PAGE THREE Dispatch From . . .

Aboard Metro, With 2-by-6s in Tow

If you're ever on Metro and see a man lugging drywall panels, it's Anthony E. Harris getting home the cheap way.
If you're ever on Metro and see a man lugging drywall panels, it's Anthony E. Harris getting home the cheap way. (By Lolita Simmons)
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Monday, June 9, 2008

The simple act of getting from here to there becomes complicated if you're carrying a screen door. Spring and summer are usually when most homeowners tackle those rewarding, but seemingly never-ending, home repair and improvement chores. And if you're anything like me -- you're frugal, own a miniature convertible and only cultivate friends who are "green" (those who drive tiny economy cars, not vans, trucks or sport-utility vehicles) -- you'll have trouble getting your oversize items home from the friendly, big-box home-improvement center. I have two options: walk or take Metro.

Walking gets old fast. With the materials I lug home from the hardware store, I'd take days to recover from the six-mile hike. And that's if I survived the schlep through the derelict neighborhoods along the way.

Most homeowners rent vans or trucks. But that's terribly expensive compared with non-rush Metro fares. And I began by confessing to being cheap.

Cabs are out of the question. They're even more expensive. And it's nearly impossible for me to hail one in chic work attire, let alone in Harry Homeowner gear -- construction boots, paint-splattered work pants, T-shirt and painter's cap -- while nonchalantly standing next to a stack of eight-foot-long 2-by-6 studs. Oh, don't think I haven't tried. And tried. And tried.

In fact, that's how I got turned on to the train. A cabbie once stopped, not to pick me up but to ask for construction advice. (I'm approached for improvement tips all the time, perhaps because I resemble a nicely tanned Bob the Builder.) No, his cab wasn't big enough for me and my cargo. Besides, he had just had it detailed. Take the subway, he suggested. It's quicker, cheaper and quieter. Not to mention safer.

I thanked him politely, while quietly (and safely) cursing under my breath.

Now you know. I'm the guy you saw on the Red Line casually cradling a 5-by-3-foot double-hung window in his lap. Holding the four 4-by-4-foot drywall panels. The screen door. The six-foot section of picket fence. The 3-by-6-foot lattice panel. The yellow, fiberglass six-foot stepladder. The man with the lawn mower and 75-foot garden hose? Uh-huh, me again.

Yes, I was on the Ride On bus clutching the massive, lacquer-framed vintage poster. (It's a straight shot from my framer in Rockville.)

Don't worry; you won't see me during the morning or evening rush. You'll find me in the last car of the train near the bicyclist. (Are you surprised?) I get on the bus at the end of the line and sit in the back. Granted, I take up room for two or three. But what's it to you? I'm not in harm's way.

I avoid transit officials, especially supervisors. They're worrywarts. Bus drivers and Metro station attendants are generally sympathetic. They can identify with a struggling homeowner. If they see I can manage without hurting anyone or damaging property, they'll let me ride.

Here's my system for riding Metro. I put down my load, whip my SmarTrip card over the sensor and slink through the open gate before the attendant turns me away. Once on the platform, you get the benefit of the doubt. If you get that far without stumbling, you're copacetic.

So if you see me on a subway or bus, move over. I'm getting off at Silver Spring. And watch out. I can't see around the wallboard.

-- Anthony E. Harris, Washington

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