Every day, I slog with the masses on the Washington DC-area Metro, the nation's second largest subway system. I loved it when I'd first moved here. After all, I'm a veteran of New York's subways, where to see someone holding his penis and creating his own urine-Picassoesque masterpiece was par for the course.
None of that on the DC metro. Sipping your morning Starbucks, after all, could net you a ticket on a subway system that doesn't allow eating, spitting, littering, or playing your radios too loudly. But now, the bloom is off the rose. People talk to each other in their outdoor voice. Like I want to hear that shit at 7:30 in the morning. They step all over you to get on the train before the doors close shut. They drink and put their stank, unmanicured, flip-flop-wearing feet up on seats that others could be using. More often then not, I'm left asking myself, "When did Metro start to suck?"
Then, I remember that I first started to get an inkling that Metro was slowly headed towards the first concentric circle of Hell. It was the topic of one of my Metro Connection commentaries that originally aired January 17, 2003 on WAMU. Almost four years lately, it's still as timely. I'm reprinting it here -- for your enjoyment... or exasperation.
Metro Connection: Metro As Metaphor For Life
Before I start, let me say that I personally have nothing against our Metro system. Of course, you have the usual elevator outages – or “outrages” as I call them – but as far as train systems go, I like it. In the time I’ve been riding the trains, I have yet to get a lung-filling whiff of pungent urine. And I rarely come face to face with badly misspelled graffiti, like say in New York City. You even get the odd funny moments, like the Asian guy singing Negro spirituals on the Red line to Shady Grove. Or the train operators copping a serious ‘tude because they’ve been forced to say “Next stop. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.” Thank you, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr.
No, the only thing wrong with Metro is some of the folks who ride Metro. Like David Cop-A-Feel, the pervy Hill staffer in his Zegna suit who thinks it’s cool to rub up against me when the train’s full. Or that citizen who, when the train car is busting at the seams, insists that his feet or his bags need their own seat.
By far, though, my major pet peeve is the Attack of the Cellular Phones. Technology and good manners are society’s latest oil and water. In some Pavlovian way, folks are so excited to get a call that they forget where they are. I was sitting next to this brothah when his phone rang. (Affecting urban voice) “Yo, yo dog, what up? No, man I’m going through a tunnel. Holler back, yo!” And of course, we passive aggressive riders try to hip him to our disgust by sighing him to death. (Hard sigh. Hard sigh.) Naturally, he doesn’t get the hint. He’s probably thinking even now that cell phones make people hyperventilate.
If it’s not the earsplitting conversation, it’s the cell phone ringers on stun. Where are people downloading their ringers from: the CIA Handbook? Some of those could be used as forms of torture. Heck, after two rings, I’m ready to spill where my grandmother keeps the Coakley family jewels.
I tend to look at Metro as a metaphor for life. We’re all trying to get somewhere – work, or the Smithsonian, or a Wizards game... to a promotion… education… escapism… influencing each other as we ride together to a better life. Quoting Rodney King, or the Reverend Rodney King Junior, as Tony Soprano recently called him, “Can’t we all just get along?” Or is Big Brother going to have to add “No cellular phones” to the “No Eating, No Drinking, and No Loud Radios”? Do we not know yet that with every right comes a corresponding list of responsibilities? Or is the new slogan for both Metro and for Life, “Hooray for me, and to hell with the world?” Just snacks for thought.
Just don't eat 'em on the Metro...