Moments of grace

My new job represents a conscious, directed, major career shift.  It also has a new and exciting 1.5 hour commute, mostly executed on the DC Metro.  Believe it or not (and if you don’t, that’s okay – many of my closest friends are having a hard time with this concept, too), this is kind of a good thing.

First of all, I basically have two hours of dedicated reading time to do my homework for grad school every day.  I have a deal with myself: when homework is done, then I can do novel-reading or knitting or whatever else seems like a good idea.

Second of all, I really do think public transportation is a good thing.  No – a Good Thing.  And DC’s Metro is cleaner and more reliable than a lot of the other systems I’ve used in the past.

Lastly, there are these funny little moments of grace in a Metro commute.  I was engrossed in my book on Thursday morning, but had the presence of mind to look up when the train came above ground to go over the Potomac.  The Washington and Jefferson monuments were ghostly in the early morning light, and the grey-blue sky with its Morse Code of neon pink clouds made me blink with wonder.  A doo-wop a capella group serenaded me as I scurried to the escalators on my way home this evening.  The guy who hands out the free Express newspaper at the Rockville station every morning should be given a medal for his unflagging energy and good cheer.

I had a Metro commute when I first moved to the DC area over ten years ago.  I loved it then – it gave me a sense of place.  Having experience with the tight-jawed, hard edges of the New York and Boston systems, I was charmed by unexpected courtesies as well as the small and very common instances where people gave way for one another (when the train stops in DC, people waiting on the platform very consciously congregate to either side of the doors of the train – and they wait until everyone who is getting off has done so before boarding.  This sounds logical, but I can think of a lot of public transport systems around the world where this courtesy is not observed).  I treasured the moments when the train driver’s personality came through – the earnest, stentorian tones of one who said, “And thank YOU for riding Metro,” or the  high-pitched whimsy of another who said, “Thank you mister train driver,” in joking response to his own service message.  These were people who were unafraid to let you know that they were individuals conducting other individuals, not fettered by the mistaken idea that they needed to become robotic in their duty.

So in returning to the Metro every morning and evening, I almost feel like I’m coming home.  And I like it.


  1. I believe you. I found my 20 minute commute much more irritating than my 1.5 hour train ride. 20 minutes of standing room only didn’t give me enough time to do anything. But I get boatloads of work done on the train. When I was teaching, I could usually finish my grading before I got home, which was excellent. It’s my favorite place to work. I’ve often considered just hopping on, riding downtown and then riding back again just for the office space. Pretty cheap rent, when you think of it that way.

  2. I was amazed at how kind and polite people were on the Metro when I rode to your house last January.

    First, a woman who had overheard me getting directions to the station in the yarn shop insisted (in a friendly way, not a creepy one) on helping me with the ticket machine. Then someone on the platform asked whether I needed help with my luggage. Another one wanted to make sure that I understood how the trains were running (they were off their regular schedule because of construction). Someone on the train struck up a friendly conversation. When I arrived at the station, a man and his little girl (6 yrs maybe?) asked if they could help me with my luggage. When he saw me again at street level, he figured where I was heading and pointed me to the pick-up lot (“kiss and ride”?). No one seemed nosey or overbearing. It was all just friendly.

    I now have a very romantic view of the DC Metro.

  3. A public transit commute sounds lovely.
    Just to amuse myself one day I put my starting and ending points into to see what they would come up with for public transit to my job (it’s a moot point anyway, since I have to do day care dropoff/pickup on my way to and fro).
    My 12 minute drive to work in the car would take 2.5 hours on public transit.
    The joys of life in the burbs.
    Congratulations on the new job, I’m dying to hear more about it!

  4. I love a public transport commute. Well, for a given value of love… I would *not* love having to take the tube every day; too crowded, too hot, too unfriendly. But I’m lucky enough to be on a good train line, and to work just off regular hours and on such a route that I’m pretty much guaranteed a seat on both legs (35 min train, 15min bus… although door to door it’s well over an hour). The pleasure of having guaranteed reading/knitting time – bliss. (And I love the idea of making that homework time. Very neat.)

    Last week A and I had to drive to a knitting expo four days running. We were going against the traffic and it took around 45-60 min each way; not a particularly long drive, as London commutes go. The road in the opposite direction was always horrendously jammed up, for miles at a stretch. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that there were people who did this *every day*. Nightmare.

  5. So the job’s in Virginia? Maybe lunch some day? I used to love riding the Metro, although I never lived in a good place to ride it vs. driving to work.

    Kimberly, “Kiss and Ride” is the old-fashioned idea that the wife drives the husband to the station, parks in that lot, kisses him goodbye, and he rides. Reverse for the way home.