A note to our readers: Express is reviving DC Rider, a column that used to appear regularly in these pages. In this space, online and through social media, our new DC Rider columnist, Kery Murakami, will be telling the fascinating stories of the people riding around you. Through our stories and features, we’re hoping to shed light on the daily struggle of moving thousands of people through the region’s tunnels. And when Metro’s ways seem confounding, we’ll try to get you some answers. Tweet your questions and comments to @theDCrider. — Dan Caccavaro, executive editor
At a bar on H Street the other night, a guy named James was sitting alone after the date he was on went awry because he doesn’t own a car.
His date apparently thought this spoke poorly of him.
But James is from Jamaica and grew up in the Bronx. I’m from Manhattan, so I knew what he meant when he said, “I just don’t care about cars.”
“Yeah,” I said, pulling out the battered yellow and blue New York subway fare card I keep in my wallet. “This is all I need.”
Growing up in New York City, you feel like you’ve lived a different life than kids most everyplace else in the country.
On TV and in the movies, you see teenagers making out in their cars. My first kiss was on the 4 train. Somewhere between 23rd and 34th streets, in a packed car during the afternoon rush hour, a girl named Sharon kissed me, deeply, and I, with surprised open eyes, saw other eyes on me. Many had that weary 5 p.m. look that said, Why do I need to see this on my way home?
I’ve owned cars and I’ve driven thousands of miles on roads both open and clogged throughout Washington, New Jersey and Michigan, states where I was a reporter for two decades, covering state government, being tear-gassed in riots and standing in Western wildfires, before covering the Hill and now embarking on this new beat covering life as it happens underground.
Like James, I’ve never felt any attachment to cars. My Super 8 childhood memories unfold to the rumbling of subway cars, before a backdrop of anti-teen-pregnancy posters hanging above the straps.
I remember catching Yankees games with my dad. The train would emerge from the darkness, sunlight filling the cars and illuminating the graffiti that covered the windows.
Before they moved Yankee Stadium across the street, you could look down from the elevated subway and see the manicured green outfield, anticipation growing as the train pulled into the 161st Street/Yankee Stadium station.
But I have other memories of growing up on the subway too, of leaning my hand against a pillar as I waited on a platform, and then feeling the white stretchy web of someone’s spit as I pulled it away.
Before New York got safe enough for riders to let themselves get lost in whatever it is they’re looking at on their expensive phones, my mom, like other women, would take off her earrings and jewelry before descending the stairs into a station.
Here in D.C., I’ve endured single-tracking. I’ve climbed the Mt. Dupont escalator. I’ve had more than one exhausted stranger sleep on my shoulder. I have never woken them. Let them sleep, I figure. At least until they start drooling.
I know from the half-closed eyes and blank stares I see in the cars that many a long day has been had, and I wonder about the days being recollected in silence. Behind the gazes, days are being relived in which cures were developed, lessons taught, and history polished and preserved since the morning commute.
Meanwhile, someone out of sight is worrying about making the trains run on time. Others are working to make it happen.
And each time a train comes to a stop at a platform, then lurches forward a few inches, there are new mysteries to explore on the Metro rail system’s 234 miles.
Like, what difference did those few inches make?