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.