I've watched and listened to the building of the Forest Glen Metro station for a decade -- the underground blasting sending shock waves through my little neighborhood graced by Sligo Creek Park and its flowing stream on the east and disgraced by Georgia Avenue and its thundering concrete a few blocks to the west, wondering what it would be like when it was finished, how things might change.
I once filed a protest of my Montgomery County property tax assessment on the grounds that my home would be almost worthless once this subway stop and its tangential unpleasantries came into being, but this led to nothing once I faced my simple reluctance to part with money, a form of denial I've always sought to rationalize.
But here it is, and the young reporters of the local media, including The Post, have diligently reported on the dangers of this Metro stop, its depth, its reliance on six elevators, the absurdity of expecting a crowd of commuters to wait for rescue by train in case of fire, the slamming shut of steel doors on a group of frightened non-passengers, the messiness of traffic in the area and the fears of the neighborhood that all is not going to be quite the same as it had been for a century or something less, in my case.
On Wednesday last, the 26th of September, after this Forest Glen station had been open four days, two being those during which business is conducted at the Other End, I made the decision to give this claustrophobic nightmare a try.
And so, armed with a light jacket and an opened umbrella (the same media that had told me of the endless safety measures in this deep pit had predicted a cloudless, sunny day for this dark, rainy afternoon), I walked 2 1/2 blocks uphill to Georgia Avenue, danced among the raindrops as I waited to dodge six lanes of mad, roaring traffic, walked a block south and then about a block west to where the black Metro pillar marked either the end of the world or a set of stairs that remained invisible to the approaching pedestrian and descended those stairs once they appeared in sight, two flights of them, to the tunnel that would let me get to the elevators, six of them, that would shoot me like a human roman candle down to the platform.
I shoved my Farecard, bane of tourists and veteran commuters alike, into the turnstile and walked to the room containing vertical death.
The elevators are large steel boxes with two buttons marked "mezzanine" and "platform," instead of a logical "up" and "down," and each is big enough to hold my corpse and two dozen others. The ride down is silent and takes about 12 seconds, not the 20 that had been reported in the paper. Once I thought we scraped the side of the shaft, but that was likely my imagination. As the doors opened after we ground to a stop I heard the unmistakable roar of a train, and I ran to board the cars bound for Shady Grove.
Now I was in the train, the doors were closing, and I settled in for about three miles of ride to Silver Spring, the platform where I'd boarded this train for a decade, ascending the 200 feet of the tunnel in about two minutes. For the first time since the preliminary blasting had begun years ago I began to feel comfortable with this train and this station and its ancillary and largely imaginary problems.
I was on my way to a job where this newspaper, an industrial product, is produced, and it was just 10 years ago in October that the owners of this institution turned its back on the Iron Age and entered the world where there is acknowledged and genuine total reliance on technology.
As long as one pencil remained in the newsroom, as long as one pot of molten lead remained in the composing room to feed just one Linotype machine, there was always the delusion that a return to the status quo of the machine age would be possible. By conversion to electronics -- that is, computerized writing, editing and typesetting -- my newspaper had installed its own 200-foot-deep elevators and had handed its destiny over to a rather simple faith that someone, somehow, would keep the electricity flowing and find new methods to utilize even newer technologies as they arose.
The utility companies, corporations and banks knew this a generation ago. Some of us lived through the period when airlines agonized over computerized flight schedules and fueling, when department stories and gas companies converted all their billing to computerized accounting systems, and we bemoaned the fact that occasionally, more then than now, one of us would get caught in a computer loop and spend days, weeks, months trying to iron out credit difficulties or financial crunches introduced into machines by human error.
As my train pulled into Silver Spring I felt quite safe: I'd placed my life in the hands of technology years ago without even knowing it, and this was nothing but more of the same.
And if one day the steel doors don't slam down, or the rescue train doesn't come, or one or another of a thousand million contingencies come to pass, I have this other comforting thought:
So what? -- Robert H. Williams
The writer is an assistant news editor of The Washington Post.