The smells, the sights, the sounds are all distinct and unique. After ten years of life in northern Virginia I decided to abandon the insane daily commute by car, where I found myself spending upwards of two to three hours of each day in my car to travel 28 miles round trip.
There is something really cool about standing on a train platform and waiting for a train to arrive.
Why did I wait ten years? Not really sure, but I am sorry it took so long! My initial reaction was akin to your child’s first day of school. Complete with my butterflies I set off on my train adventure. To be honest, it was more than expected – it was clean, comfortable, air conditioned, and there were enough seats for all passengers. It was on time, it was smooth, and most importantly, it cut my commute time to a fraction of my normal vehicular path.
As a new convert to the rails, there was a ton to observe. The most interesting? You guessed it, the people.
These folks are serious rail people. They seem to go through the motions of entering the station, validating tickets, and boarding the train without ever really looking up or greeting anyone around them.
But these folks are hard core. For instance, there are no markings of any kind on the platform, yet the veteran travelers mysteriously know exactly where to line up with the train doors for boarding. These folks oddly line up, again without ever looking up, in columns four people wide. As the time for arrival gets closer, a mass of people seem to mindlessly emerge from their cars, the woods, and wherever else they wait, to make their way to the platform, without ever looking up.
Do you remember the scene from the movie “Dawn of the Dead?” Well it reminded me of that – as if some silent whistle sounded and notified everyone to make their way – NOW!
While that was slightly unsettling, the real interesting visual was how they al line up behind the folks that began the boarding lines. In precise columns of four, they line up, one behind the other. It’s sort of interesting to watch. While I think I will be a train person some day, I will resist all efforts to be assimilated into the train collective.
My very presence on the platform is an irritant to the vets because I have not followed protocol and I think it upsets them. I stick out like a sore thumb and act confused as the train approaches and I remain outside of the columned lines entering the train. I suspect they also know I am not one of them when I stare and watch with child-like curiosity over some of the behaviors they display.
And just when I think I have seen it all, something new happens – something you cannot get your head around – yet you realize it is really happening before your eyes.
I call him Dr. Squirrel. I recently arrived at the L’Enfant Plaza stop a little early for my ride home and saw a man standing at a trash can. His backpack was placed on top of the can and he had what appeared to be peanuts in his hand. He was staring off in the distance looking at a stand of bushes. This is the kind of behavior that has DC commuters somewhat concerned since we have all been trained to be weary of our brothers and sisters and need to report suspicious behavior.
I looked to the bushes and saw nothing that could have possibly warranted this much attention. I looked back at the man, scanned the platform for security, and then, in the corner of my eye, I noticed the guy with the peanuts perk up and looked with some anticipation towards the bushes.
His facial features changed and he became more intently focused on the bushes. I looked again and only saw a small, but rather plump squirrel darting out of the bushes. The squirrel stayed off the platform until my new friend tapped the peanut on the top of the trash can.
And then, as if I were watching a trainer and his animal friend perform, the squirrel ran toward the can, climbed the adjacent pole and jumped on top of the man’s bag! I realized that I did not need security, I needed a camera!
I looked around at the people on the platform and I seemed to be the only one watching this. As I searched for the hidden cameras, the squirrel had his little front paws resting on the man’s hands eating the peanut from this man’s hand.
My stare was broken with the sound of the train whistle approaching the station. I suspect this may be only the beginning of a series of stories about my new friends, the train folk…..