The surreality of living in DC

I just got off a Metro train that, among the usual scaff and raff of us, contained one tidily-dressed gentleman whose uniform shirt quietly proclaimed him to be a U.S. Marshall Service Bomb Specialist.

Sometimes it is just deeply weird living here.

Overheard at our house, DC Metro edition (twofer)

“You don’t know how disappointed I was to see the doors close just as I reached the top of the escalator last night, then had to wait 20 minutes for the next train.”

“I know.”

“It was one of those, ‘Oh, if I’d just crossed the street a little faster, or gotten behind someone faster at the turnstiles’ – remember that movie Sliding Doors?”


“It was just like that.”


“Except, you know – for the mugging and the pregnancy and dying and finding you in bed with another woman and a lot of other stuff.”


“Yes, exactly like that.”


Reading aloud from DCist’s own “overheard” column, after both of us have indulged in a hearty laugh:

On the Navy Yard Metro platform after Thursday’s Nats game:

Metro policeman: “People, move it on to the middle of the train. Let’s pack the car right Nats fans. You not cherry-blossomers. You people know to do this. You live here.”

“I think I love that far more than I should admit.”

My body language says “no” and so does my mouth.

I used to feel like I had a neon sign over my head that said, “Wackos and emotional cripples – come talk to this one!!!”  Many years ago, I even managed to attract the same utter nut-job twice over the course of two years, in two radically different zip codes. But it has been a long time since I was catnip to the people whose coat sleeves come with extra inches and buckles.  Maybe it’s one of the side effects of being older, or being married.  Whatever it is, I haven’t missed it.

And then came yesterday’s commute home.

I was sitting by the window, earbuds in my ears, knitting away on my latest sock, sublimely minding my own business, when someone sits down next to me.  I have an impression of weediness, but otherwise I don’t really pay attention (I try not to be completely in my own world: it is wise, after all, to pay some attention to what is going on around when on public transportation – but as long as you don’t smell, don’t fall asleep on me, and don’t intrude unduly on my personal space, I don’t care who you are).  After just a few moments, I get the impression I am being observed.  This isn’t completely uncommon: I have had some delightful conversations with other knitters, interested teenagers, and those just generally curious as a result of knitting on the Metro.  But there is that other feeling of being watched – if you’re female, you know what I mean.  That kind of creepy, weird, can’t-put-your-finger-on-it feeling.  Weedy Guy was giving this impression.

I also get the impression that I may have been spoken to.  I remove an earbud and say, “excuse me?”  Weedy Guy says, “Oh – I said hello.”  Great.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m on public transport I generally maintain the fiction that my fellow passengers are invisible, unless there is some sort of natural opening.  Sitting down next to someone who is wearing earbuds and is obviously engrossed in some sort of project – there’s no natural opening there.  So Weedy Guy also has inappropriate boundary issues.  I put my earbud back in and continue to knit and listen.  I also make sure my left hand is turned to prominently display my engagement and wedding rings.  Back off, Weedy Guy with Inappropriate Boundary Issues.

Oh, but Weedy Guy with Inappropriate Boundary Issues isn’t done.  A few minutes later, I get another impression that I am being spoken to again.  Again, the removal of earbud and, “Excuse me?”

“Is that going to be a sweater?”  Not an uncommon question – the cuff of a sock could easily be the cuff of a sweater sleeve.

“No, a sock,” I respond.  I am about to put the earbud back in when Weedy Guy with Inappropriate Boundary Issues says, “But where is the toe?”

I have about 2 inches of this sock worked at this point, but to me it clearly looks like the top of a sock if you orient your mind away from thoughts of sleeves and towards thoughts of socks.  I don’t know anyone outside of a newborn who might need a 2-inch sock, and the cuff on this sucker isn’t going to fit a newborn.  It is also clear that even on a knitting machine, an entire sock doesn’t just… materialize.  You have to start somewhere.  I gesture a few inches below the cuff and say, “Well, it’s going to be somewhere down here when I get to it.”

“But where is it?”  Oh, great.  He isn’t just Weedy Guy with Inappropriate Boundary Issues, he’s Stupid Weedy Guy with Inappropriate Boundary Issues.  He’s also slightly agitated, which is freaky.  It’s just a sock, dude.  A sock you will never see again, God willing.

“I haven’t knit it yet.  I’m knitting the sock from the top.”

“But how do you knit from the top?”

It is so self-evident to me how you knit from the top that I don’t even know how to answer this.  I mean, it exists – it’s there.  The top of the sock is in my hand.  I say, firmly (possibly rudely – by now, I know I’m deep into neon-sign territory), “YOU JUST DO.”

Earbud firmly jammed back in my ear, I am no longer at home to Stupid Weedy Guy with Inappropriate Boundary Issues.  After all, there are only so many adjectives you can append to a total stranger before things get out of hand.

Today’s moment of surreality

Today on the Metro, there were a bunch of people all carrying boxed sets of the works of Edward Tufte with handles on top.

It was like a Magritte painting — dozens of people all carrying identical little white briefcases.


I just realized today is St. Patrick’s Day: a day that, for me, manages to ruin beer and the color green all in one fell swoop.  (I had thought my shuddering distaste for green beer had been documented before, but a quick Google search shows me I am wrong.  Let me just go on the record then as saying that Bud Lite is an abomination, and Bud Lite with green food coloring in it?  Um… there are no words.)

The Metro should be VERY interesting this evening.  I’m expecting hordes of college students in sparkly green wigs, having started getting their drunk on at noon.  Let’s just hope that I’m wrong.

Fun with Metro

When the DC Metro works, it works very well.  When it doesn’t, well, like any other complicated piece of machinery it tends to fail rather spectacularly.

Friday’s commute home started rather normally – I lucked into running directly on to my first train, which is usually a sign that I’ll get home a full five minutes sooner than usual – whooopeeee. Then I manage to get my connection seamlessly as well (can we hope to be home by 20 after five, rather than the usual 30?  Dream big, kid).  Then my train… just sits for a bit at Metro Center, getting more and more full by the passing minute (she who snagged a seat sits and reads Mrs. Astor Regrets* and tries not to feel smug).

At Dupont Circle, we sit again.  And sit.  And then the train driver tells us that, due to a track problem, this particular train won’t probably move for a while.

An HOUR, in fact.

At this point, I make a fast check of my watch and hurl myself off the train as fast as the sardine-packed humanity will allow.  Dupont Circle has an escalator so long it has been known to give my friend Alicia vertigo, and by the time I reach the top of it, I have lined up Mobile Wife Rescue Unit 1 to get me – as long as I can get myself further north than my current position, which would be a real pain to get into and out of at rush hour.  I see a couple of older gentlemen getting into a taxi and ask if they are going north by any chance.  They are, they agree to share their cab with me (sometimes, looking like a dumb blonde can be an asset), and off we go to Bethesda, where John picks me up and takes me home.

*This book is, well – it’s kind of a mess.  The first couple of chapters make the whole point of the book several times – that the aging Brooke Astor was ripped off by her son, that families are still whacko no matter how much money is involved, and that Brooke Astor was a rather complicated person (all huge surprises, you will no doubt agree).  Then the meat of the book starts to bounce back and forth in time, relating anecdotes in an almost random manner that don’t create a very clear or cogent picture of the people involved or how they all converged in a Manhattan courthouse to figure out how a very wealthy woman ended up living in squalor and who should be responsible for her.  It’s as if the writer did a few magazine articles, then decided to write a book and used the magazine articles as her first few chapters, without tailoring them to fit the longer work.  As a result, this book is work for the reader, which is too bad, because it is an interesting story.

We had the Hallowe’en that wasn’t. How was yours?

From Marissa, a beautiful image of a cool-sounding little kid in Minneapolis:

Princess Leia the Four-Year-Old Jedi is perfectly prepared to kick the butt of any naysayer who tries to point out that this is not canon; this is her light saber , and she is Princess Leia, and you wanna make something of it, buddy? She thought not.

Go read the whole thing .  You will die of the cute.

Me? We got dissed by the tiny goblins again (I think we had a grand total of about five trick-or-treaters. We get fewer every year). I did see some funny stuff on the Metro on my way home. A group of college kids, dressed up for a party. A ballerina, a Dorothy Gale, Cupid, who posed for me, but the iPhone camera and the train make for some blurriness:

Halloween on the Metro

And for a truly surrealistic touch, which I couldn’t photograph without being obnoxious, a tiny (presumably female) Ronald Reagan in a Nancy-red suit sporting an Obama button.

You can’t make this stuff up.

ETA: The funniest song I’ve ever heard about zombies.  “Re Your Brains ” by Jonathan Coulton.  Go.  Listen.  Laugh.

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.