Conflict based graffiti, then a conflict in the train car

This morning, I was riding the Red Line when an interesting piece of graffiti about the conflict in the Middle East caught my eye. As I looked at the photo I took of the “Free Gaza” tag, deciding on what I thought about it, the train pulled into the next station. Seated all around me were various teenagers supervised by what appeared to be a few camp counselors. They were relatively loud, but no biggie. It’s summertime.

Then a man got off the train, but forgot his wallet and umbrella. The teens behind him noticed, and quickly alerted their counselor. Some quick thinking put the two items in the counselor’s hands, but he still had to get the guy’s attention who was gone. The man came running back to the train and the handoff was made. Everyone exhaled. The man thanked the counselor, the counselor thanked the girl, and there were some mini-applause. Good Samaritan moment for all.

Then, the train operator came out.

He proceeded to ask the counselor if his kids were to blame for the door being held open. The guy explained the situation, to which the operator took umbrage, claiming he knew the deal and wasn’t going to shut the doors on the guy.

“Don’t be holding my doors,” he said. Somewhat miffed, the counselor said, “fine, I’m sorry for giving a guy his wallet back.” The two then got into a full-train car length shouting match about the potentially damaging effects of holding doors. . Finally, a third guy – who as it turned out happened to be a a Metro employee- stepped in because we were five minutes into what normally would have been a 90-second stop. He basically told the operator everything was fine, and we needed to move on and not argue about regulations all morning.

But then the operator turned the argument to the would-be peacemaker, and at that point everyone else was just looked embarrassed. It was the middle of the morning and three grown men were yelling at each other in front of teenagers on a train about holding doors. Finally, the operator closed the door and we went about our way.

I told the story on Twitter, explaining that while I don’t have a huge problem with late trains and fare hikes, stuff like that is annoying. For an operator to come out and antagonize people in the train on the spirit of rule is just unnecessary. I certainly don’t consider that a fireable offense, just a waste of time. Maybe the guy was having a bad day, who knows.

But some of the reactions I got were interesting.

This is a bit of an overstatement as I see it, but certainly a popular feeling among riders. There is the obvious belief that the culture of Metro is one of hostility and mismanagement. While that may be true, there’s no way to apply that to one single guy in one single situation. Then, there was this:

Which is when I remembered the story earlier in the week. “Metrobus driver slashed with knife in Tenleytown,” from Monday. Two days ago. While that incident was obviously a different, it speaks to the kind of stress and reactions a lot of operators deal with and probably guard against as a way of protecting themselves.  And though I certainly don’t condone the operator’s actions this morning, in some respect he was doing his job.

Enforcement of Metro’s rules is effectively nil, so operators are forced into these quasi-authority roles that basically turn almost every disagreement into a confrontation. It’s a total lose-lose for them. So, while this guy might have annoyed me and wasted the time and energy of an entire train car, I do wonder what my morning would have been like if someone showed up to my desk tried to break my keyboard in the name of good Samaritanism.

I might start an argument, too.

 


Clinton Yates is a D.C. native and an online columnist. When he's not covering the city, pop culture or listening to music, he watches sports. A lot of them.
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Clinton Yates · July 22