Massive Metro Farecard is a labor of love — and a reminder of a soon-to-be-gone object


Carl Bergman and his wife, Margie Odle, with the hand-hooked rug made by Lynne Hansen. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
John Kelly
Columnist August 20

Metro’s paper Farecards will disappear in late 2015, phased out in favor of plastic SmarTrips. That will make the object hanging in the kitchen of Carl Bergman and Margie Odle’s Northwest D.C. house even rarer.

It is a rug, and it looks exactly like the Farecards Metro riders used around 1979, when Carl got it. It was a handmade, one-of-a-kind gift from his then-girlfriend, Lynne Hansen.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Carl had worked on Metro-related issues for the D.C. Council and, like many Washingtonians, was very excited when the subway opened. “I wanted to do something unique,” said Lynne, a retired real estate developer who splits her time between Oakton, Va., and Florida.

So Lynne took a Farecard and used a very sharp pencil and a straight edge to divide it into tiny little grids. She used a magnifying glass to look at the penciled grids and followed them as she stitched the 4-by-5-foot rug. It took Lynne several months. She’d only hooked one or two rugs before. She hasn’t hooked another one since.

“I just remember I’d come home from work, fix dinner, do homework with my daughter and hook the damn rug till I was too tired to see anymore,” she said.

Carl was blown away by Lynne’s gift. “It’s so nicely done,” he said. “Of course, we’ve never walked on it.”

Though Carl and Lynne are no longer a couple — he’s been married to Margie for more than 30 years — they’ve stayed friends.

“I told Carl if he ever gets sick of it, I want it back,” Lynne said of the rug.

Said Carl: “I always tease Lynne that she should hook a Farecard machine.”

Have you created an only-in-Washington work of arts and crafts? I’d love to see it. Send me a photo, and I may share it with my readers: john.kelly@washpost.com.

Signing on

More Metro news: Some months ago, I invited readers to share confusing subway signage. The District’s Gregory Tepe wondered why the 13th Street entrance to the U Street Metro had one of those lighted passenger information display boards facing people exiting the station, who presumably don’t need to know when the next train is coming.

Thanks to Gregory’s observation, the sign has been turned around, said Metro’s Dan Stessel. And Dan promised that Metro would take a look at my personal bugbear: the fact that there are two Kiss and Rides at the Twinbrook station but no way of knowing which one you or your ride are at, since they aren’t marked “East” or “West.”

Hobo erectus

In my Tuesday column, I let a long-dead hobo explain where that word came from: from “hoe boys,” the hobo told a reporter in 1927, indicating the tools the itinerant workers once used.

Not so fast, wrote many readers, who claimed to know the real derivation. But almost every one of those derivations was different.

Carol Ann Riordan of Reston, Va., remembered reading in Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling “Seabiscuit: An American Legend” that “hobo” came about during the Great Depression as an abbreviation for “homeward bound.”

Alexandria’s Ann Smolinski said the same thing. Ann said her cousin remembers making butter/bread sandwiches to give the hobos who stopped at the general store in Southwest Virginia that her father owned. “She is 93 and still sticks to that story whenever I speak to her about her childhood and especially the Depression,” Ann wrote.

But how to square that with Philip Melzer of Silver Spring, who wrote, “I was taught that the word came from the Japanese word ‘hobo,’ which means ‘everywhere.’ ”

My professor friend Henry Laurence, whom I met at Oxford and who teaches courses on Japanese politics and society at Bowdoin College, said something similar. Henry said he was taught that when poor, itinerant Japanese immigrants on the West Coast were asked where they were going, they answered “ho bo.” Roughly translated, that means “all directions” or “any directions.”

Henry allowed as to how he has no idea whether this is true or not.

Anthony Medici of Oakton, Va., writes: “My wonderful, huge, ancient, unabridged Webster’s Dictionary calls ‘hobo’ an Americanism, and suggests that the word derives from the greeting these men would call out to each other: ‘Ho! Beau!’

“Well, it seems as good a guess as any other.”

I guess so, but my unabridged Webster’s says “perhaps” it is an alteration of “ho, boy,” which the dictionary describes as “a call used in the northwestern U.S. in the 1880s by railway mail handlers when delivering mail.”

Perhaps I will let the late lexicographer Stuart Berg Flexner have the last, um, word. In his “Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases From Our Lively and Splendid Past,” he mentioned several possible derivations but concluded: “No one knows the etymology of hobo.”

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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