She kept scrolling, a little bothered now, and sent a screenshot to her daughter.
Greene’s job — marketing director for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — was to be a “good news person,” to lure the locals into loving an institution they love to mock. She had tried new advertisements, a new slogan (#Back2Good!) and now, she was trying what seemed to her like an obvious win: a swag store, featuring merchandise branded with the signs and symbols of Metro. It had worked in New York and London (Mind the Gap!), so why not here?
She ordered T-shirts that read “Traffic? Nah Brah” and “Bus like a boss.” Bath towels and Christmas ornaments. The daughter of WMATA chief executive Paul J. Wiedefeld told him at the dinner table that yoga pants are “a thing,” and so they ordered those, too, complete with the system’s cheekiest station name down one leg: “Foggy Bottom.”
At 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, the WMATA website announced that the store would open in the Metro Center station on Wednesday. Within 15 minutes, the ridicule was pouring in.
“I’d take the Metro to check out @wmata’s new “swag store” but I’m worried I might die on the way there because the tracks are in such bad shape!”
“Is “Foggy Bottom Pants” a euphemism for flatulence?”
Greene’s daughter texted her back: “You have a Twitter troll? You’re famous!” She realized that her mom needed cheering up. She sent her an image of the words, “All you can do is shine your light.”
The next morning, Greene put on her bright yellow Metro T-shirt and went to the grand opening. By 10:30 a.m., there were balloons, a DJ, free giveaways, a photo booth . . . and no customers.
“I know,” she said. “It’s very sparse.”
The camera crews came, and a reporter tweeted, “Only reporters showed up for @WMATA’s Metro Store opening,” beside a broken-heart emoji.
And then, just as she was apologizing to a customer for not knowing where the public bathrooms were, a line started to form. The M Shop was essentially a booth window where, along with purchasing SmartTrip cards, people placed their orders from a catalogue and the employees retrieved the items from behind the counter.
Greene watched as a white-haired woman in line started dancing. Ellen Duke was here to buy some Metro lip balm, which came in the flavors of “Orange Crush Orange Line,” “Red Hot Red Line,” and her personal choice, “Minty Mint Silver Line.”
“I have no complaints,” Duke said about her daily commute on the Red Line.
“This is a good system,” said Margi Willis, the customer behind her, who was purchasing five Metro mugs. “I don’t know what people are always complaining about.”
Now over at the photo booth, a group of young people was cramming into the frame. One of them was 23-year-old Patrick Hubbard, owner of the Instagram page @ratemymetro, which involves Hubbard describing each Metro station he visits. “Farragut North, Red Line: Wow, what a place,” reads one post. “Sometimes you just know when you’re in the presence of greatness.”
These were the people who love Metro. They exist. Perhaps, like Hubbard, they all moved here from Missouri, where just the existence of an underground train can be cause for celebration.
Greene held up the phone on which she’d read all that Internet vitriol and took a photo of the growing line. The tote bags, she heard, were already sold out. Wiedefeld showed up and bought three pairs of Foggy Bottom leggings.
Greene uploaded the photo to Twitter and sent out a message to all who had doubted her plan.
“Thanks haters!!!” she wrote. “We are making money.”