You descend the staircase.
Every station contains four metal staircases, all labeled “Escalator.”
The next Red Line train says it is four minutes away. The next Red Line train says it is three minutes away. The next Red Line train says it is two minutes away. The next Red Line train says it is arriving. There is no train.
Six passengers get on something you cannot see and disappear.
An announcement comes over the speaker system. Somewhere far away, the trains are being forced to share the track. The trains do not like to share. One train hisses at the other and takes six of its cars, just to spite it. If these people were not going to New Carrollton before, they are now.
In each station there is one person walking with an excruciating slowness. This person is always directly in front of you at all times. He never turns his back. He is apparently able-bodied and there is no reason for him to move like a sloth made of molasses. And yet. Maybe he has no face. You have never seen his face.
Another announcement. The next train will be late because it is full of ghosts. Ghosts are not real. Neither is the train. Two truths and a lie, the announcer says.
A work crew is approaching the tunnel. One is sobbing loudly. Everyone else on the work crew is stony-faced. Their faces are too pale and their eyes are wrong, somehow. Their eyes are like insects’ eyes. The work crew goes into the tunnel and it never comes back out.
The voice of the announcer screams continuously for six minutes. There are no trains. You are still here.
“Why haven’t you moved to Columbus yet?” asks the sign above your head. You should move to Columbus. Every time you turn around there is another sign posing this question. Every time you close your eyes Columbus looks brighter and closer. Maybe in Columbus the trains come.
Why do the lights look like a peacock? Did peacocks build this place?
You see signs advertising “DC Cool.” None of the places in these signs are places you have ever been. This D.C. is a fictional city where real people live.
“Cathedral Heights” is still not a real station, most of the time. Only during full moons, if the trains are hungry.
(If you get lost in a book and then look up to discover that the sign says “Cathedral Heights,” do not get off the train. Remain as still as you can. Ignore the hideous grinding noise. It will continue until the car is sated, and then the car will move again.)
The train will not come because the track does not exist, says the voice on the loudspeaker. You must believe as hard as you can.
Everyone on the platform ignores him. Your belief is not enough. It has never been enough.
“Everybody owns WMATA,” says its former general manager. “And then nobody owns WMATA.” WMATA is a paradox.*
The sign announcing the next train says that it will arrive in 38 minutes. It has said this for as long as you can remember. It has never said anything different.
There is another train that sometimes comes. But it is empty and it bleats loudly and you cannot get on.
The train will not come because it has no brakes, the announcer says. The train will not come because the train is not ready yet. The train will not come because you have not earned the train. The train will not come because the train is full of locusts.
The announcer has run out of excuses. Silence reigns.
The WMATA board is made up entirely of characters from “House of Cards.” They are fictional. It can never meet.
You fall asleep. When you wake up the vines have begun to take the platform back. Maybe there has not been a train here for 30 years. Maybe longer.
But still the people on the platform wait. Why?
The station manager is a knot of rats perched under a coat. “Will there be a train?” you ask. He gnaws on a Starbucks cup and does not answer.
Are the people around you still people, or ghosts, or something older and hungrier than ghosts? If you jostled them, would they look up from their phones? You do not dare to try.
You look at the map. Now there are now 13 lines: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Silver, Tourmaline, Black, Indigo, Teal, Navy, Gold and Ivory. There is still no Purple Line.
Construction has just begun on the new Fuchsia Line, which Metro management says will solve all the system’s problems, and which is the only thing that anyone has allocated any funding for. It is entirely under water and plated in gold. It will be completed in 18 years.
Somehow, in all this chaos, they built a trolley. For months the trolley went back and forth on a tiny track from nowhere to nowhere, with no passengers.*
“Let’s have a commission that meets twice a year to hold WMATA accountable,” a panel suggested. “That is a good idea,” said the heads of local transportation departments. “But what if instead of meeting twice a year, it meets never?”
Instead, they gave the general manager of Metro a new title. You will be chief executive, they told him. That is your name now. Be satisfied and do not probe any deeper.
As you wait, a new station is being opened somewhere out in Deepest Virginia. There are no houses out there, only horses. Three politicians smile and cut the ribbon on the station and the horses look at them, confused.
In the center of the city, several stations lie in ruins, their names entirely obscured by vines.
“Switch the train to manual control,” comes the order. They are trying, but the trains disobey. The trains are set in their ways, and they are hungry.
“Please,” the general manager begs anyone who will listen. “The wires are frayed. The infrastructure is crumbling. You must help us. You must save us.”
The chief executives of Maryland, Virginia and the District nod in understanding. “You are The Emperor of Metro now,” they tell him. “Your new title is The Emperor of Metro.”
“ARR,” the board says. The trains are not arriving, just pirates.
“RRR.” The trains growl. The trains have finally turned. A low growling emanates from the tunnel. No trains come.
*These are actual Metro facts.