The first month I was on edge all the time. While I drove against traffic each way, it was still bad coming back into the city each evening. Besides the congestion, angry commuters, reckless cabbies and idiot foreigners coming in for dinner, pedestrians were running amok to get home or to happy hour, jaywalking and abusing the DC law that drivers must stop for pedestrians in cross-walks. And don't get me started on cyclists. My blood pressure is rising just recounting this.
The hardest thing to get used to was not being able to read/people watch/relax to and from work. I was in constant fear that I was going to get in an accident or hit someone, and I had no idea how to feel relaxed while driving.
Almost two months passed before I was accustomed to my new mode of transportation. And when The Neverending Winter hit, I was happy to be driving. I started listening to audiobooks, C-SPAN radio and old CDs that I made in college. By the time I started my current job, my drive was one of my favorite parts of the day.
So it should have come as no surprise that my switch back to riding the metro wouldn't go super smoothly.
My first day I was kind of giddy. I felt like I was seeing an old friend.
Hey there, Metro!
You look exactly the same!
Would it have killed you to take a shower?
On the platform waiting for my train, I looked around, studying the faces of my fellow commuters, expecting to see some familiar ones from my former metro days. But they were all new. And it dawned on me, I'm the newbie!
I became super self-conscious of my bright red coat and fur ear muffs.
They think I just moved here!
They think I look ridiculous!
They think I'm a naive idiot!
Oh no, they think I'm an intern!
I don't know why I suddenly became so insecure. It's not like I never rode the metro while I was driving to work. What was I so worried about?!
I sat down and fought the urge to check my phone, a Wygantism that I've been working on lately. I looked around, trying to make eye contact, smiling a little. But everyone was on their phones, and I worried this just made me seem like it was my first time in the Big City. So I played spider solitaire until I reached my destination.
By day three my concern about seeming like a newbie was being steadily replaced by annoyance at the crowds. Metro was reintroducing itself to me in every way possible -- people bugging me for money, walking on the left side of the platform (We're in AMERICA!!!), elbowing me in the boobs unapologetically, standing on the escalators with no regard to the fact that I have 20 seconds to make my connection...
...and the worst...THE WORST...was Red Line shenanigans. There's a reason why we District Dwellers call it "The Red Line of Death." Just last night someone else was struck by a Red Line train. I cannot exaggerate the perils of the Red Line. But I choose to ride it because it cuts my commute time in half.
*Note: For those of you who don't know, here's a breakdown of the DC Metro lines by stereotype:
And it was the Red Line that gave me the warmest welcome back to the metro.
It was rush hour. Trains were delayed for untold reasons. The platform was filling up with hundreds upon hundreds of tired, hungry people.
I pulled a rookie move when the first train came by standing back from the crowd and trying to make my way to the door when it arrived. The train was already full, and only three people stepped out, which meant only nine people on the platform were getting in at each door. I didn't have a chance.
I waited five minutes for the next train. I pushed my way to the front of the platform so I'd have a chance. A chance, mind you. If the train arrives and the door is not directly in front of you, your chance greatly diminishes. Which is exactly what happened when the second train arrived.
By the third train, I'd figured out where to stand. I'd never waited more than two trains in my life, so I was certain the next one was it. But the crowd on the platform had doubled in size since I'd been waiting, and two stocky men had elbow-boobed their way to the front. I stood my ground despite their ungentlemenliness, determined to push my way onto the next one, my tote positioned to block their elbows.
The train pulled in. I inched my way toward the edge of the platform, ignoring the bubbles beneath my feet warning me I was standing too close to the train.
The train stopped. The doors were six inches to my right. I was golden.
The doors opened. We all waited a moment for passengers to offload. No one did. At the same moment, we all realized we would have to be more aggressive than planned. I started to move forward, but the two men were a nanosecond ahead of me. Their large builds took up any extra space in the entryway.
"PLEASE MOVE TO THE AISLES, PEOPLE!" another man on the platform bellowed.
"WE CAN'T! THERE'S NO ROOM!" a petite blonde in a woolen cap and mittens squeaked.
I glanced in the window to survey just how much space they actually had. My eyes caught with a cute guy standing in the aisle. He was smiling at me.
Well ring-a-ding-ding! I thought. I held his gaze and smiled back, as David Wygant taught me. Then I noticed the empty seat directly beside him. My eyes darted back to him, betrayed. He shrugged and motioned toward the seat, suggesting I come sit in it. I flexed my eyes till they were slits, fully focused on his face and shooting imaginary daggers into it. He was the first one to break eye contact.
*ding ding* Doors closing! the metro rang.
In a last ditch attempt, I leapt inside with all my might, ramming my body into the two jerks that hadn't been waiting as long as I had and therefore had no right to take up all the precious space. They didn't budge.
The doors closed, effectively pushing me out, back onto the platform. During my seconds-long dash to freedom, the crowd had expanded and pressed in closer. Not only had I been unable to claim a spot on the train, I'd lost my spot on the platform.
The train began pulling out, and I leaned back so it wouldn't take my nose with it. Not a soul would shift from their position to regard my safety. I worried that once the train passed, if the crowd pressed inward any further, I might be pushed over the edge of the platform onto the dreaded third rail, electrocuted then run over, and having a bad hair day to boot.
I was not going to be a Red Line casualty.
The moment the train passed, I flung my right arm from my coat pocket and forced the people beside me to get out of the way. And they did! I stepped back two inches. Victory!
*TAC TAC TAC TAC TAC*
The noise was down below, in the rails. I peered over the edge and recognized the item. Victory rescinded.
"Is that your credit card?" a man beside me asked.
"No," I answered. "It's my debit card."
"I could jump down there and get it for you..." he started.
If I'd been an intern, new to this whole Big City thing and expecting Prince Eric to sweep me off my feet any day now, I'd have let him. But I wasn't a newbie. I was seasoned, albeit a little rusty, and Metro was simply hazing me upon my return. I could handle it.
"Don't you dare," I said, holding out my arm again, but this time to push him away from the edge. "It's just a debit card. I don't have any money anyway."
He cracked a smile and suggested I go get one of the Metro workers to jump down and get it. I imagined two scenarios resulting from that:
A) The next train would be finally have room and I would miss it whilst trying to convince a Metro employee to brave electrocution and train-running-overage to get my low-balance debit card; or
B) They would suspend trains until they got it and I would be forever blacklisted from riding the metro after DCist wrote about it the next day, headline reading: "Red Line Experience Major Delays Due to One Woman's Careless Handling of Her Finances; At Least No One Died".
"I think I'll just cancel it, but thanks," I told him.
The next train was, in fact, less full, enabling me, Mr. Chivalry (probably an intern), and about 10 others to board.
And when I exited the metro at my beloved U Street Green/Yellow Line stop, I remembered, as I had thought so many times before, how much I love my ghetto Green/Yellow Line.
P.S. Metro Center is shut down this weekend. And yes, it's on the Red Line.