And setting off Docter, an intense, lifelong Washingtonian who has been planting unauthorized flowers in public spots around the world for much of his 52 years. After July, he said, “I needed artistic closure.”
That closure wound up being a merger of performance art, civil disobedience and fodder for a bunch of strangers to have an impromptu Sunday chat about government power and the need for unexpected beauty.
Docter’s plan began to unfold at the Q Street entrance of the Northwest Washington station about 8:15 a.m., when the part-time lawyer appeared wearing an I’m-supposed-to-be-here-looking fluorescent vest and tool belt and carrying a big spool of rope. As a typical Sunday-morning scene of breakfasters and farmers-market shopping unfolded around him, the compact, bearded Docter busily wrapped rope around a bike rack on one side of the station and on some construction material on the other side, creating a rope-pulley system that crossed the top of the gaping Metro entrance like a spider web.
In about 30 minutes — attracting the attention of just a few Metro riders and a Metro employee who (unwittingly) helped him with the rope — Docter installed the pulley and then, with a brief assist from a young collaborator, hooked on the centerpiece: a 6-by-6-by-4-foot boxlike artwork, which was covered with quotes about the July flower standoff.
The box was then pulled to the center of the spider’s web. It dangled directly over the Metro entrance, above the middle escalator, which was closed for repairs.
Over the next 1 hour and 46 minutes, the 30-pound box of plastic tubing, clear tape and paper, which looked a little like an avant-garde Tinker Toy, was suspended, its sides plastered with online comments that readers had left about articles in The Washington Post and on the petition. Most supported Docter; a few didn’t.
Among the former: “Beautification of civic space should be applauded, not crushed,” “Metro should nurture flowers instead of mindless bureaucrats,” and “Metro seems to deal with most problems by asking ‘What would Joseph Stalin do?’ ”
And the latter: “We cannot allow this ‘phantom planter’ to inspire others,” “We value community input, but flowers attract rats,” and “We can arrest and imprison this ‘phantom planter.’ ”
For the first hour, reaction was subtle. Many people riding the escalator gave the box a brief, curious look, as if passing any old piece of public art. Many didn’t look up from their cellphone or newspaper.
But some lingered, staring. Among them were Dupont station regulars who could tell from the quotes that the box was related to the July standoff. At the time, Metro said that the cobblestone incline where Docter had planted was too steep and that many blocks were broken, making it dangerous for the plants to be maintained.