“This is my right; it is the right of every human being. I choose not the suffocating anesthetic of the suburbs, but the violent jolt of the Capital, that is my choice. The meanest patient, yes, even the very lowest is allowed some say in the matter of her own prescription. Thereby she defines her humanity.” (emphasis mine) – Virginia Woolf, The Hours by Michael Cunningham.
I love the violent jolt of the morning commute into our Capital city. I don my commuter gear, my sunglasses, my ipod, and a thick veneer of commuter indifference to protect myself from the crowd, screaming street vendors, and panhandlers alike. I take a bus to the Pentagon every morning, which is cool in and of itself. I arrive one minute before my blue line train arrives. Today I had to charge my fare card again, but being a pro by now, I can add money to my card and run (yes, I said run) to catch my train, weaving between yellow line commuters to get to the doors. Because I have done this 1,000 times, I know the perfect place to stand so that am as close to the doors as possible.
I stand on the train because there is nowhere to sit. Besides, sitting is for sissies. Commuter Colleen stands. I hold onto the rails for dear life while sifting through songs on my ipod and turning epages on my electronic device. I wear my sunglasses on the train which helps me ignore the crushing hordes of people on either side of me.
I exit the train at Foggy Bottom, the center of GWU and GW Hospital. I push my way up the escalator. I know the unspoken metro escalator rules. Stand right, walk left. I emerge from the metro tunnel in blinding sunlight, weave through the crowds to begin my 5 1/2 block trek to my office, my feet pounding on the sidewalk in time to whatever fast-paced music I am listening to.
I know it is a grind. Waiting for the bus, dealing with the crowded metro trains that are forever delayed. The crowds in the city. The increased potential for crime. But still, I love it.
Some days are worse than others. One day on the way home the trains were so crowded that I was crushed up against the exit doors. I had to step out of the train at the Rosslyn station to let other commuters off. But that station was so crowded, I could hardly take a step back. One guy, in his frustration reached out and pushed me hard as he exited the train. I pushed back and loudly called him an asshole. Commuter Colleen is aggressive and tough. She takes no crap!
My brother and sister each live out in the ex-urbs of DC in a far away land called Sterling, which is a mere 25 miles from where I live in Arlington. It might as well be a different country. My sister lives about 2-3 miles from where she works and would not have it any other way. My brother does work in Tyson’s, but still prefers to live as far away from the city as possible.
I have to admit, where they live is very nice. They each have a big yard and land. They live in nice, quiet neighborhoods with lots of children. Play dates and nice leisurely strolls through well manicured streets and parks galore.
I pay probably about the same, maybe a little less, for a studio apartment. The best place to go walking has many shops and restaurants. And I’m not far from a bike path. The area where I live is pretty nice, but just down the road is a much more modest neighborhood that is sometimes kind of sketchy. Still, I love living this close to the city. True denizens of DC consider where I live in Arlington to be the boonies, and I am six miles from my office.
When people ask me why I live here or why I don’t move out to nowheresville, I am always surprised. I usually give them my stock answer…it’s closer to work and I would hate to commute into the city from out in the middle of nowhere. And that is true. It’s more true, however, that I would probably die a slow and lingering death living out in the safe, calm, anesthetic land of manicured driveways and safe clean parks.
The most exciting part of the commute for me is that I am able to do it at all. Just a couple of years ago, I used to commute into DC for my job. I worked a block from the Metro station and I really struggled to get there. Between back pain and an inability to breathe made the short walk and ride on the metro train unbearable. I used to sometimes take a cab into the city just to avoid the hellish commute. But that’s $20 each way, and I cannot afford that often.
Now, the commute is not quite so hellish. I look forward to my morning and afternoon walks to and from the metro station. I’m thankful, even that I have such a hike to give me a chance to get some exercise in. I even find that long walk is not enough. I am going to have to add an evening walk through my neighborhood or even on the treadmill, which I can hardly believe. Before the surgery, I could barely walk to the bus stop. Now I’m standing on the metro, running to catch trains, walking through the city, and planning additional walking because apparently 10 blocks a day is not enough.
Besides, not every commuting experience is stressful. I was in the “commuter zone” during one of my morning jaunts into the city. The blue line train was taking forever. I can take a yellow line to L’Enfant Plaza, which by-passes Foggy Bottom. I then have to change trains and back-track through the city to Foggy Bottom. It’s not my favorite route, but sometimes I just cannot wait. I had to do that one day. I walked onto the crowded blue line train in L’Enfant Plaza and nearly tripped over a baby stroller that was sticking out from under someone’s seat. A man with a baby on his lap apologized to me and told the child sitting across from him (clearly his other child) to make sure she kept the stroller folded and under the seat. I told him it was fine and stood there tuning him out for the rest of the ride.
Shortly into the ride, I felt a tug on the front of my jacket. I looked down and this adorable little girl who was maybe ten months old with cute brown eyes and little brown pigtails looked up and smiled at me through her pacifier. She reached up with one hand and took the pacifier out of her mouth and curled her cute little fingers on her other hand into a small wave. She smiled again and said “hi.”
What could I do. I felt the commuter veneer of indifference melt away and I smiled and said “hello” back to her. Her father immediately corrected her and said, “Leave the nice lady alone.” I just smiled back and said, “She’s just fine.”