Metro cars fascinate me. It is not the mechanics of the cars that intrigue me; it is their capacity to capture all of society in one 10’x 75′ container. The busyness of others—the hoity-toity way they run, the arrogantly lazy way they lean, the blank way they stare at their phones—captivates me.
Each ride is different. The crowd is an ever-shifting deck of suits, tourists, and interns. The operator’s enthusiasm varies. The amount of time holding in tunnels varies. The cleanliness of the car varies. Although number of door-rushers is generally one per four riders, their chutzpah varies. The temperature of a car is variable, and stepping onto a car during a heatwave is like playing a game of is that glass dish that may or may not have just came out of the oven hot or not?
Every morning when I arrive at West Falls Church and saunter from the bus bay to the platform I am amused by the antics of the potentially insane, annoyed by the pressing rush of the self-important, and generally intrigued by the bizarre behavior of others…
A man vaulted over the side of the escalator down to the platform and threw himself through the closing Metro car doors.
One hundred and twenty seconds later I boarded a myth— a mostly-empty rush hour train—giggling quietly to myself.
She leaned against the pole, pressing the entirety of her spine against the metal. The rushing press of the crowd passed her by and she remained unmoved.
My hand pressed against the ceiling of the train. Body tensed with every bump on the tracks. I waited for my chance. One good lurch was all I needed. When it came I was ready.
Gravity compelled her forward. My fist, so suddenly clutching that cold metal, suggested that she share. Knuckles like spikes. Four more hands reached out of the crowd to join mine.
He caught me on the worst day—crying openly in a crowded Metro car during the evening commute—and tried to help in what small way he could. So large he could have been a linebacker, he scooched over and wordlessly gestured to the space beside him.
I shook my head. Unable to speak. Frustration closed a fist around my throat. Holding onto the lukewarm metal poll was all that grounded me. If I took his offer, let go and sat, I’d break.
He stood up, misunderstanding my reluctance. Moving away from the now-vacant bench he gestured again, and muttered please so quietly I couldn’t hear it. I saw the word form on his lips and the offer radiate from him.I shook my head. Closed my eyes. I wanted to be alone.
The train came to a shuddering stop. I opened my eyes and he was there across the car, looking at me with such pain. The Metro is not a place of much kindness, and I’d rejected his.
Sometimes we are the insane, annoying, self-important, bizarre person crying on the Metro, obnoxiously claiming territory, running through closing doors.
When you get right down to it, everybody’s having a perfectly lousy time of it, and I mean everyone. And the hell of it is, nothing seems to help much.
— Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan
A version of this appeared on Medium first.