I know you know, but just in case you missed it – Yesterday around 5 p.m. (you know, peak rush hour), two metro trains on the red line collided in northeast. As of this morning they’ve confirmed nine or seven casualties, depending on who you ask, and many many more injuries.

I can’t even imagine.

I got to Dupont Circle metro station around 5:15 yesterday, and waited 15 minutes for a train. This seems trivial, I know, but they normally show up one right after the other with a maximum of three minutes in between. The platform got more and more crowded as people piled in and the electronic train status signs remained blank.

There were no announcements, no alerts from WMATA, nothing.

So when a phenomenally crowded train showed up after what seemed like an eternity, everyone piled on. It was reminiscent of the failblog video I wrote about once. People were actually holding onto other people to keep them in the train while the doors attempted to close.

At Farragut North, when even more disgruntled, uninformed people tried to cram on, I thought I was about to witness a metro mutiny. There was shouting, lecturing, arguing, shoving, and even more squishing of smaller people (me) into larger people’s arm pits. Sweaty armpits, because the air wasn’t on.

I thought to myself, I might blog about this tomorrow.

It wasn’t until I got to Metro Center that I even heard an announcement that there was “a situation” on the red line, and that you should expect delays in both directions. But there’s always a situation on the red line, so I casually, like every other day, filed onto my orange line home-bound train and opened my book.

When I got above ground and regained cell service I started to get worried. I had numerous texts, missed calls and voice mails from various friends and family. One text from a coworker asked if I made it home okay, “I heard about the red line.”

I got off the train and headed out toward kiss&ride to wait for my shuttle and heard another announcement about a portion of the red line being shut down, shuttle service, delays, etc.

I called my mom, assured her I was fine and asked what in the world was going on. I had an all too familiar pang in my stomach, one that’s lived there for two years now and flares up when it senses disaster. Sirens, triage stations, media, questions, chaos. Casualties.

Yes, it was a freak accident. It was nowhere near where anyone I know rides the metro, and it was nowhere near where I ride it (for which I am exceedingly grateful). But, as such things always do, it opened a limitless box of questions and what ifs. What went wrong? Who’s to blame? Equipment failure or operational error? How do we know other trains on other lines are safe? What if it had been underground?

Being in the dark, literally underground, having no idea what was going on and no source of information, is a metro fault. We’re all used to hearing announcements of delays or single-tracking or “malfunctions” and not finding out what really happened until you get home and check the news. Some metro officials argue that telling passengers, via station and train announcements, the details of what’s really going on could cause panic. I would prefer if I could first have the information and then be able to decide for myself whether or not to panic. I know plenty of people agree.

My heart goes out to the people on those two trains — the ones going into the city for Monday evening fun, and those coming out after a day of work — their families, friends, loved ones. I understand what it’s like to have something mundane and normal, a staple of your everyday life, be disrupted by something traumatic.

This morning I avoided the red line, walked about a mile from Farragut West to work, and was thankful to no longer be on the train or underground. I’m also thankful to those of you who read this blog and checked in yesterday, it’s much appreciated.

For the details, coverage of all angles (of particular interest is the ‘The Probe‘ article), and some intense photos, check out the story at the Washington Post.

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As much as I complain about the metro and its often unpleasant stench, unpredictability and unhappy patrons, I realize that it could be so much worse.

It’s not even crowded all the time. At certain times it is heavily traveled, that’s for sure.  The platforms are crowded, the trains, the parking lots, the fare card lines…

Sure, I’ve almost been pushed onto the tracks by an arrant briefcase or stroller. One crowded train (during public school winter break) taught me that I may be average height for a 22 year old female, but I am also average height for a middle-aged man’s armpit. It seems they’re everywhere I go on a train, every time I have to stand and it’s even a tad crowded — I end up in an armpit.  Delightful.

But it is not this crowded:

Hilarious.

And quite a shame.

I firmly believe — even if it’s not true please let me hold on to this belief — that the DC metro area will never get this crowded. I don’t believe the metro will ever be so crowded that it must employ people to stuff us onto public transportation like I stuff clothes into suitcases — however it will fit, worry about the wrinkles later…

Here’s hoping.

(Thanks to Jason for the link)

The time has come to bid farewell to my dear, dear friend the Virginia Railway Express.

Hallelujah.

I’m moving this weekend to a place that is minutes not hours from the metro (hooray!) and never again will I need to rely on the luxury of the VRE for my daily commute. It is indeed a bittersweet goodbye. I will not miss the pre-sunrise rides and the motion sickness, but I will certainly miss all the characters.

Neo was one of my favorites, I sat behind him every morning from Manassas to … well I’m not sure where he got off because I slept through it. But he was so quirky and obsessive about his VRE routine that he always made me feel less insane for having my own obsessive VRE routine. I will not miss Sugar Daddy, even though I only saw or spoke with him once, the possibility of a future run-in often haunted my evening rides. And of course I will never miss being verbally abused by Madam Conductor.

I will definitely miss the naps in the morning. Somehow, no matter what awkward position I was in, I managed to sleep for almost an entire hour on the way in. I will also miss the views. I was fortunate enough to get a few good looks at the tidal basin during the pink snow a.k.a. the peak weeks for the cherry blossoms. The view I had was panoramic, from behind the Thomas Jefferson memorial, and free of swarming crowds of tourists. It was lovely.

I will also miss the blogging material. As several of my loyal readers (read: friends who are bored at work) have pointed out, my blog could take a serious hit to material abundance and hilarity levels once I no longer frequent the VRE. Never fear, metro rides will still provide me plenty of fodder, and of course I have a few anecdotes backlogged for future release.

They say all good things come to an end. And since I’m no good at goodbyes, I’ll just say this:

See ya later VRE. It’s been real.

“Tickets, Pleeease!” she shouts as she walks through the quiet, crowded train. “Please display your tickets!”

It’s such a loud, abrasive order from such a small person. The conductor on the 5:00 p.m. train out of Union Station is a small Puerto Rican woman, about five feet tall. She ties her hair in a tight bun just below her conductor’s cap. Her VRE coat and gloves are just a little too big. She might be wearing childrens’ sized shoes.

But her voice and that attitude are seven feet tall and consume the whole car. Her New York accent is infused with hints of Latina flare, and both combine to create a volume many could only dream of reaching.

I don’t think she’s actually angry all the time, but I shudder in fear everytime the car door opens and she parades down the aisle shouting “PLEASE display your tickets! Tickets PLEASE!” She always wakes me up from my ride-home nap. Some days I close my eyes and pretend to be asleep, in the hope that she looks at my ticket and walks by.

As she approaches each row, she looks for the tickets. Some people clip theirs to the seat in front of them, easily within her line of sight. Others clip their tickets to the lapel of their jackets or the top of their ID badge lanyards. Riders like me who are afraid of her just hold out their tickets for her to inspect.

If she comes to a row and can’t readily see a ticket, she gets impatient and says, “Ticket please!” Even if the man she’s talking to is sound asleep, “Sir! I need to see your ticket! Please have your ticket visible!”

Yesterday, I saw this scene:

Madam Conductor was standing on one side of the aisle, shouting to a man sitting on the other side:

“Ticket please!”

No response. The man continued to read the book sitting in his lap.

“Sir. Sir! Ticket please!”

Still no response. The man sitting in front of him was clearly afraid for both of their safety, so he turned around to nudge the man behind him. The man looked up from his book, then followed a pointing finger to Madam Conductor across the aisle. She looked at him with a glare of impatience and said again, “Sir, I need to see your ticket.”

He took his ticket from his jacket pocket to show her as he mouthed, “I’m deaf. Sorry.” He pointed to his ears and looked concerned that he might have just gotten in trouble.

Madam Conductor said thank you and moved on.

This is why everyone lives in fear of her. No one even knows her name, all her name tag says is “B.” I can only imagine what it stands for.

I’m afraid of her because some days she stares at my ticket longer than she does at everyone else’s. She examines it thoroughly and occasionally uses her mini flashlight for… well, probably to determine if my ticket is counterfeit.  But what I don’t get about this ritual is that I ride this train almost every single day. The same one. With the same conductor. And I sit in the same seat, visibly displaying the same legal, validated ticket.

I’m not sure why she singles me out, but I do know that I will never attempt to cross her path. Now that I have become familiar with this ticket-inspecting and shouting routine, I prepare myself for it before I get on the train in the evenings.

In the mornings, I find myself thanking the VRE staffing schedule for keeping her on the afternoon trains, so I am guranteed a peaceful morning ride. I get comfortable in my seat and fall asleep for the entire ride without displaying my ticket anywhere. Well, this used to be my morning routine, until one morning last week when I awoke from my slumber to the sound of Madam Conductor shouting to see tickets.

I knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep that day, or any other day. And truthfully, it was like waking up with a nightmare as a small child – It just made me more afraid to ever go to sleep again.