Sunday, February 13, 2011;
After Metro transit officials proposed last week to trim their budget by ending late-night rail service on weekends, Washington Post staff writers J. Freedom DuLac, Brigid Schulte, Annys Shin and Theresa Vargas spent the wee hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings riding the trains to gauge reaction.
It's 1:15 a.m. on Sunday, and George Dizelos is at the Dupont Circle Metro station, waiting with two friends for the Red Line to Bethesda. It's late, but it's early.
"I've missed that last train before," he says of the 3 a.m. bar-hoppers' express. "Like, you go to Big Slice or whatever to get some pizza, and then you have to take a cab home. And it costs $20." That's the equivalent of four Yuenglings at the Big Hunt, the bar where they've spent part of the night.
The Dupont station has a peculiar, after-hours odor. It's part distillery, part dirty ashtray and part Victoria's Secret body lotion, with a box of Krispy Kremes and something else, something putrid, mixed in. Especially that.
Let's be real: The night train is the party train, and the people who depend on after-midnight service are the people who clean offices and work security, but mainly they are the nightcrawlers, those for whom the action doesn't begin until 11 p.m. When they've had too much, it's the Metro car that pays the price.
On this weekend, the price of running Metro trains through the wee hours was the topic du jour, after officials floated a proposal Thursday to close the rail system at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, as on other days of the week. Metro's late-night service, which began in 1999, costs about $3 million a year, and system managers would love to get those hours back to add the equivalent of 45 days a year for track maintenance.
A crowded train pulls into the crowded station, where the platform looks much as it does during the evening commute - only younger, more untucked and a lot more inebriated.
"If Metro stops running trains earlier, we wouldn't go out as frequently," says Dizelos's friend Lucas Georgiou.
"If they cut the service, I might jump on the third rail," Dizelos says.The late, late show
According to Metro, an average of 13,400 people ride the trains each Friday and Saturday between midnight and the 3 a.m. closing. But at Shady Grove at 2 a.m., not one of those passengers is around. The only face a reporter sees is that of Hosni Mubarak, staring out from a tattered copy of Friday's Express that somebody left on the floor.
There's also one half-eaten rib, an empty bottle of Tabasco, a crumpled Coke can, some popcorn crumbs and three copies of something called "Happiness Digest," whose inside pages promise to "bring you closer to God."
It's hard to be cosmopolitan if you can't stay out past midnight, says Stuart Levy, who teaches tourism and hospitality management at George Washington University. "What about D.C. wanting to be an international city?" he says. "D.C. is just changing its image. People think it's a boring town until they experience it. This is the old image we are going back to."
Levy succeeds in riling up a few friends he runs into at Gallery Place. They share Levy's fervor for extended weekend hours. Pretty soon, they're talking about bringing the democratic spirit of Cairo to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transity Authority.
"We have to have a rally," says Tammy, a dark-haired woman parked on a bench. She predicts ominously that ending late-night service would turn the rest of the city into . . . Georgetown. "Nobody likes to go out in Georgetown," she says.
Shortly after midnight, Asad Shaikh, 31, sits in his Alexandria Yellow Cab at the King Street Station. On Saturdays, there are always good fares to be had as revelers come back from a night in the District, Clarendon or other hot spots. But if Metro closes at midnight, he fears, business will actually be worse. "Maybe not so many people will be out," he says.
After midnight, Metro is the domain of the young and intoxicated. In this atmosphere, it's easy to pick out the night commuters, who stand out of the way like hungover club kids might in the morning rush.
On the Green Line, Aloh Che, 63, quietly reads a newspaper. His eyes look tired. A patch on his jacket explains why he is out at 1 a.m.: security. His job often ends at midnight.
"Once you miss the bus, then you miss the train, then your only alternative is hiring a taxi or sleeping on the street," he says. He's done that - slept on the street until Metro started up again. "Three or four times," he says.
Che, a native of Cameroon, works in Bethesda and has worked two shifts this day. By the time he gets home to New Carrollton, the buses will have stopped running, so he will pay a taxi driver $10 to take him the rest of the way.
At Farragut West, four friends wait for one of the last trains to Fairfax. "We all make enough money. Why don't they just charge more?" asks Ali Cane, 22, an auditor. She holds a pink Coach clutch.
"When you take the Metro this late, you realize how many drunk people need it," Cane says. A friend of hers was killed in a drunken-driving incident. "What's more important, money or lives?"Strangeness in the night
At Greenbelt, on the far end of the Green Line, the train is filling up. Young girls are going home from a show at the 9:30 Club. There's a Howard student, clutching a biography of black activist Assata Shakur, on his way to a party across town.
At Gallery Place/Chinatown, Metro Transit Police interrogate a young man who is accessorizing with handcuffs. A girl stumbles down the escalator and nearly crashes into the officers, who barely look her way. It's all slurred speech, droopy eyelids and wobbly walking down here.
At New Carrollton, Dayo Olufisoye hears what no Metro rider ever wants to hear: "I'm gonna pee." The man a few seats away - a 24-year-old bartender who had served himself a few drinks as well- grabs an empty Gatorade bottle.
"Can you please go in the corner?" Olufisoye, 23, asks him.
It's 1:15 a.m. and the lives of a J.C. Penney sales clerk, a bartender who just got his second DUI (and lost his license) and a government worker collide on a single car.
The government worker, Sadrudein Abuwi, fell asleep and missed his stop.
"New Carrollton! Are you serious?" he says upon learning where he is. He left a happy-hour gathering at Courthouse and meant to get off at L'Enfant Plaza to catch a train toward home in Alexandria. "How did I get to New Carrollton?"
Abuwi can see how cutting late-night service might be necessary, even if he doesn't like it. "Someone has to make a hard decision somewhere," he says.
Three rows behind, the bartender, who doesn't want to give his name, shouts, "I need a [expletive] drink."'Are we gonna die?'
"Are we possibly not going home now?" Andrew Bank says.
"Hey," Kyle Speight says, "the next train leaves in . . . never!"
The board above the platform has nothing to say about the next train to Glenmont.
"Are we gonna die?" Bank asks. Everybody laughs.
It's 2:40 a.m., and Bank, Speight and three friends are trying to get home to Virginia.
The talk turns to Four Loko and "Skins" and "Jersey Shore" and, more important, the girl in the short skirt who's coming the wrong way down the escalator.
"Waiting for the last Metro train on Saturday night - this is as good as it gets," says Mike O'Connor, a contractor for the Defense Department. His friends also work with government agencies. They're like human mullets: business up front, party in the back.
If Metro closes at midnight, "we would be taking cabs home every weekend, and it would cost $40," O'Connor says. "Or we'd go home at midnight."
"No, we wouldn't," Bank says.
"What time did we get out here tonight? 11?" O'Connor says.
"All I want to say is: 'Sup, ladies?" O'Connor says.
The train arrives just before 3. Nobody died.