Thursday, February 24, 2011

Adventures In Public Transportation Part II

The second adventure in this double feature involves me walking around in the rain in the middle of the night without a working phone. It all began like a usual day, working a double at the Tombs of Georgetown. The G-2 bus arrives a block down the road from my apartment and it takes me directly to work across town. I was worried because I was to work from 10 in the morning until 3 the next morning. As I got off the bus, I asked the driver if the buses still ran after midnight. He tells me in a matter-of-fact tone that the buses run in half hour increments after midnight. I then went to the bus stand and verified his claim. Sure enough, the time table said that it ran until 3:30 in the morning. I was in the clear.
Fast forward fifteen hours later and I am just about ready to leave work. I get out just before 1:30 and make my way to the bus stand. I check my phone to see when the next bus is exactly coming, only to find out that the battery had died. I wait patiently freezing at the stop for the next G-2 to show up on the horizon… It didn’t show. I looked at the table and it said that another one was coming at 2:00. While I wait for that bus, it begins to rain. I wait still. My clothes slowly becoming more saturated, I spend the next hour hoping that the previous two buses were late for some aberrant reason. 2:30 rolls around and I realize that I am waiting in vain. I check my phone again, forgetting that it was dead…
The next option is to walk down to the next major road and hail a cab from there. The time spent walking was the most uncomfortable I have felt in a long, long time. I was freezing. My phone was dead. I was tired from working 14 hours. And I had 300 dollars in my back pocket at 3:00 am. Needless to say, I vocalized every single invective ever spoken in the English language. I think I invented a couple as well.
When I reach the main street (M St.), I find it is just as dead as any of the side streets leading me there. No taxi in sight. Hardly any cars passing, either. I then begin the long walk home. About a half mile into my journey, a burgundy caravan passes in the opposite direction and does an immediate U-turn. It then pulls up on the side of the road next to me. I stop and try to gaze through the fog and condensation that had accumulated on the passenger side window. The window rolls down and from inside the car, I hear a man’s voice say, “You need a ride home?”
I responded “Yes! How did you know.”
“I can just tell,” said the man behind the wheel.
As I step forward, the electric side door of the caravan opens up. I then can see inside the vehicle and there sat a portly, middle-aged man decked from head to toe in Redskins paraphernalia. I look at him and something in the back of my head (I think it was my Dad from 20 years earlier) said to me, “Daniel… This is a bad idea.”
I looked at him for an extra second and said “I’m sorry guy, I gotta look out for myself. This doesn’t feel right.”
The sports fan replied “I do this all the time. My work cut my hours and I do this on the side to help pay the bills. I give people rides home from the grocery store all the time.”
Being the nice (read: na├»ve) guy that I am, was about to give the stocky Redskin the benefit of a doubt. But I then remembered, my phone was dead. That was the tipping point. Looking back on that moment, I realize that that shouldn’t have been the deal breaker but it was. My shitty phone with a life span of two hours saved me from being tied down in some barn in Virginia and forced to gently apply lotion to my skin. Thanks Blackberry.
I stepped back and apologized to him. He seemed genuinely sad that I did not take up his offer. He slovenly bowed his head, shut the side door, rolled up the window and drove off. I felt really bad about what I did, which was only compounded by my anger with the current situation that I was in. Those feelings of regret were soon turned to anxiety as I noticed that Washington’s most industrious sports fan began driving back and forth down the street.
I got freaked out and ran down a side street. I walked about another mile and a half to a 7-11. I tried to use the clerk’s phone but he refused. I offered to pay for a phone call. Again he didn’t let me. I asked to use a phone book. He did not have one. I would have to walk until I found a taxi.
Finally, I found a taxi about another 2 miles down the road. The taxi drove me safely to my house. It was 4:30 in the morning. I let out a sigh of relief as I opened up a bottle of wine and thought to myself “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT ALL ABOUT?”
Moral of the story, kids, is that you can’t trust bus drivers. You can’t trust 7-11 clerks. And you most certainly can’t trust a middle aged dude dressed in Redskin gear driving a caravan at 3 in the morning. After that evening, I feel that I should direct an after school public service announcement. “The More You Know.” And now you know more about the dark side of DC public transportation.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Adventures in Public Transportation

Riding the bus or taking the metro to get around this city has its advantages and disadvantages. Using public transportation takes care of the hassle of worrying about parking, traffic, and vehicle registration. It also gives one the inflated sense of self-righteousness that’s associated with being “eco-friendly.” And then there are the problems. Besides the buses running behind schedule, escalators permanently being out of order, and your occasional staircase collapse during high traffic periods, there are other even worse issues that I have had to deal with. The two tales that I will describe through two different blog entries are non-fictional narratives about my experiences using the DC transportation system. The first takes place on the bustling (and very cleanly) DC rail system and the second on the sporadic and unreliable public bus. Don’t let this happen to you.

My Friend Max

One early weekday evening, I was riding the metro on my way to meet up with some friends. I seldom ever take the metro, choosing the bus instead especially during peak hours, because there are a lot of people in a very little area. My luck would just have it that not only did I choose to take the metro… during rush hour… but I also (in my infinite wisdom) decided to bring my bike along. I got out of the first train car at the heart of all metro activity. Weaving the bike through groups of people and occasionally hitting the backs of peoples’ heels with my front tire, I made my way through the Chinatown metro. When arriving at a platform bike in tow, I must plan my entrance onto the next car with precision and grace. When one wants to get on with a bike, they have to recognize that they are perceived by everyone else as a dickhead for bringing that thing onto the metro at this time of day. The animosity and the dog-eat-dog approach that normally characterizes commuting makes timing and spacing crucial to an effective entrance onto a car. As the car approaches and screeches to a halt, I found the door with the least amount of people at the end of the train (there is more people density at the middle of the train than at the ends) and made my move.
So I have successfully made it into the car and had found an empty seat to boot. The difficulty was behind me, I thought. All I had to do was ride this bitch all the way to Tenleytown and enjoy some beers with some close friends. As we pulled into the next stop, Metro Center, a large amorphous blob of people quickly stacked their way into the car; one on top of the other. It was then that I noticed that the floor lights were blinking (indicating that the doors were going to close) and a mother and son were just entering. Like a knife through a chia pet (shitty analogy, Daniel), the doors closed separating mother from son; leaving a smashed bag of retail goods half in and half out of the doorway. The mother screamed and banged on the door, trying to find some way to get on or perhaps get her son off of the damned car. As it began to move, the mother mouthed “go to the next stop and wait” (at least that’s what I heard). That was a heart wrenching minute or so. I thought the ordeal would soon be over as the adolescent would heed his mother’s advice and get off at the next stop.
The next stop approaches and EVERYONE gets off the train… except for the little kid. The doors close and the car begins to move onto the next stop. Again, the kid does not move… He doesn’t sit down and he doesn’t get off… He was frozen to the floor. It was then that I got up and went over to the nervous boy and said “Dude, I think you were supposed to get off a while back.” To which he replied, “I know… I just didn’t know what to do.”
So I tell him to get off at the next stop with me and we would have to figure out what to do next. I have seen enough episodes of “How to Catch a Sex Pervert” and Fox New’s segments regarding how all strangers want to molest your loved ones to know that I wasn’t going to take this kid anywhere. So we sat on a bench outside of the car. His name was Max. Max was a nine year old kid from Maryland who came to DC to go shopping before they went up to Virginia for one of his hockey games. One could tell Max was nervous by his anxious gestures and inability to sit still. But he was trying to cover it up and luckily for both of us, knew his mother’s number. When I called the number, I didn’t get any reception. There is never any service in the metro. So I texted her.
About ten minutes passed and still no word from Max’s mother or father. Twice over the PA, we heard a station manager shove marbles in his mouth and announce “Max, your mother is waiting for you at {incoherent mumblings] station. Please wait there.” Even though that was no help, the fellow commuters were. Probably three different cars passed by and at least 6 different groups of people got off and ran up to us saying something to the effect of “Are you Max? Thank God! Your mother is worried sick! She’s on her way though. WAIT… HERE!” And sure enough, his mother did show up. Arms wide open, Max ran into her warm embrace. She picked him up, while weeping for joy. She then came up to me, gave me a hundred dollars and a kiss on the cheek, saying thank you. I replied while tipping my hat “It’s really nothing. All in a days work, ma’am.” After my heroic gesture, I jumped on my bike, turned around and gave Max a wink (and not in a creepy “get in the van” sort of way) and rode off into the sunset.
Those last couple lines are pure fabrication but you get the gist. The metro is a hot, sweaty, mass of people trying to get home form a hectic day of work. In the process of this commute, bad things can happen. It’s funny that nothing that the metro system had set in place kept this kid and his mother safe. The doors closed ON them (yet at stop before, the doors had opened at least 4 different times at the behest of the conductor), the PA system did not help locate either parties, and because there was no service down there, we were unable to communicate with Max’s mother. In the end, it was the commuter that helped both the mother and the child. It was those strangers, which we are constantly told to be deathly afraid of, that exhibited the compassion and sympathy through their assistance. It was quite heartwarming to see how many people were demonstrating genuine concern for Max’s welfare. It was a good feeling. It was also a good feeling when I got to the bar and had a beer and a story to tell. Later that night, I received a text saying “Thank you soooo much for your help. You don’t know how much we appreciate it.” I replied, “No worries. Tell Max, good luck at the hockey game.”

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

You Can Take the Man Out of Michigan...

Last week I had the opportunity to go Michigan to celebrate the holidays. My time there reestablished a fondness that I have with Western Michigan. Despite the parsimonious, Dutch, Christian reform conservative horribleness that characterizes the area, I was able appreciate my home state in a way that I have not been able to in the past. This may be due to the fact that I am living in a different part of the country. I now have the ability to compare and contrast the lifestyles of two subcultures of American life; DC and Western Michigan. Here is the short list of what I have observed:

Professional Sports:
DC takes professional sports waaaaaaay too seriously. Despite the tradition of having mediocre teams, there exists a stalwart allegiance to everything Washington. For example, no matter how poorly the Redskins are (and any Washington fan will be the first to tell you how perpetually disappointed they are with their performance) FedEx Field is always sold out. That takes commitment.
Michiganders enjoy their sports as an opportunity to socialize, drink, and be merry. I would imagine that if Curling were to all of a sudden make it to prime time television, people would congregate. No one would follow the end result but, you see, that's not the point.

Michiganders have a much more laid back demeanor. Comments made by Michiganders are generally more off the cuff and straight forward. In contrast, the DC dialogue seems to be calculated, politically correct, and heaped in double speak and acronyms. There is an absence of levity that is hard to describe. Everyone in DC seems to be wound so damn tightly and as a result there is little room for humor or jocularity.
While DC’ites tend to be void of a rapist's wit (SP?), they tend to be more engaging than those back in Michigan. They are more likely to talk politics and speak on it from a more thoughtful and educated perspective. This part, I do enjoy about living here.

Thanks to DC, I have learned a lot about what is trendy and what is not trendy. I now know what a hipster is (apparently the only thing all hipsters have in common is skinny jeans), I know what preps wear, and I know how to tie a bow tie. Outside of those things listed, I try to disassociate myself with anything fashionable. What seems to be the uniform for men in DC is your standard tie and sport coat. Even in a casual setting, this apparel is commonplace (albeit, jeans sometimes are worn because, hey, they want to look comfortable). I have never seen so many dudes go out to relax wearing something that I would wear to a job interview. For females, one must wear the skirt, spandex (leggings, Dan), and knee high boots to fit in. I am pretty sure if a female does not have this set in their closet, their DC ID is revoked.
Although this wardrobe can be found in Michigan (mainly by men who mean business and by women who have spent some time in Europe) it is definitely the exception and not the rule. Jeans and a hoodie are your standard apparel for outside of the workplace. It’s simple and practical (not to mention comfortable). If someone showed up to a bar in Michigan wearing a full suit, he'd look like an asshole.

Moving to DC has made me realize that even though I am relatively well traveled compared to my fellow American, I am lacking in experiencing what my own country has to offer. I feel fortunate that I have been able to live outside of Michigan yet stay inside the US. It definitely puts things in perspective and demonstrates how 700 miles can separate hardcore drinkers from hardcore sports fans; tennis shoes from knee high boots; and jocular folk from careerists. Now I understand that I am making gross generalizations but, hey, this is my blog. If you take issue with any points I have made, kindly piss off and stop reading. That might seem harsh, but I guess that’s just the Michigander in me…

Monday, October 4, 2010

Relearning How To Learn

I have just gotten through week 6 of my Master's program at American University. Graduate school is not an easy thing especially when you have been out of the classroom for four years. I have had to relearn how to sit and pay attention for several hours on end, manage my time more efficiently, and hone the fine art of bullshitting. These are all concepts that I had gotten quite good at as a graduate from Aquinas College. But these skills had laid dormant for a long time and as a result it took a period of relearning to get them down pat once again. Not only did I have to relearn how to learn but I am currently trying to figure out how to survive in this new level of scholarly intensity. It seems that I have had to force my brain to function in a way that it has not had to before. This "next level" involves a high degree of independent thought. Sometimes when discussing an issue, or analyzing a concept, my mind goes blank and I end up focusing more on the fact that I can not focus than on finishing the thought that my brain is trying to tackle. Usually I can think clearly and understand the ideas that I am learning but there are times when I get overwhelmed by the complexities of a particular concept and at my inability to explore it in a more intellectual manner. This only gets compounded by the intelligence of my fellow students and the faculty that I encounter. Even though I sometimes feel that I am in over my head, I always need to remind myself that I have a habit of underestimating my own abilities. I have not gotten this far solely on luck and good looks. I need to keep reminding myself of that. I also need to keep fresh in my mind the fact that I am paying to get a challenging education. What would be the point of all this if it wasn't hard. When I struggle with this issue, I revisit a conversation I had with a friend of mine by the name of Burns. We were sitting on the porch smoking a cigarette and I asked him if he thought that anyone was capable of understanding even the most complex of ideas. He said "of course" (after he excluded the mentally disabled from the population being considered) and said that it isn't about whether or not you are smart enough to understand something, it's about the amount of time and dedication you give to it. I like that idea. It's something that I can understand...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New City, New Blog

It has been quite some time since I have used this medium to communicate with the outside world. The last time I wrote in a blog, I was sitting at a computer (no doubt swimming in sweat)in a tiny computer lab in a tiny primary school on a tiny island in the Caribbean. That is no longer the case as I now live in DC. Six months ago, I was accepted into the School of International Studies at American University. I gladly accepted the invitation and packed up a U-haul last month. Its been about four weeks living in the United States' capital and it has been quite the adventure. I've never lived in a city of this size and density before and it is taking some getting used to. My time here has flown by thus far and I don't foresee it slowing down any time soon. This blog will be a way in which I can voice my opinion on issues that arise, share my experiences living in DC, and explain my frustrations and challenges in a manner that is entertaining and informative for the reader as well as therapeutic and cathartic for the writer. I hope that everyone will continue reading as I invite people into my life as I begin this next chapter. Love and peace.