TRULY it can be said: "Metro, one big hole for a man, one real big hole for mankind." Are we filling that hole? And just as important, are we fulfilling ourselves during those brief eons we spend in Metro?
New York subways have graffiti and the Subway Best Sellers List, the bemuralled Pyongyang Subway - according to the North Korean Government - offers the North Korean people both "convenience and culture." What are we doing to make Metro better than a Siberian Salt Mine?
A late, great historian noted recently that after the Colosseum in Rome, Metro is the greatest public works project undertaken by a city without a major league baseball team. Much of thewarp and woof (and woofer and tweeter) of the Collosseum was shouting. But there was also much more - Art, Music, Livers, Pancreases, and Dance (you jump into a lion pit and see if you don't go beyond Disco).
Could Metro become our New Art Center? Can we do for Metro as much as Charles Laughton did for the Colosseum? Hard questitons, let's search the humid pit for answers.
The other day on the Red Line while on my way to Chinatown to buy some pills for my goldfish ( one small purchase in the Great Business Boom now underway Downtown) I sat behind a couple from Oskaloosa, Iowa.
"Do you find the stark classic," asked the young Oskaloosan lady, "effusions of the wheat check ceilings at the stations enigmatic apropos the soft warmth of the Mediterranean-style seat covers?"
"Yes and no," answered the Iowa lad, "but I sure wish I had my copy of Janson's History of Art."
In a trice, an out-of-state couple realized what so many Metro habituees don't - Metro's classic line is the perfect backdrop for the Louvre's Greatest Hits. Of course, I had my Janson's. The couple and I spent an hour riding back and forth between Dupont Circle and Gallery Place just picking out the real-life faces on the Metro that match the priceless (well not exactly - taken wholesale they probably wouldn't cost as much as Metro) paintings of the Great Masters.
We saw Giotto's "Mary Magdalene in a Tube Top," Bruegel's "Shoppers in the Snow on the Way to Woodies," and as we looked at the window, we saw - yes - Van Gogh's ear.
Pointing and admiring are just half the fun. Fortunately, our train got stuck between Dupont Circle and Farragut North (whose doesn't?) and we had time to get the whole car together to make a tableau of the Elgin Marbles.
(Note: Don't think all the Art is underground. Crowding at the Airport the other week I saw Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights.")
Since Abe Lincoln sang "Dixie" in the shower, musical life in Washington has never really come of age. Can Metro change that? Already it is evident that even during off-peak hours the average Metro car carries enough people to take all the parts in Mozart's Jupiter Symphony (if one assigns the car's brakes to take the violin parts).
I had a real treat the other day on the Blue Line. Federal Center South-west station had to be temporarily moved to the Northeast to prevent the FBI Building from sinking another twelve feet, so my train couldn't plow ahead. But - do, re, mi, fa - somebody had brought his Steinway along (thanks to the insistence of the handicapped on their rights, it is much easier to get around with a piano on Metro than in a taxi). I happened to have the score of Schubert's Schticking Door Lieder, Perry Como happened to be on the train - and off we went to the stars!
Chances are good that like me you once tried to use the Addfare machine and got sent to the dungeon by the little brown uniformed men. But were you subcultured enough to have along the orchestral score of the Ring of the Nibelung? Metro is only open fourteen hours. And the Ring - well, if your presto Liberace vivace is my presto Liberace vivace then with the Ring in hand even in Metro's dungeons there is time well spent.
(Note: While the National Gallery of Art has yet to make a major move on Metro, the area's opera companies wil soon be well under way. Thanks to a $6 billion grant from the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau the Wolf Trap Opera Company next year will stage Gluck's "Orfeoed Euridice" in English - to be retitled "To Hell and Back" - as the opening program in the Wolf Trap Under the Streets Festival. All area music lovers must applaud this since even with orchestra, singers and audience coursing about in different cars the accoustics about in different cars the accoustics will be a great improvement over Filene Center, where a gnome has recently been troubling performances with his fiendish imitation of Mack Trucks).
The most intriguing area for artistic effervescence down under has to be in the world of Dance. When one recalls that the diminutive Nijinsky once performed the whole of Giselle while aboard the Red Line of the Moscow Subway on the way to his orthodontist's, one can rightfully expect even greater things in Metro's roomier cars.
Quite rightly, however, the first dance program on the world's most modern wonder was a modern opus. Just out of JUdiciary Square my car went dark and since the people in my car couldn't move to the next car and watch the home movies two ladies from Cleveland Park were showing (it's against the law to change cars in Metro - unless you carry a gun) we gave a performance of Merce Cunningham's Flashight No. 2.
Metro to date has been unkind to the classics. Six tutus costing $600 each have been irreparably damaged by people getting seasick on over-loaded Metro cars. True the gals in the Isadora Duncan Roots Society did have their flowing Greek togas sucked up by the Eastern Market fare machines (and were arrested for double-faulting) but that proved to be the break they were looking for (see Popular Mechanics, June 1977).
So there are the beginnings of a subculture in Washington. But a hope that the latest Metro Board gimmick of putting poems on buses will finally filter down to the Subway is misplaced. An advisory committee of local tweed coats has only been able to come up with one poem for the subway, "Quoth the raven: Nevermakeit." More likely Metro will henceforth operate with seven-car trains, each with one volume of Proust's Remembrance of Lost Times.
And just remember, the more cultural events you participate in while on board Metro, the more times you'll get your picture in the Metro Year-book 1977, and when the Metro Class of '77 has its tenth reunion in 1987 those extra pictures will entitle you to extra martinis. But also remember, on the way home, look out for the third rail - 750 volts and it doesn't give back any change.