It was a crew of tourists that finally pushed Karyn Robinson to her telephone.
She was ambling down the escalator that leads to the Dupont Circle Metro station. If you stand on it and ride to the bottom, the trip will take you about a week and a half, because the escalator is lo-o-o-ong. So Karyn was walking to the bottom, as she usually does.
"Now, I don't want to say bad stuff about tourists, Bob," she said. "I know they spend a lot of money here and keep a lot of people employed.
"But there was a whole family of them, camped on the escalator, not keeping to the right." Karyn said "excuse me," a bit huffily, and pushed past.
She caught a glimpse of offended faces, and she realizes that she may have helped send that family and its vacation dollars to Orlando next spring. But Metro escalator rules are very clear -- keep right except to pass. So Karyn was perfectly within her rights.
The problem is that Metro's signs don't back her up loudly enough.
"Most riders don't even know that there are signs asking people to keep right because the signs are so small," Karyn said. So she was on the horn to me to ask if I'd please lead a crusade:
"Keep Right" signs that are big enough to see.
Back in the early days of our subway, that notion would have been scoffed out of the park. The initial sign design was holy writ.
Of course, that initial design has proved to be inadequate in many ways.
It gave us no station names except vertically, on pylons. It gave us only two tiny, hard-to-see dabs of color on the front of each train to identify which line that train was serving. It gave us no help in determining whether a major landmark was closer to the front or back exit of a particular station.
But sanity has been creeping into Metro signage for quite some time.
At Gallery Place, for example, you can actually find MCI Center once you leave a train. At McPherson Square, they kindly tell you that the White House is closer to the rear of the train than to the front.
And you can't miss the huge sign that greets you at Farragut North these days. It says no eating, no smoking and no drinking -- and the "no" is about the size of an 8-year-old child.
So why not "Keep Right" signs that are large enough to read?
They wouldn't have to be seen as scolding. In fact, in my experience, most tourists want to be good Washingtonians-for-a-day. They fail to keep right because they don't know they should. If they knew, I'll bet compliance would be in the 99-plus percent range.
There's my piece of the bargain, Karyn. Where's yours, Metro?
And while we're at it . . .
I was riding a Yellow Line train into town from National Airport the other day. It was late morning rush hour. All the seats were filled, and a few people were standing.
Among the standees was a family that had obviously just dropped into Washington by plane. They were surrounded by all sorts of luggage. Three of the four family members wore cameras strapped across their chests. A classic springtime sight.
The family wasn't 100 percent sure where it was going, so the dad began to hunt around for a system map. He found one where one always sits -- on the wall, beside a door.
The problem was that two people were sitting right in front of the map. So there ensued one of those delightfully absurd conversations that make you wish you carried a tape recorder everywhere.
Dad: "Excuse me, sir, could you please lean to your right a few inches?"
The man did so -- far enough for the tourist to see the eastern half of the system.
But he wanted the western half. So, to the other seated passenger:
"Excuse me, ma'am, but could you please lean to your left a few inches?"
I stepped in before anyone sprained his neck and offered to help the family find its destination. But I never would have had to do that, and the two seated passengers would never have had to do any leaning, if route maps were plastered on subway doors.
Easier to see. Easier to get out of the way of.
We can't bid farewell to Karyn Robinson without passing along a remark made by a friend of hers, Gregory Johnson. It's vicious, but it's mighty apt.
Gregory has this to say about tourists who come here:
"We do not go to their cities and dress badly."
Frank Monteith says he loves cable television. It gives him a chance to see all the movies he walked out on 20 years ago.
Herm Albright says a friend called a company in Indianapolis and asked to speak to Bob.
"Bob is on vacation," the person replied. "Would you like to hold?"