On the Washington Metro

a short story, by Peter Ferko

On my subway car in the Nation’s Capital, I face ahead as a man behind resists belligerent calls from a fellow passenger to release the doors and much harrumphing from my car mates. The recorded voice once again presumes cooperation as it states, “Doors closing,” while in fact, they open, allowing a recently-coiffed man in a stylish — rather than the more typically conservative — blue wool coat to sneak in the doors ahead of me; then they shut again, catching the sneak by the arm like a strict aunt. I watch as he struggles to reclaim his hand from the world of the platform on the other side of the trap he is in. The lid and straw of his drink cannot retain their hold on the top of the plastic cup as he drags it through as an elongating ellipse. I have a bemused thought that the train itself caught him bringing a drink onto this food-free transit system.

As the man behind seems unresponsive to both his former antagonist and the middle-aged woman in a yellow plastic vest who jumped up from her seat (as she has no Metro badges on her clothing, I wonder if she is a member of a Neighborhood Walk-style vigilante group), I focus on the coiffed man, who is becoming indignant that the car doors are not opening to allow his expensive coat sleeve to join the hand he has freed. The yellow-vested vigilante walked to the front of the car and called for police assistance on the intercom; the man ahead becomes indignant with the vigilante and insists he be let off the train. Her response is out of earshot, but their exchange gives evidence to her having dealt previously with riders who take no blame for their own folly.

As all doors are cleared of obstacles and the train moves on to the next station, I am pleased that my fellow travelers are back to their self-centered activities. Then at the next station another episode of raised voices erupts, this time from the vestibule just ahead, where one man is trying to persuade a woman with a suitcase to back away from the doors to allow others to enter the train. Bells ding, doors close, and it’s unclear to me if everyone who wanted to got on or off. A diplomatic corps’ reserve reigns as the blocked, blocker, and bystanders discuss standard door procedures. I imagine letters to Metro and new signage and recordings being phased in soon.

I think about situations back in New York and the frustrated faces at a missed train, the smiles at a train just caught as the doors closed, patience when a coat or bag gets stuck, the informal yelling from conductors when someone holds the doors, and the loud “Excuse me,” that clears the doorways for exit. Pissed, happy, dealing with it. New Yorkers don’t seem to have time for indignation. They don’t believe in the system.

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