The Washington Post

Write the rails: A Metro residency

(Ben Claassen III/For Express) (Ben Claassen III/For Express)

The doors open wide, and I step inside my new workspace. It’s brightly lit, boasts huge windows and — like every office I’ve ever had — comes littered with old newspapers. The only thing missing? A desk. But I take a seat, prop my iPad on my lap, and instantly feel like I’m headed in the right direction. And that direction is New Carrollton.

Amtrak just announced a new residency program that welcomes writers to ride the rails across America for inspiration. The idea came from author Alexander Chee, who jokingly mentioned it in an interview after noting that the train is his favorite place to write. A couple writers tweeted about the comment, and Amtrak responded with an offer for them to really test it out.

Rather than wait for my invitation, I decided to craft my own version of the program — on the Metro.

Instead of attempting to pull this off at rush hour, with a briefcase likely jammed against my rib cage if I could find a place to sit at all, I’ve opted for late morning. That comes with an added benefit for someone funding her own residency: an off-peak fare.

A $1.70 trip on the Orange Line train doesn’t have all the romantic elements of a Lake Shore Limited between New York and Chicago. There’s no sleeper car, chummy ticket-collecting conductor or a route that cuts across the heartland.

But it has certain charms. It’s Wednesday about 10 a.m., and I’ve just shot out of a tunnel and into a snow globe of a morning. As flakes land along the banks of the Anacostia River, I imagine I’m flying through a Bob Ross landscape, where every happy little tree is brushed with a few strokes of white.

The scene inside resembles an oddly quiet cafe, minus the coffee and pastries. (I’m apparently with a particularly rule-abiding group today.) Several riders press their noses to Kindles, while others stare sagely into space. A woman one row ahead of me is in the midst of an elaborate crafting project that involves scissors, applique flowers, pink poster board and a product called Glue Dots.

At first, I find the frequent station announcements and door closing beeps distracting. But it doesn’t take long for them to blend with the constant whooshing and rumbling into a soothing soundtrack.

And after I take my turn to gaze out the window for I’m not quite sure how long, I look around and realize I’m stopped at the end of the line and completely alone in my train car. It feels like a metaphor for writer’s block. Have all my ideas abandoned me?

Then I see that another set of doors has opened across the platform. And I know exactly where I want to take this column: toward Vienna.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.



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