I came across the oddest tableau at the Wheaton Metro station the other day: A loose semicircle of 15 to 20 people standing silently 10 to 15 feet from the fare gates, facing the same direction.
My first thoughts were dire: Had there been an accident? Was the Red Line shut down? Were the farecard machines broken?
The only other time I’ve come across a group of people standing in such a peculiar way was when I walked in on an armed robbery at a drugstore.
At Wheaton, clearly there was no robber. Rather, there seemed to be some sort of invisible force repelling the people from the gates. They looked as though they were taking part in a strange ceremony.
I studied them for something to explain this phenomenon. They looked like run-of-the-mill Metro riders.
No one seemed concerned.
Well, no one except me.
So I asked the person closest to me: “What’s going on?”
The person did not answer.
Finally, someone farther to my left broke the silence and solved the mystery.
“We’re waiting until 9:30,” he said. “That’s when the rush-hour fare ends.”
And sure enough, about 15 seconds later, the clock on the station display screen changed to 9:30, and the semicircle morphed into lines at the gates.