A day at the tracks

Oct. 4, 2002, midnight | By Sally Colwell | 18 years, 3 months ago

Sally Colwell rides and ridicules on the Red Line

Where only first names appear, only first names are being used because absolutely no one would give me their full name.

I have always believed that the Metro is more than just a means of transportation. It is not the sticky plastic seats or the mysterious green liquid pooling under the tracks that draws me again and again to this national wonder. No, I come for the commuters themselves. Whether they are tall or short, young or old, sane or decidedly deranged, people from all over our area cram into Metro cars every day for one reason: so that I can make fun of them.

I talk to Tom first. His shirt is barely tucked in, and his dirty hair is tied back in an effort to look respectable. He's on his way to a job interview at a pet daycare center but finds time to share some vital observations. "I hate it that at some stations the titles are smaller than at other stations. Why can't they be the same size?" he wonders.

"I hate rats too, and mice," Tom adds helpfully. I bristle at this insult to my pet rat, Little David Sicree II, and contemplate reminding him that he is about to be interviewed in a pet shop. I decide that it's not worth the confrontation.

Across the car, Cathy is in a frame backpack with the reminders "ticket," "water" and "book" scribbled on her arm. "I'm going to the airport to go to Australia and visit friends, and probably go scuba diving," she explains. "I recently learned just so I could go [diving] on this trip."

It would have been nice if she had said something stupid, but sadly she seemed pretty interesting. You can always count on the Metro to let you down.

I see pinstripes out of the corner of my eye and turn just in time to see a flat-topped man in a zoot suit glide out the door. He is lost in the crowd.

Meanwhile, a stylish girl named London, who seems to be sitting next to her boyfriend, is hitting on my photographer. He offers to photograph her, but she immediately dismisses this idea. "You can't take my picture ‘cause the cops are after me," she explains.

"Oh, that's very nice," I say, nodding supportively, but the sarcasm is lost on her.

London chatters on, saying that her favorite part of the Metro is "the train," and she wishes people would follow the rules and "stop littering and smoking on the train." I wonder if there are any rules barring vapid, heavily made-up girls from "the train."

I leave her and go to investigate a young unkempt man with a saxophone case in his lap. He is Paul, on his way to a gig at a bar in Washington, D.C., where he plays regularly. He says he enjoys riding the metro, but that there are some things that can really sour a ride, so to speak. "I hate it when you walk into a car and it reeks of urine," he says, "but it's really only happened a few times to me."

His luck in the urine department has been reflected in other areas where bodily fluids are of concern. "I was once sitting next to a girl who was talking to her friend when she suddenly threw up all over the place. I jumped away just in time."

Next I find a solemn man in a business suit. "Excuse me," I say.

"I'm sorry," he interjects, "but I'm just not interested."

Well, he didn't seem very sorry at all, to tell the truth. But despite this unfortunate run-in, for the most part the Metro offers us a peaceful getaway from the hostility of the outside world. Where else but the Metro can you find a babbling woman next to a man with an NIH identification card, or a professional businesswoman sitting alongside a man who resembles a woolly mammoth?

And despite these differences, arguments rarely arise. In fact, people barely even speak to each other. I think if we all followed their example and stared stonily ahead as we go through our lives, the world would be a better place. As they say, "If life gives you lemons, sell them and buy a Metrocard."

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Sally Colwell. Sally Colwell is co-centerspread editor and is tremendously excited to be on paper this year. In her free time she enjoys reading novels, drawing, not practicing the violin and attending demolition derbies. During the summer she is a counselor at Burgundy Center for Wildlife Studies … More »

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