The lady in the striped scarf and orange woolen cap was so furious her cheeks were shaking.
"I waited in two lines," she screamed, her fists pounding on the kiosk window separating her from the attendant at Metro's Silver Spring subway station. "Each time I got up there the machine broke down."
"Lady," attendant Roy Rogers Carter answered gently, "I called the technician an hour ago. He should be here soon."
"Soon?" she stammered, as a half dozen sympathetic and equally angry spectators looked on. "Soon ? . . . Why, why . . . I'll report you, that's what I'll do. You people really p--- me off."
As the woman stormed back to the end of yet another line, Carter turned to a visitor and sighed. "Welcome," said he. "Welcome to Attitude City."
It was 7 a.m., the peak morning rush hour period at a Metro station that has logged more customer complaints than any other. It was also the first weekday of the latest Metro fare increases and new minimum subway and bus fares in the metropolitan area of 60 cents.
Carter, a veteran of three years' duty on the front lines of Silver Spring's commuter wars, expected a great deal of grief and abuse this day -- "attitudes," he called it -- and his expectations were rewarded.
Metro station attendants have a name for the Silver Spring kiosk -- the foxhole. For one thing the station, a major commuter transfer point connecting passengers to downtown Washington, suffers from high farecard machine, gate and addfare machine break-downs, primarily because the machines, only semienclosed, were not constructed for weather as cold as yesterday's. Customer cheating is also a more common practice here than at other stations because of the higher fares from Silver Spring to Washington, which will now be as high as $1.20 for some destinations.
The station, third in volume behind Farragut West and Metro Center, averages over 30,000 commuters daily and frustrations and emotions run highest during the morning and evening rush hours.
Only last week, as a dozen other commuters cheered him on, an energy consultant, angered by malfunctioning farecard machines and what he said were uncooperative and abusive attendants was arrested by police on charges of disorderly conduct.
Anytime something goes wrong in a Metro subway station -- a not uncommon occurrence -- the station attendant stands at the front line of defense, and abuse. Since the Silver Spring station opened three years ago, two attendants, according to Carter, have quit after suffering emotional problems that bordered on nervous breakdowns.
"I've been called everything in the book, not the least of which is nigger," said station attendant supervisor Leon Jones, who attended the gates at Silver Spring for six months before asking for reassignment. "I knew if I stayed any longer I'd end up either being fired or belting someone in the mouth.
"Everytime you come to work at this station you know your pride is going to suffer," said Jones. "I brought my frustrations home with me. There have been times that I screamed at my wife or whipped my daughter for very minor things, all because I had this anger from the job pent up inside."
"The first thing we're taught," added attendant Alvin Wade, "is that the public is always right. We're here to serve the public, but we're people too."
Wade, who was once falsely accused by a customer, in writing, of using karate to settle an argument over a farecard, described an incident that occurred last week at a different station.
"This woman came to me to complain that the conductor closed the train doors before she could get off. She wanted a form to write him up. I said I didn't have them. Then she got this attitude on me. She literally started jumping up and down she was so mad.
"I thought she was having an attack or something, so I put my hand on her shoulder, real light like this. Then she really went off, started screaming that I was attacking her. These other commuters came running over and I had to call the subway police for help."
Yesterday's morning rush hour at Silver Spring, in the words of Carter, was not unusual. When he arrived at 6 a.m. more than a score of commuters were waiting for him to open the gates to the station. The problems began in the kiosk.
An irritating siren located on a control panel kept going on and off, falsely signaling that a fire was breaking out in either the escalators, elevators or maintenance closets. After an hour three out of nine farecard machines broke down and Carter called in for a technician who didn't arrive until an hour and a half later.
Lines forming behind the remaining six farecard machines stretched for more than 30 feet. That was when the commuters flocked to the foxhole with complaints.
"Gate won't take my card."
"You have gum all over the edge."
"Farecard machine just stole a dollar."
"Be right with you. Please settle down."
"Damn phone booth doesn't have a phone book." . . . "Got change for a fifty?" . . . "Can I get a train to Philadelphia from here?"
"One guy," said Carter, during an unusual lull, came down from the tracks last week after waiting for an hour and he says to me, "I can get to West Virginia on this line, can't I?"
Surprisingly few commuters yesterday complained about the increase in fares and for that Carter, Wade and Jones were grateful. "If there's a bitch having anything to do with Metro, trains, buses or even Silver Spring, we hear about it," said Carter. "There's so much going wrong this morning I guess people forgot to complain about the fares."
Carter spoke a little too soon.
"You know," said one man, as Carter left the kiosk to repair still another broken gate, "this is really outrageous, these prices. Pretty soon you people are gonna blow it, and everyone is gonna go back to driving again."
As Carter shrugged, the man disappeared into a crowd of other commuters trudging toward jampacked escalators, heading to Washington and work, leaving the foxhole and Attitude City behind until the evening rush.