Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Water-logged brain

Before I turned on the computer yesterday, I knew it had rained a lot--enough that one of the air conditioning units in my apartment was leaking wander and that a wet spot was growing on my wall because the condo association doesn't do a good job cleaning out rain gutters--but I didn't expect to see that they had measured seven inches of rain in 24 hours over at National airport. I didn't expect the news that several Metro stations in the District were closed due to flooding. Those stations were beyond where I exit the station, so even though I knew it would likely slow my commute I didn't worry too much.

When will I learn? It took me more than two hours to get to work yesterday morning. I wasn't alone. A lot of people in the DC area reported two- to three-hour commutes. But it was still annoying. I rarely drive to work. It's a 20 minute drive with no traffic, but 40 minutes or more during rush hour, so normally I'm happy to accept a 45-minute trek on public transit. At least then I can get some reading in.

When I reached the Pentagon station, I asked the station manager about buses to Foggy Bottom or Georgetown. He told me what to take, but also point out that the roads were pretty packed too. I'd see that on my bus ride to the Pentagon, and decided to take my luck with the trains.

Much like when a stuck train had caused delays on my evening commute a couple of weeks ago, I made a couple of new friends in the station. We peered down from the upper platform, watching people try to crowd onto the yellow line train that was headed into the District, shook our heads at the people who yelled angrily when they realized they weren't going to make it onto the first Largo train that arrived on our platform; wondered aloud at the people who arrived at the station and seemed surprised to see it so crowded, unable to figure out how they had missed the morning news.

Not everyone became friendly, commiserating with fellow transit riders. There were the angry yellers and people who called colleagues on their cell phones to gripe about being late.

Over an hour after arriving at the station, a blue line train arrived that I thought I'd be able to board. The platform had cleared a bit, and the train wasn't so crowded that arriving passengers couldn't clear off. As I slipped through the doors, a woman with a carry-on sized rolling bag and a brief case pushed towards the doors and stopped.

"I'm getting off at the next station," she explained to people who pushed by her, trying to fill in toward the center of the car so that others could board.

"The doors open on the other side of the train at the next one," I told her, trying to be helpful to her and others. There was room near the other doors and if she moved there, there would be more room for people to board.

"No, they open on the left."

"At the cemetery? No, they open on the right there."

"They open on the left when the trains are traveling in this direction," she said. "It does't just change sides. I think I know that by now."

Baffled, I shrugged and gave up. "Sorry. Didn't realize this was your normal train."

"Oh, it's not. But I'm here a couple of times a year on business."

The train pulled out of the station, and a few minutes later we arrived at Arlington Cemetery. The doors opened on the right. A few people nearby responded to the woman's "excuse mes," as she attempted to make her way across to the opposite doors and out of the car, but no one stepped out of the train to help make way. There wasn't anyone at the station waiting to board, and the doors closed before she could escape.

As the train began to move forward again she turned back to find a pole to hold onto. I noticed that she avoided making eye contact with me.

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