Train Sense

Looking out the train window.

As the sun crossed the sky from noon to dusk, the train hurdled and then shuffled and lagged then hurdled again. Heading north.

I understand why there are two ga-zillion songs about trains.

First, there is the sound of the train. It’s rhythmic chug, chug chugging at its low register. It is a growling beast, and then a purring one. It touches your insides via quakes delivered from the soles of your feet. It adds the high tones from the clang of the cars as they pass over the tracks, an underloved but meaningful timbre of the orchestra–more cowbell like. And intermittently the low deep whistle sings it’s lonely tune as the train passes by. It’s warning you that it won’t stop, that it will just break your heart as it powers by.

Then, there is the feel of the train. The jostle back and forth along the tracks. Where walking the aisle of the train is akin to passing an unpasssable sobriety test. It sings songs the rails, leaning ever so slightly to the left and then rolling a bit to the right. The rocking lulls many passengers to dream of adventures to come.

Looking out the window, the world rushes past. The portal is big, but squared off. The edge creating an illusion of a ribbon of film passing through at speeds fast and slow. At first, it seems like the outside is moving, but as the speed picks up you realize that you are the one that’s moving–you just didn’t feel it. Yet, it moves you. Like a song, sung via tons of metal gliding over the tracks heading somewhere else.

Thou Shalt or Shalt Not

Two stone tablets. With markings that are likely words, but that I can't read. I hope the words aren't racist or profane.

Stepping on the train platform at Metro Center I heard the rumblings of The Disembodied Voice. It droned incomprehensibly. It was a baritone mumbling rapidly, as if  he were cruising through The Rosary at a funeral. I hoped the message wasn’t important. I couldn’t make it out.

Then. It hit me. Our public transportation is not of this world. It is guided from a different one. A world lorded over by a god that we don’t know. And that god is most definitely an Old Testament god. One who is vengeful and punishing. We clearly don’t understand him. He’s trying to talk to us, but we don’t get him and that pisses him off.

The god–the WMATA god–is warning us via signs, if not quite plagues, of his displeasure. Fires. Rats. Floods. Cracked rails. Filled condoms placed on the shoulders of passengers. People running up the down escalators. Wild animals overtaking stations.

Tragically, there is no Aaron to translate for us. There is no proxy-Moses to learn from the WMATA god and bring his commandments down from Mt. Vernon. We don’t know how to appease the irritated diety.

The safe response to the god? A shut down.

Many people are praying. Sadly, some are taking the Metro–and its god’s–name in vain. Mostly in anger. Frequently adding vulgarities.

Stop it! You. And you. And you over there, too. And y’all. You are NOT helping.

What if there was a prophet to lead us out of the desert that is Metrorail? Carrying the laws carved on the tablets? Maybe if we knew and followed the commandments, we could ride in peace.

What if the laws were already written and we were simply ignoring them? Would they look like this?

The Ten Commandments of WMATA

  1.  Thou shalt use headphones with all audio and video devices. Seriously. The Metro God hates your music.
  2. Thou shalt not box out fellow passengers who are trying to exit the train. It is a sin to make anyone ride a single extra stop. Let them go in peace.
  3.  Thou shalt give your seat to someone who needs it more than you do. This requires you looking for those needier outside of your field of vision despite your prayerful stance above your phone. Look up!
  4. Thou shalt call the stupid Metro number, which is randomly called out in stations, rather than 911 in an emergency. Metro police do not play nice with other jurisdictions. They are holier than thou.
  5. Thou shalt report any unattended packages to a transit police officer, station manager or train operator. Thou shalt not be troubled that they pay no attention.
  6.  You. The one tossing your backpack in the door when the chimes ring. And then yelling about it being stuck. And then not pulling it out. And then making the train unload. And making not only the Metro god but also the entire metro village very angry. And very vengeful. Thou shalt stop doing such. Thou art making bad juju.
  7. Thou shalt not lean against the train doors. Lean on the escalator handrail. Or lean on your fellow passengers. Especially if thou hast been drinking.
  8. Thou shalt not gum up the flow. For the love of everything good in this world, whilst on the escalator, stand to the right and walk on the left.
  9. Thou shalt not run on the escalator. Run down the up escalator or up the down escalator. Thou shalt not run in the station, run on the track bed, run with scissors.
  10. Thou shalt not take your stroller, wheelchair or wheelie backpack on the escalator. This is a way for pilgrims to show their humility to the WMATA god, because instead of using a convenient entrance you will walk 3/4 of a mile out of your way to an elevator entrance. And then the elevator will be out of service. You shalt be thrice blessed for your penance.

Know well, riders, that our ongoing sins, our wanton disregard of these commandments, has angered the god. And we are being punished. Perhaps, if we humbly follow these commandments, we could ride the train to the promised land. Or, at least, make it home on time. Amen.


So for today, all I can do at this point is say, my dog ran away twice.

The second time was in a sleeting squall. I chased him up and down the side of the train. The nice man who called found me at the metro police where we aren’t allowed and gave me back the collar that he found in his hand when The Beast wrested away. Very nice man, by the way. He had nothing to be sorry about. He is my hero.

I took the collar with a pathetically perfunctory thanks–he deserved gushes of praise–and pulled my hood over my rain splattered glasses so I could walk into the wind to the train and maybe spy him.

I was screaming The Beast’s name in as cheery a way as I could. I bet it was bad. But I sprinkled the word “cookie” every second or third word in case a familiar sound would make it through the gale.

I found him on the bridge over the train–where I expected him. He was in the street, though. Not my expectation. I chased him from one side of the overpass to the other, cooing treats. I really had none, but he wasn’t listening anyway. Per expectations.

Cars were stopping and cautiously going around. He came toward me and I was able to grab the generous folds of his hound dog neck. He’s so lean, I’m grateful for his necklace.

He was tired from his chase with the train. I think that he ran one up, one down and another up. Could have been more. Actually, likely was more.

I’m standing in the middle of the road trying to get his collar on. I have only one hand to do it, since the other is full of neck. I spy a chicken bone on the street, next to the jersey wall that protects pedestrians but is currently serving the role of blocking us from the sidewalk and forcing us into oncoming traffic.

I pick up the chicken bone with my free-ish hand, the one with the collar I can’t quite get over his nose. I pause for less than a blink and offer the bone. He takes it and I collar him. I pray he doesn’t choke on a splinter, but it was all I had.

Miraculously, as in a gift from heaven, nobody is honking. Everybody stops or drives slowly as we stagger our way back across the lanes of traffic. I have my right  wrist inside of the loop of his martingale collar and my left hand outside the loop holding for dear life. Or maybe fear life. I realize the rain is still pelting us, and we go back to our illegal parking spot.

The Beast doesn’t hesitate when I lift the hatch. He jumps in. We drive along the hateful tracks. I don’t know why he hates the train but I know I hate that he hates it. I call the Nice Man and tell him we’re safe. I babble my gratitude. I hope he forgives us.

I park in front of the house and leave The Beast in the car. Taking no chances, I grab his training collar and his leash. I get in the backseat to clip it on. Wasn’t opening the hatch until I knew he was under lock.

He didn’t bolt. He looked toward the train tracks and shook his head. Maybe he was trying to get out of the collar. Maybe he was just shaking off the sleet. He doesn’t like the wet cold. We went in the house, and I gave him a cookie.

We’re drying off now. I’m beyond even wanting a whiskey.

So that’s my excuse for not writing a real post today. I’m just being contemporaneous. And done.