A Long Journey Home on Metro's Red Line

(By Larry Morris -- The Washington Post)
By Matt Patterson
Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tuesday, Aug. 25. 7 p.m. After a long day at work, I haul my bone-tired bod down to the Dupont Circle Metro station. I swipe my SmarTrip card. Nothing. I swipe it again. Nothing. By now a disgruntled line has formed behind me. I step aside and watch as my fellow commuters gleefully -- or so it seems -- swipe their working cards, the gates opening before them like the entrance to Ali Baba's cave.

I stare at my card. I am sure there is at least $30 on this thing, so I approach the booth attendant, ensconced in her octagonal castle, and tell her my problem. She waits till I finish an entire sentence before turning on the microphone. I hold up my card and repeat myself, this time giving her the short version:

"Not working."

She takes the card through the slot and works it through some contraption, then turns back to me.

"I can't get it to swipe," she says.

"That's what I said," I remind her. "Not working."

She shrugs, returning my malfunctioning card. "What do I do?" I ask. She motions toward the little swingy gate to the side, the one you don't need a card to get through.

"Go on ahead," she says.

"But what about my card?" A woman behind me, who clearly has been in my position, takes pity on me and does the operator's job for her.

"Did you register it?" she asks.

My blank stare is all the answer she needs. She takes my card, turns it over and points to the back. She says something, but all I hear is "register" over the train blowing through the tunnel beneath our feet.

"Will I get my money back?" I shout, cutting to the heart of the matter.

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