Thursday, February 01, 2007

People Watch: Brought to You By WMATA

Today’s edition of People Watch is brought to you by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority, the letter S, and the number 6.

I’m figuring out this commute thing, slowly but surely. I embark at the Republic of Takoma Station and I disembark in the Melting Pot of Chinatown Station. All told, when Metro is working like it should, it’s a 20 minute ride with only seven stations between me and my destination.

This morning, though, there was a switching problem at one of the stations further down the line, which resulted in all of us being backed up and crawling along from one station to the next. There were six trains between us and the station with the problem, which meant some delays. Fortunately, we had an excellent train operator who updated us every couple of minutes and who spoke clearly so he could be understood. No Bahnhof on this train! (That’s a German euphemism, by the way. As in, “Er spricht Bahnhof.” [Transliteration: He speaks train station. Translation: When he speaks, he is incomprehensible.])

It’s amazing what a difference even 15 minutes can make. Yesterday, I left 15 minutes later than the day before. The frenzy, particularly at my final stop, was noticeably more… er, frenzied. My stop is a transfer point, so people are rushing to get from one train to the next. Trains come every three minutes, but heaven forbid folks have to wait for a train. The result: a continual stampede akin to the running of the bulls. People’s eyes get really big and they look like cows panicking in the chutes on the way to the slaughterhouse as they run and dodge to absolutely get on that train right now. Apropos, I suppose. Just replace chutes with escalators and slaughterhouses with jobs and you get the picture. Although, cows involuntarily go to the slaughter, whereas we humans voluntarily go to work. Leave 15 minutes earlier and it’s a leisurely walk to the train car of your choice and a relatively calm walk along the platforms and out of that station.

Metro is a good place to people watch, too. This morning’s observees included a pensive, overheated woman, a talkative court reporter from Fredricksburg, an older woman on a cell phone, a guy with a beard who was muttering, and a soldier. There were others in the train car, but these were the ones I noticed in particular.

Sidebar: There goes Rosa Klebb! Going down… It’s a comfort to know she’s here and shuttling back and forth between floors. Yesterday, not so much. Maybe today will be a more active day…

Back to our programming…

Sitting across from me this morning was a young woman; no more than 32 or 33 would be my guess. She had taken off her coat and scarf, which made me wonder, “Is she European?” You know, trying not to get too warm, because that will just makes things feel colder once you’re outside. I could tell her brain was going 50 mph. She had a pensive, lower-lip-jutting-out look screwed on her face. She kept pulling at her lip, too. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to crawl inside her head and have a look around. She looked tired, and anxious for the weekend to start.

Across from pensive woman was a very kind, gentle looking woman. In her mid-50s maybe. She had a face that was soft and eyes that were warm. I could see a salad in a Gladware container peeking out of the top of her shoulder bag. While the train was at its prolonged standstill, she pulled out her cell phone and quietly made a call to say, “I’m stuck on the train. There’s a switching problem, but I should be there shortly…” And just as quietly, she hung up. Nice, I thought. Discrete, polite, succinct. No drama, just the facts. On and off, lickety-spit.

Shortly after her call, the trains started moving again. We pulled into Union Station and I was joined by a woman, her roll-on bag, and a whopping leather satchel. She plonked down next to me and bumped my arm, but apologized for her invasion of my little space. A few minutes later, she started talking away. I don’t even remember what she started off with, to be honest. Probably something about the train delays. I asked if she was visiting D.C. or leaving. Neither, she said. Turns out she’s a court reporter who schleps her work stuff around in a roll-on suitcase and who commutes to D.C. from Fredricksburg every day. It was everything I could do not to look at her incredulously and say, “Are you insane?” We had a congenial chat, and then we arrived at my station.

But not before the guy with the beard and the glasses started muttering to himself about how much he hates Metro. I didn’t catch all of his rave because he was speaking Bahnhof and I was only catching snippets. It sounded sort of like this: “Bahnhof Metro! I Bahnhof Bahnhof system. It’s always Bahnhof Bahnhof Bahnhof I’m always Bahnhof. Bahnhof a shitty Bahnhof Bahnhof day.”

As for the soldier, I just noticed him for three reasons. One, he was quite tall. Two, he kept his beret on, then seemed to remember the protocol is lids off when you’re indoors, so he rapidly plucked it off. A result no doubt of his internal drill sergeant dressing him down. His maneuver made me think of The Gunfighter and his blog posting about folks who wear hats indoors. And third, he was so tall, he was spread out across both seats with one of his khaki combat boots sticking out almost into the aisle. Which made me think about a blog I read the other day about how much sitting room guys take up versus women. Has something to do with not squishing their package, I guess.

Speaking of packages, I think I’ll have bratwursts and sauerkraut for dinner tonight.

Number of Rosa Klebb sightings while I wrote this entry: 4

Photo copyright: Brian Horling.


CreoleInDC said...

I'm never going to be able to say the world package again. ROFL!

Di said...

Ohmigod, such a longterm pet peeve of mine is how much effing space men take up in public transport situations just to splay their legs and miscellaneous dangly bits ALL OVER THE DAMN PLACE.

Honestly. There oughta be a law.

JMK said...

CreoleInDC: I always consider it a successful day if I can make someone laugh. It's a red letter day if I can make YOU laugh. Yes!! My work here is done! I think I shouldn't have to go to work today as a result.

Di: Seriously, huh? What I wonder is, is this strictly an American behavior? I mean, European men cross their legs much like American women do--and all because showing the bottom of one's shoe is an insult. As a result, it seems Euro men have figured out a way to sit comfortably, still manage to protect their swimmers from overheating, and leave enough room for others to sit comfortably, too.