January 2010


Today, in order to sate the daunting beast that is their [almost] $189 million budget gap, the Metro board voted to approve a 10-cent fare hike.

[read here]

I would just like to say thank you to the Metro board for choosing fare hikes over service cuts. If there were going to be fewer trains with fewer cars running less frequently than there are right now, I would start seriously investigating teleportation as a means of travel.

Because a decreased budget deficit for Metro is not worth the spike in insanity claims among Metro patrons that would result from having to stand on even more crowded platforms and squish into sweatier armpits on even more crowded trains.

And 10 cents for four months is just pocket change.

And no, I don’t want to think ahead to when fares undoubtedly go up again in July.

It’s likely I’ll also consider that pocket change.

Did you know the idiom “there’s method to my madness,” or any variation of it, actually comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet? I bet you knew that. It’s one of very few enduring tidbits of information I learned in AP English.

Anyway the point is that there is a distinct method to the madness of my micromanaged commute. (And that is alliteration). Oh, you didn’t know it was micromanaged? And mad? Allow me to enlighten:

  • I must ride either the 7:20 a.m. or 7:45 a.m. bus from my apartment to the metro. 7:20 on good days, 7:45 on late days. Okay, lately it’s been 7:45 every day.
  • I must stand at the same spot on the platform at West Falls Church to await the train.
  • I must get all the way into the middle of either half of the car, equidistant from the center doors and the back of the car.
  • I must walk up every escalator, and I must walk briskly.
  • I must get on the same car of the red line train I take from Metro Center in the mornings, and I prefer to stand by the doors.
  • Again, I must walk briskly and I must walk up every escalator.
  • I leave my desk 55 minutes before the departure time of the bus I plan to catch back to the apartment from West Falls Church.
  • And I absolutely have to catch either the 5:40 or 6:40 bus in the evenings. I will work late before I will catch the 6:10.

That is the madness. Don’t be afraid, I told you there is a method. And yes, I know I may be somewhat obsessive compulsive. But if you just understand the method…

For a time over the summer I took the 6:55 a.m. bus to the metro. I really enjoyed getting to work by 7:45, but I was not willing to continue putting up with my one happiness obstacle — the creepster. Anecdote:

The Creepster

“Hey… Do I know you from somewhere?” he said after he’d secretly followed behind me from the shuttle bus to my usual spot on the metro platform.

“Um I don’t think I know you … should I?” I’m sufficiently creeped out.

“You look really familiar. Where did you go to school?” he asked in his kind of soft-spoken stalker-in-the-closet-esque voice.

“I went to Virginia Tech. Which is a big school…” I answered skeptically while trying to convey that I was annoyed and would rather be left alone at 7 a.m. on a Monday.

“Oh I went to Radford. Maybe that’s how I’ve seen you before.”

I wonder if he’s been stalking me since college, I kept thinking while his droning conversation continued toward me as the train arrived, as I eagerly headed for my usual spot, as we traveled all the way to McPherson Square. When he finally got off the metro I resolved to start putting my iPod earbuds in before I walked out of my apartment in the morning. I figured this would serve as a respectable barrier between me and any creepster who tried to converse with me.

Not a chance. I should know creepsters don’t respect boundaries. That’s half the reason they’re called creepsters. It got to the point where I wasn’t just seeing him on the bus in the morning — all of a sudden he was on the same bus as me every evening, and he’d follow me to the mail room and wait around while I purposefully took a ridiculously long time opening the mailbox and retrieving invisible mail. Then he’d wait at the elevators for me, and continue awkward conversation up to the sixth floor. This continued for days, possibly weeks, until one evening on the bus he asked if I’d like to play pool with him some night. I politely made excuses for my fictionally busy schedule which clearly didn’t work because once he managed to get on the same elevator as me despite my best efforts, he asked the most awkward question of all:

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

Ugh. Really, creepster? Are you really asking me such a thing while we’re in an elevator together? Could you try to be a little more awkward? I replied with a very frustrated “Yes” as we slowly approached the sixth floor. He stepped off the elevator after a painful pause and said, “Well, thought I’d ask.”

From that moment on I vowed to never take the 6:55 shuttle in the morning, and try my best not to be on the 6:10 in the evenings. This is the main cause of many of my commuting idiosyncrasies that involve timing, and it aggravates my OCD when he randomly shows up on my shuttles again after I’ve taken great pains to avoid him. When this happens, which it has with increasing frequency lately, I generally make an unnecessary phone call or text very intently until he’s out of sight.

I think we all have particular spots where we stand, cars we prefer to get on, places we prefer to position ourselves once on the train. I know many people who won’t ride in the first or last cars ever since the June 2009 metro collision. I understand that. I also understand that if you really need or want a seat, you’re almost always guaranteed one in the first or last cars. I stand where I do so I can hold on to the handles on the backs of seats because I’m too short to hold on to the overhead railings. And I get the least hassled by people trying to get on or off in a hurry.

I walk fast and I walk up escalators because I don’t enjoy being under ground where there is no natural light. It’s also crucial to my health when it’s cold out because if I walk fast and hustle up the giant escalator, I’m usually warm by the time I get outside. And I hate being cold.

So you see, it all makes sense. To my coworkers who read this and who judge me for running frantically out of my cube at a particular time, I hope you understand now.

Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t

I really hope I don’t smell bad. Have you ever been on the metro, in the most cramped of quarters, and a hideous smell insists on seeping up your nostrils? Gross.

It’s happened a lot recently — sometimes it’s the guy whose armpit I’m standing in on my way home in the evening. He reeks so badly of B.O. that I’m just crossing my fingers that he just walked out of the gym. Bless his coworkers if he sat in his cubicle all day with that stench on him.

I get even more upset when the perpetrator is the person sitting next to me. I was sitting next to a man once who smelled so strongly of smoke that I was convinced he was either smoking an invisible cigarette or had some sort of cigarette IV — bypass the mouth, straight into the lungs sort of contraption.

Maybe it resembled Iron Man’s lite-brite power source.

Brainstorming this concept is how I kept from gagging or asking him whether he could smell himself. I realize he must have been a life-long smoker and so probably didn’t even notice the smell. In fact he probably liked it. I wonder if he were to create a cologne, would that be a pleasing scent that he would just have to include? Eau de cheminée.

I can get over smells usually. The problem with overwhelming stenches on the train on the way to work is that then I worry if I’m going to retain that smell all day. What if I come in smelling like the three-week-old onions + garlic + curry + sautéed veggies combination the guy in front of me was wearing? Or worse – the chain smoker? Or the b.o.??

And then after all this concentration on the subject of smells, I begin to wonder if I am one of those smelly people. Do my clothes smell dirty?? (I mean, I’m pretty sure they came out of the clean pile…) Am I carrying around a smell from stepping in dog poo? Is my hairspray funky?

I sincerely hope I smell like roses and candy and goodness. If you see smell me on the metro, please feel free to be honest with me.

As you might have noticed, if you care, I have not updated this blog since September (and even then it was a guest post). I have apologized to my friends who used to enjoy it as a minor distraction from the workday. I have apologized to my co-workers who eagerly await the day that they will be the subject of a post. But it took me until this past week to apologize to myself.

It turns out I’ve been bottling up all my metro hate and metro-driven funny for the past few months. And I’ve finally burst.

As with all of my urges to write a new post, this one started with a very distinct moment of inspiration. On Wednesday, December 30, 2009, my last metro ride to work of the year, I got one of those signs that you just can’t ignore when it slaps you in the face.

Ahem.

I was sitting on the metro, bundled up like the kids in A Christmas Story, when a familiar sound came from the seats behind me. People started to snicker as they realized that it was a song, not a sound, and that it was a full song, not a ringtone.

It was none other than the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive, a la Saturday Night Fever.

I pictured John Travolta. I pictured feathered hair and Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake’s SNL spoof “The Barry Gibb Talk Show” and the Gibbs’ comical overbites. I pictured the metro passenger who was the source of the tunes jamming to the idea that “You can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk.”

And I thought to myself, Lauren, this song is for you. You may think it was just a catchy disco song and the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, but for some reason that morning it carried a message to me.

This is funny, I thought, and if you were still blogging you would write about it later this morning. And people might laugh with you about it. But you haven’t written since September.

And the song sang to me (over and over):

Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother,
You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Feel the city breaking and everybody shaking
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.

Well I’m neither a brother nor a mother, but I decided to take this as a hint that I should keep this blog alive. Keep the blog alive, keep the funny in commuting, keep the happy in my days. Save the cheerleader, save the world. That school of thought.

So here it is, my attempt to return to blogging and my desperate plea that you (my sweet friends) keep me aware of my shortcomings if when I start to slack off.

And let it be known that if it had been any other song, the rest of the people on that train would have revolted. But I think they all kind of liked it the way I did. You can’t argue the joy that a little ’70’s throwback can bring you in the middle of the week.