The other day, I was trying to come out of the Metro station and the turnstile thingamajig ate my card.
Prepare yourself for a trip to ObviousTown.
I realize that sometimes it’s hard to ride the Metro.
I also realize that it becomes statistically more pain-in-the-assy as the frequency with which you ride it increases.
The elevators tend to be slow and smell like old pee; the escalators are old, rusty, and some never seem to snap out of maintenance mode. Some of the stations never seem to be agreeing with the weather: some are intensely, swelteringly warm while others seem to confirm the notion that you can dig a hole deep enough and end up in, no, not China, but Antarctica.
Many of the fellow commuters lack basic etiquette skills and do not realize that in a parallel universe –the one where WMATA’s rules are written– able-bodied people without strollers or parcels are actually expected to give up their seats to the elderly, the pregnant, the infirm-looking or the overwhelmed. Also, it’s not a good idea to stand up ten to twenty seconds before the train stops and try to push people out of the way because you just HAVE to exit– although honestly, when people do this and then end up missing the other train that they were running to catch and they end up waiting next to you for 10 minutes for the stupid yellow train that always does that annoying overlap thing with the blue train, while trying to avoid eye contact with you at all costs…. well, those are called "precious moments" in my book.
And then, there are the tourists, sheeplike and pasty and seemingly designed by an evil overlord to be clumsy enough to take up the maximum amount of space so as to block escalators, turnstiles and walkways and stupid enough to be oblivious to those facts.
Still, riding the Metro is a pleasure like few others.
Just standing in the station and feeling your pupils widen with the combination of that delicious slightly-stale odor that permeates the underground and the windy rush of the moving trains is blissful. It’s like life taking your closeup and having an omnipresent narrator announce, "This is your life: a glamorous urban dweller, in the Bat-Cave catching the train to Awesomeness."
And of course, the trains are actually nice, if a bit 70s-ish, and they are well-lit and safe, and they generally go where you need to go– which is a nice thing. They are easy to figure out too: if you know your colors, you can generally figure out how to use the Metrorail system.
Among the easiest things to figure out in the whole Metro system would be the turnstiles.
There are two kinds: the able-bodied and the disabled or "wide-load" ones. There is usually only one of those, and while anyone can use it, it is reserved for people who actually need it– Herr Meow and I use it when he travels by stroller. Since the space is a little wider, the turnstile is usually found on the far side of the entrances, close to the little information booths where Metro employees hang out and sometimes choose not to regulate the rules– such as allowing people to bring in drinks, not busting them for hogging the left side of the escalator or using their strollers on the escalators (and I say thank Jebus for that one!); they are generally nice and courteous, and they sometimes also hold up the elevator door when you’re running to get in.
Back to the disabled turnstiles: when you insert your pass into them, they spit it right back out at you through the same opening instead of reissuing it up over the top, which turns out to be a tourist nemesis.
All turnstiles are marked with a green light if they are working, or with a red "verboten" light crossed with a white bar if they are out of order or currently in use.
Simple huh? Well… not so much for the tourists, who either try to go through the red-labeled ones or –even though they do not appear to be physically disabled– get stuck trying to figure out what happened to their ticket thingy at the disabled turnstile, while a small line of strollers tends to gather behind them (I don’t ride the the Metro at peak times, so I highly suspect this isn’t as much of a problem when office peeps are funneling through).
Many a Metro employee seems to spend his or her time giving impromptu classes on how to insert your pass into the turnstile during the height of tourist season: you can see the eyes rolling and the head hanging as they approach a besneakered pod of tourists holding up the line, again.
So on Sunday afternoon when my card was eaten up by the disabled turnstile (I was pushing Herr Meow on his stroller), I was annoyed, and I knew that the woman schlepping my way with a look of utter annoyance thought I was a tourist.
She snapped nastily at first from the booth, "JUST TAKE THE CARD! TAKE THE DAMN CARD!"
I wanted to tell her that I was an urbanite, that I knew! This was a real emergency!! Puh-leez! I make fun of people who don’t know where their pass is, lady! I’m on your side!!! (Did she just say "damn"?)
She pushed the booth door open and then told me to get out of her way. She tried to swipe the card from where it should naturally be protruding, except that… there was no card. She turned to me.
"The turnstile swallowed my card."
With a wave of her red nails she got me out of her way again and opened up the machine. Sure enough, there was my poor pass, currently looking like a little concertina. She took it out and went to another turnstile, but didn’t tell me what she was doing. Honestly? I was cowering in fear and confused. A large man walked straight up to where I was standing (still behind the stroller) and just smiled.
I wanted to tell him to go away because this was still my turnstile and how dare he smile! I just got yelled at by a Metro person! I’m under duress!
Instead, Die MetroFrau barked at me, "Push the stroller through the other gate and GET OUT OF THE WAY!"
I obediently did her bidding, feeling like the most incompetent über-moron– seriously way below tourist status. I pushed the stroller through the side gate and toward Monsieur Meow, and walked around to the turnstile where she’d swiped my card and was waiting for me to go through with a look that was both withering and completely dismissive.
I mustered a mousy "thank you" as I pulled my card, but she didn’t reply.
The moral of this story is this: BE NICE TO YOUR METRO EMPLOYEES!!!
Be nice lest they unleash their terrible, terrible fury on you when you least expect it.
Oh, and tourists? Please learn how to read. It helps.