I am very glad to see that Metro has “beefed up” bus service on 16th Street NW. As a frequent Metro user, this development is heartening; however, as one who has curiously benefited from the system’s appalling service, I cannot help but consider the situation with a certain nostalgia. You see, my first commute on a D.C. bus changed my life.
On Sept. 10, 2011, I flew into Dulles International Airport. The solemnity of the 10-year anniversary of the following day was remarkable, not only for the omnipresent flags but also for the scant number of passengers and for the general silence in the city. Conversation seemed stifled.
On my first morning of work a few days later, I walked over to take the S1 bus downtown, and, at the corner of S and 16th streets, I waited. And waited. And waited. Bus after bus (after bus) passed, but none stopped. Increasingly exasperated, I glanced around at those waiting with me. Almost everyone was either texting or e-mailing. Happily, though, I caught the eye of a fellow commuter — or, rather, her twinkling amber eyes caught mine.
“How ridiculous!” I believe she said, although she may also have included more colorful language. Although frustrated that neither of us would be on time, we made the most of the situation and struck up a friendly conversation, even exchanging phone numbers. I had arrived in Washington on the 10th; she on the 11th. I had left gay Paris; she had been in bustling Berlin. “Oh! What brought you to Berlin?” She sidestepped: “Well, I mostly explored and wrote articles about the city and the culture. I’m a writer, you see.”
I did but, stubborn (and stupid?) — and perhaps somewhat irked at not having been answered — I clumsily repeated my question: “I see, but what brought you to Berlin? Why did you go there in the first place?”
“My boyfriend,” came the curt, bitten-off response. Her large eyes seemed to swell with what appeared to be guilty sorrow. “Ah. I see,” I said. As if on cue, the S2 — her bus — then pulled up. I watched her squeeze on, wondering what to make of the conversation and this city.
Surprises were still in store for me: Not an hour later, two long text messages came through, the essence of which was: “I’m sorry if I was awkward this morning. My boyfriend just told me he wanted to be in an open relationship.” My ironic response: “Oh, not at all: I’m in a troubled relationship myself!”
The next morning, wary of the prior day’s experience with Metro, I not only took the bus at an earlier hour but also changed stops. Wonder of wonders, as I rounded T Street, who should I come across but that same lovely lass. “Conrad!” I can still hear her call out to me.
Washington is forever marked for me and I by it. For me, Sasha has become my Washington — indeed, my world. She and I are now in a relationship. Yet, for all the value that she holds for me, I am struck by the realization that all of this might never have been, by the fragility and tenuousness of fleeting moments of contact that can not only come to mean so much to us but also form who we are.
I thank Metro for the extra buses, but I am glad it did not rectify the situation a year and a half ago.
I hope others would look up from their phones or literature and, at least occasionally, try to connect with those around you. You never know whom you will meet.