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

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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.

A dear friend of mine has been scheming about a guest post since my blogging schedule slowed to a crawl. In this masterful work, he takes swings at nearly every complaint I’ve ever mentioned on this blog in an attempt to say, Hey, It could be worse. (For the record, I have made a similar statement in the past). Read on for Hugh’s comparison of DC’s metro system to that of other major cities:

DC Metrorail – A Comparison
Under rated and under appreciated

DC Metrorail has been getting beat up in the news for a few years now. It is often portrayed as an aging relic in need of renovation. With the June 2009 collision bringing to attention even more flaws, area residents are taking extra shots at the Metro punching bag. Are we being too hard on Metro? Let’s take a look at how our much-maligned public transit system stacks up against two of the best in the world: Paris Metro and New York Subway.

Paris Metro
Although everybody in the DC area knows of the recent Metro accident resulting in 9 deaths, you may not be aware that Paris Metro has its own safety concerns. Paris Metro trains are susceptible to fires, with 34 injuries due to train fires since 2005.

paris_metro

Paris Metro map ... there has to be 100 times as many confused tourists using this system

Despite the fires Paris Metro is great, conveniently serving 300 stations along 16 lines. But only when the employees decide to show up for work. Transit workers often use strikes as a negotiation tactic.

Crowded metro cars are common for mass transit commuters in most cities. But Paris Metro cars are narrower and shorter, adding to the claustrophobia. Additionally, its cars are widely criticized for having an awkward placement of seats that get in the way when standing room is needed.

It is frustrating when a rookie Metro rider interrupts the flow of regular commuters. Can you imagine if passengers had to manually open the train doors to disembark onto the platform? This is the case with Paris Metro. Open the doors too soon while the train is moving and risk barrel-rolling down the platform; too much hesitation and your fellow busy travelers might turn on you.

New York City Subway
Some wimps complain of the lack of air conditioning in the DC Metro stations. But the New York Subway system is certainly hotter. DC stations are built much deeper underground where the air is naturally cooler. (Paris Metro doesn’t have A/C either).

DC Metro is certainly not known for architectural beauty, but at least we have control over unwanted wildlife. Rats run amuck in the New York Subway, sometimes even boarding the trains.

Since the London bombings in 2005, New York City Transit Police have conducted random searches of bags entering the stations. By random, they mean “random.” Racial profiling complaints are common.

nysubway

A New York Subway station taking on water...

It is true that DC Metro riders have suffered from an increase in service interruptions. We’re not alone. Commuters in New York pray it doesn’t rain because of the Subway’s susceptibility to flooding, which causes circuit shortages of the third rail.

We have grown accustomed to the helpful signs informing us when the next trains are expected to arrive. Software problems delayed this luxury for New Yorkers for several years. They’re taking another crack at it, but it won’t be done until 2011.

So buck up, Metro riders, because it could be worse. Next time you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with other depressed commuters deep underneath Washington, D.C., take comfort that at least there isn’t a rodent nibbling on your ankle.

I have often lamented about the use of metro’s “priority seating” by people who do not need it and are unwilling to offer it up to someone who might need it. However, this morning I witnessed an incident that made me question the definition of handicapped as it pertains to priority seating. Allow me to set the scene:

When I got on the metro at West Falls Church, there were plenty of open seats. Not a single person was standing and there were seats to spare. As usual, I noted the passengers who chose to claim the priority seating and judged whether I thought they really needed it. All four were young, capable looking people, but of course I cannot judge whether they will jump at the chance to offer their seat to someone more in need. I never sit in those seats for fear that I will not notice a person who needs it, and as a result, turn into that jerk.

When the doors opened at Ballston, a large man who was resting on the fat scale somewhere between really overweight and morbidly obese, waddled onto the metro. He turned, crouched down to the face height of two girls sitting in the priority seats and with the condescension of a self-important yuppie said,

If neither of you are handicapped can I puh-lease have one of your seats…”

Both young ladies peered up at him in a combination of handicap symbolfright and disbelief. In fact, the whole train was looking at him. With the understanding that I do not know him or his medical history, I wondered how this man who could feasibly walk onto the train, crouch down and stand back up, could consider himself handicapped. As far as I’m concerned larger in size does not automatically equal handicapped.

I understand that at a certain point of obesity merely standing is almost impossible. But in many situations, forcing a person who is overweight or out of shape to actually use their muscles once in a while rather than allowing them to move from one seated position to another, could actually be the health care reform we need. I have read many pleas to remove seats from the metro altogether, with the reasonable exception of ADA-compliant places for truthfully handicapped passengers and senior citizens to sit.

Imagine if WMATA had actually gone through with a proposed plan to cut millions in funds by replacing all metro station escalators with stairs, as is dutifully reported in this DCist post. I’d like to briefly add that more often than not, Mitch Hedberg is right and metro escalators are nothing more than stairs. I’d also like to add an addendum to any proposition for stairs-only entrances and exits, stating that certain stations really benefit from the moving stairs, e.g., Dupont Circle.

I am not hating on larger people, handicapped people, senior citizens, or anyone else whose anger with me is growing readily. I simply think we can learn to use our legs. I like standing on the metro and not letting it knock me over; I like to think of it as a form of exercise. I walk up the Dupont escalator every day, and yes, at the top I have to catch my breath.

KFCBut for a culture that considers a sandwich between two pieces of fried chicken rather than two slices of bread a legitimate meal, we could stand to raise our heart rates during our commutes.

And for those of us who will never be able to withstand stairs or standing on the metro, there will always be shuttle service between stations with malfunctioning elevators so that your amount of walking will remain at a minimum.

While I haven’t been updating the blog, I have been doing other things… Other very busy and important things…

Like working

And reading here and there

And doing summery things

And well I don’t really have a good excuse. My only excuse is lack of material, really. It seems that every time I take the metro lately something is really annoying me. I mean really grinding my gears. If I wanted to log a multitude of complaints, I would have plenty to write about. But complaints can only be so entertaining.

I could be writing about the physics of the air conditioned train that is a refreshing cool temperature versus the physics of the train on which I hear air blowing, but it maintains 100 muggy degrees.

I could write about the lady troll I’ve been running into lately who scowls at people trying to crowd onto a train. “Consider the next train why dontcha?!” she snaps with her nose scrunched in disgust and her little troll hands clutching the railing.

I could share how frightening it is to ride the metro with an upset stomach, two ginger ales and a barf bag. But I’ve written about my barf bag before. And I’m just thankful I have one now.

The truth is, I’ve been trying to block the commute out of my consciousness. Even though I still do it [almost] every day, I’m trying my darndest to not let it get to me. I even play solitaire on my iPod.

At least the tourists will be leaving soon.

Last night I went to Screen on the Green, the outdoor movie on the National Mall, for the first time. It was everything I hoped it would be.

I got down there around 6ish I believe, I set out my blanket, kicked off my shoes, pulled out some reading material and enjoyed the sunsetty glow coming from behind the Washington monument. I took this picture from the comfort of my pre-nap stance, which is why it features people’s backs.

DSCN2749

I’m glad that everyone who loved SOTG for the last nine years worked so hard to get it back this year, because it’s a little piece of DC heaven. Because you’re nestled on the Mall with hundreds of other people, you’re somewhat sheltered from the hustle of other areas of DC. As you wait for the sun to set and the movie to start (around 9), the playlist of tunes and the people-watching are endlessly entertaining. I also enjoyed spying on neighboring picnics for ideas for next week.

Also entertaining last night was the “Guess whether the storm’s gonna hit us” game. Weather.com was calling for about 30% chance of isolated thunderstorms. I’m not even sure what that means anymore. As I sat on my blanket realizing I was hearing thunder not planes taking off from National, I began to understand what 30% meant.

It meant that 30% of the sky I was under would be covered with dark, ominous clouds. And coincidentally, that 30% of sky was just over the screen and the Capitol. Behind me the sun was setting near the Washington monument among white wispy clouds. No storm threats to speak of back there. But this is what we were staring at as it got darker and movie time approached:

DSCN2763

I will be cliche and call this the calm after the storm, because this was when the real threat of storms began to dissipate. It did look questionable for a few minutes as we were pelted with monstrous rain drops and the dark cloud sat over top of us thundering.

But I’m glad we stuck it out because it was the most fun I could have had on a Monday (nerd alert), and the movie Dog Day Afternoon lived up to its hype. And next time I’ll participate in the HBO dance.

If I’m lucky (and if you are too) I’ll be posting video evidence of the storm chasing. Yes, it was that amusing.