Yesterday’s afternoon commute started out crazy, morphed into annoying, then quickly turned tragic for many DC-area commuters. Because it made national news, you’ve heard by now about the deadly Metrorail crash on the Red Line. It happened at about 5pm yesterday.
Where was I?
Well, about 20 minutes before, I descended the escalator into the Dupont Circle station. I always glance at the sign that lists the next train’s arrival time. It said Shady Grove: 2 minutes. As I went through the fare gate and headed down to the platform, I noticed it was more crowded than usual. More often than not, that means something’s amiss. I went to my usual spot, where the last door of the last trin car usually stops, and waited.
And then a P.A. announcement: PASSENGERS ON METRO’S RED LINE, WE ARE EXPERIENCING DELAYS AT THE TENLEYTOWN STATION. TRAINS ARE SINGLE-TRACKING TO GET AROUND THE INCIDENT. WE REGRET ANY DELAY AND THANK YOU FOR RIDING METRORAIL.
Tenleytown is upstream, between where I was and where I needed to be. Oh great, I thought. I immediately called Curt to put him on daycare pick-up alert, and called the boys, who were waiting for me to return home.
Finally, a super-crowded train rolled into the station. A few folks got off; a few crushed on. It sat until the driver scolded the first-car passengers to GET AWAY FROM THE DOOR SO WE CAN CLOSE THE DOORS AND GO! They did; it went.
The same P.A. announcement played again… and again… and again. I usually receive text messages about Red Line delays, but none came in.
Then another, equally crowded train rolled in. People tried in vain to push on. The doors stayed open. After a few minutes of that fun, they offloaded the train onto the already packed platform, rolled the train into the tunnel, and brought it out in the other direction to the other side of the platform.
The same thing happened twice. The platform was completely full. The station manager helpfully suggested that passengers “spread out on the platform.” As if they could.
After 20 minutes, I decided enough was enough. I pushed through the crowd, announcing to my fellow sardines, “I quit! I’m done!” I exited the station, thinking I would take a taxi up to Curt’s office in Bethesda, and he could drive me home. Of course, I’m not always known for my original thinking; other passengers were trying to do the same thing. Taxicabs were all full.
So, I started walking north, up Connecticut Avenue, thinking eventually, I should be able to find an empty taxi.
And I did… eight long blocks uphill, at the Washington Hilton. (You know – the one we call the Hinkley Hilton, in reference to when Hinkley shot President Reagan.)
The cabbie needed help finding the address in Bethesda. “Don’t get out of DC much?” I asked, and offered directional guidance. I also considered offering to help him find the “on” button for his air conditioning, but he seemed to prefer all windows down. Fortunately, he also preferred NPR on the radio, so I decided to say nothing about the air and settled into the sticky vinyl seat and be grateful for the ride.
Shortly into our trip, the local news cut into All Things Considered and informed listeners about the Metro Red Line train collision near the Fort Totten station. That’s on the other part of the Red Line that I don’t normally travel, heading in the opposite direction. I was immediately glad I chose to bail out of the system and catch a ride to Bethesda.
And Curt was glad to see me. We knew we were cutting it close for picking up the Peezer from daycare before it closed, but he said FEAR NOT, WIFE, FOR WITH YOU MY VEHICLE IS H.O.V.!
(Non-city folk, that stands for High -Occupancy Vehicle, which means you get to drive in special lanes that make the trip faster because most commuters drive alone.)
We made it to daycare, then we decided to celebrate making it out of DC by going out for dinner with the kids.
I didn’t think much about it when I was trying to get home, but afterwards? Something like that could really happen anywhere in the Metro system. It could have happened on a train I was riding. It could happen on a weekend, when the train is packed with tourists and kids and people who don’t otherwise normally ride Metro. I feel lucky to have gotten home with relatively little drama yesterday. It’s hyperbole to say I “cheated death,” because really, pretty much every day you live, every commute, whether you ride a train or a bus or drive a car or walk or ride a bike, in DC or elsewhere, is an exercise in trusting your fellow commuters to get you there safely.
Today, though? I will leave the commute to others.