literally a walk-in closet.  I can't stand the 10% restaurant tax or the bizarre street parking laws. ("No parking anytime 7:00 a.m. thru 6:00 a.m. Monday thru Friday 3 hour limit Zone 3 holders excepted.") 

I was just trying to be a good wife today. I had the day off; J didn't.  I drove out to Prince George's County to take him out for lunch. (Mmmm, ribs.) 3:30: I'm driving back. It starts to drizzle. Mass slamming on of brakes. Within five minutes the Capital Beltway is at a standstill.  The rain stops. We start moving. Inexplicable backup #2 starts new the Mormon temple. I have to pee. We crawl and crawl and crawl. I'm in a stick shift and my foot is falling asleep.

Finally, we get to what has caused this big hullaballoo. A cop has pulled someone over for speeding. ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HIGHWAY, GOING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION.

When I got home I went to cover up our bikes which were locked up on a bike rack near our building. J's bike is gone, and all that's left of mine is the front wheel and the apparently useless Kryptonite lock.


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