Since moving to D.C. in 2013, I have become acculturated to the District in so many ways. I’ve learned to call the airport “National” or “DCA,” not “Reagan.” I’ve lost all perspective when it comes to snow. I’ve given up my congressional representation.
But one act has, by far, best immersed me in the life of a D.C. local: I have now visited all 91 Metro stations.
I have surveyed the city from the Yellow Line bridge over the Potomac, and I walked from the Capitol Heights station right up to the boundary stone at the District’s easternmost corner. I rode the Silver Line on its first day of operation. I traveled to Glenmont for a haircut, and I took out an Alexandria Library card for an excuse to visit Braddock Road.
I’ve whiled away entire days going from stop to stop. On my grandest Metro adventure, I rode to Twinbrook to catch a bus to the Wheaton Target, then traveled from the Wheaton station to Fort Totten to look for lunch, then went to Southern Avenue for a library book and Congress Heights for groceries.
One by one, I circled each station on the large-print map of the Metro system taped to my bedroom wall. And now, with a trip to Naylor Road for dinner last week, I’ve checked off every single one.
Why visit every stop? Sure, the stations themselves mostly follow the same template. At some point between my first Metro ride (Blue Line, National Airport to McPherson Square, June 7, 2013) and now, I stopped seeing the grim, gray caverns as ugly and monotonous and started finding them monumental. I knew I had really been taken in by WMATA the day I realized that the station architecture seemed almost cathedral-like to me, at once awe-inspiring and comfortingly familiar. Same goes for the day I realized that I actually really cared about standing to the right/walking to the left on the escalator. Or that eating on a train car, a perfectly normal part of my Philadelphia childhood, would now make me feel like a barbarian.
But outside the stations, the experiences are totally varied — and that is where I made the memories that vastly enriched my understanding of this city and region. I saw neighborhood after neighborhood up close, by foot and by bus, after I disembarked at each Metro stop. Quickly, the diverse and nuanced geography of the region imprinted itself on top of the bold, colored lines of the Metro map in my head.
Name a Metro station, and I can now paint you a picture. I remember the fried fish I ate the first time I was at Georgia Avenue-Petworth, the voters I interviewed on Election Day near Deanwood, the optimism of furnishing a new apartment that led me to shop at Prince George’s Plaza.
Zachary M. Schrag put it best, in a book about the history of Metro that I read while riding around. “Metro encompasses the vital core of the Washington area, yet its layout is simple enough to be taken in at a single glance, even memorized. It cannot replace a complete mental construct of Washington — people, events, impressions, smells, and sounds — but it can serve as a guide. When it does, Metro becomes a way to get around Washington not only physically but mentally.”
Metro serves as a mental map of the region for so many of us. In conversations with friends and strangers as I’ve talked about my quest to visit every station, I’ve heard how they make associations with the stations. They say: those I have lived near, those I have worked near.
In certain circles, I’ve also heard, “You went there? I’d never go there.” I have been quick to challenge those ugly comments. Metro ties our region together, whisking us across the lines of jurisdiction and class and color that are otherwise all too stark in this region. It is tragic to think we don’t take enough advantage of that.
I could draw so many different Metro maps. On one, I’d circle all the stations I lived near as I moved from sublet to sublet before finally finding my own apartment. On another, I’d trace the exploring I did with my brother during my first summer getting acquainted with Washington. I’d draw another map of stations I’ve visited in my job as a reporter.
I could map out my love life in Metro stops. When I first taped that map to my wall, I was dating a wonderful man, the sort of guy who would agree to ride the Blue Line to Addison Road for fried chicken. To me, the Shaw station will always be his stop, where one night we were the last ones on the last train and the gate came down behind us, and we waltzed home on the empty brick sidewalks singing “American Pie” because no one could hear.
When I broke up with him, I filled the lonely hours by throwing myself into Metro quests. Within three weeks, I had circled 10 new stops on the map. Metro was better consolation than any tub of ice cream or rom-com could be.
Later, I began asking OkCupid dates to meet me at Metro Center so we could travel to some new station for lunch. Men I never went on second dates with trekked to Franconia-Springfield and Spring Hill with me. I confess I once went to dinner with someone because he was a fun conversationalist, yes, but mostly because he lived at West Falls Church and I hadn’t been there yet.
And recently, when I found a man willing to slide down arduous icy sidewalks and dart across six lanes of traffic with me, then take advantage of the privacy of Forest Glen’s dark double-bore architecture for a kiss, I thought maybe I had found someone whose station I wouldn’t mind disembarking at.
I’ve spent so many happy hours on the Metro. It has enabled me to journey easily all over this remarkable region, and it has turned the journeys themselves into fascinating pockets of communal time.
But believe me: I don’t look at Metro through Red Line-colored glasses. Many times a week, I write about Metro’s minor malfunctions for The Post’s Dr. Gridlock blog. Other times, I’m just trying to get to or from work and I find my daily commute disrupted by single-tracking or an offloading train.
Those are headaches. And then there are also real tragedies. I spoke to relatives still mourning the victims of the 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people at last summer’s fifth-anniversary memorial ceremony. Just a few months later, I was stunned and saddened, along with the rest of the region, as I contributed to The Post’s reporting on the smoke that filled a Yellow Line train, sickening dozens of passengers and killing one.
When I ride Metro every day, I try, perhaps foolishly, not to ride in the first or the last car — in case the train crashes into anything in front or behind. When my Blue Line train stopped a few weeks ago in the Rosslyn tunnel, I felt myself growing increasingly panicked with each minute that ticked by. I know what it is to fear Metro even as I embrace it so enthusiastically.
It is because of my fear, and my appreciation, that I hope that the region will support the major fixes Metro needs. I’ve seen how vital to a community’s life each and every station is. Metro takes us to work, to play, to explore, to learn, to socialize. It is our most democratic, and our most useful, shared civic space.
For everyone — tourist or lifelong native, daily commute pro or weekend dabbler — Metro stations are portals to getting to know the real-life fabric of our region.
Ninety-one portals, just waiting to connect you more deeply to your city. Always inviting you to step in. Doors closing.
Zauzmer will be conducting a tour of some favorite Metro stations by Snapchat on Sunday to accompany this story. Check out washingtonpost on Snapchat to follow along.