Monday, March 21, 2011

Rail, rail, go away

It started raining heavily this morning right about the time I got to the Metro platform, which honestly is not that bad as the timing of these things goes. I had a small umbrella in my workbag but if I had been walking through the parking lot when the skies opened up I would have had to get it out in a hurry, and then subsequently would have had to deal with a wet umbrella on the train. As it was I could just stand under the platform canopy which, incidentally (but increasingly relevantly as this story goes along), only extends about half the length of the platform. I walked to the farthest spot still under the canopy and looked in the train about to depart as I did. All the seats were full, and while there might have been some open seats in the tail-end cars, I would have had to leave the canopy’s shelter to find out. I decided, instead, to simply wait for the next train.

And then as it turned out the next train didn’t come along for another fifteen minutes or so, despite the fact that during the morning rush they should run at least every five or ten. During the time when there were no trains in sight, the section of the platform shielded from the elements by the canopy absolutely filled up with bodies. A few brave souls with umbrellas ventured farther down the platform, but most people stayed under cover – which of course meant they were bunching up close to the bottoms of the escalators, and eventually people were coming down and hollering “Move down the platform!” and that is something I will never understand, just in general, the fact that some people can walk into a situation and determine (correctly, even) that things are not quite right but then just draw the conclusion that things are not right because everyone else in the same situation is a total ignoramus who needs to be yelled at and told what to do by the possessor of a more penetrating intellect. Yeah, move down the platform, why didn’t anyone else think of that?

At any rate, another train finally came along and despite a very real possibility that I might not get a seat on that one either based on sheer numbers and my refusal to mow people down to get one, I did get a place to sit. But in less than a minute all the seats were taken and people were still boarding to stand in the aisles. I am positive I have ranted about this before, but if you’re new here or have forgotten, let me break it all down again. I get on the Metro in the morning at the very last/first stop on the Orange Line (notoriously the most crowded of all the commuter-heavy lines). Once the train leaves that terminus it then stops at three more above-ground stations and four underground stations before I get off at the fifth underground stop, right before the train actually crosses into D.C. itself. And the train, in theory, should be picking up more and more riders at every stop. Thus I was somewhat bewildered as to why the Metro driver did not pull into our station, let everyone on the platform get on (or choose not to, as they will) and then close the doors and head back towards the city. Instead, the train sat there at the platform for several minutes, and more and more people made their way from the parking lot to the platform, and more and more people chose to board the SRO train, and then finally the train started heading east, already ridiculously overstuffed.

It probably betrays my cultural insensitivity that I find this picture so funny.
Of course said overstuffedness did not deter that many people from piling on at the other inbound stations as well; no doubt they had been waiting impatiently on their platforms for twenty minutes or more and were wondering when, if ever, they were going to get to work that morning. A question which was not happily clarified a few stops down the line when the train started holding for long stretches in the tunnels, as the driver explained over the (functional, for once) PA that there was some kind of problem with smoke on the track (???) somewhere in D.C. which necessitated single-tracking of trains in that stretch and backed up service in both directions, not only on the Orange Line but on the Blue Line as well because over that particular stretch of the system Orange and Blue share the same line. So that probably doubled the delay.

The more reasonable, rational part of my brain knows that the bad weather this morning only exacerbated the irritability of the average commuter and didn’t directly contribute to the Blue/Orange delays, but at this point my experience with WMATA’s pervasive ineptitude and generally pathetic incompetence puts more than a shadow of doubt on the idea. It rains, some trains’ wheels get wet, the next thing you know switch junctions are completely malfunctioning and tunnels are filling up with smoke. This does not strike me as altogether implausible.

The one good thing about such a grim commute on a Monday morning is that by the time I reached the office I was suffused with a certain kind of hard-fought weariness. I normally find it hard to jolt myself into a mode of optimal productivity on Mondays, anyway, but when the door-to-door trip takes two hours, I feel I’ve won a major victory just by showing up present and accounted for at all. And anything I actually accomplish is simply gravy. So that makes Monday a little easier to bear.

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