BY DOMINIC PINO
Among the throng of unwritten rules for humanity is this one: Thou shalt not find rapid transit cool.
Take a look at the Metro. Passengers on the Metro look just like viewers of C-SPAN: bored, expressionless and seriously considering whether the world would be better if Washington, D.C., had never existed.
I don’t understand it. The Metro is awesome.
First, that acronym. Many organizations spend time thinking of catchy acronyms that you can actually pronounce, but the WMATA decided to let the letters fall where they may. Wuh-MAH-TAH? Wuh-MA-tuh? Who knows? I appreciate that instead of crafting a sexy acronym, they were focused on more important things—like nearly running a subway system.
Subways belong in a special group: things on which no one would spend money if a six-year-old thought them up. Imagine the predicament: A group of adults want a train in the city, but realize there is nowhere to put it. Now, if a 6-year-old walked in and said, “Let’s dig an enormous hole under the entire city and put it there,” they would say, “Aw, isn’t he cute?” Yet when an adult suggests exactly the same thing, they agree to spend millions on it. Other things in this classification include professional sports, trampoline parks and a huge wall along the entire southern border (although, Mexico is paying for that, I’m told).
You get to meet so many fun people riding Metro. Sometimes you talk to them, sometimes they talk to you (and sometimes they just … talk) but no matter who initiates, conversations can be fun. From helping the clueless tourist find the Red Line (pro tip: it’s more or less in the direction of all the signs that say “Red Line”) to asking the station manager why your SmarTrip card won’t let you out, there are infinite possibilities to engage with other humans, and that’s refreshing in the digital age.
Also refreshing in the digital age is the return of some good old-fashioned trepidation to our pampered, modern lives. Aside from the obvious tons of metal hurtling toward you at high speeds, you never know when the Metro might catch fire. (Or, at least, you wouldn’t if there weren’t a website and Twitter account called “Is Metro on Fire?”) Burning alive has fallen precipitously on the list of concerns humans have in modern times, but your friends at WHAM-at-uh (I think I like that one) will keep you on your toes.
In addition to physically keeping you on your toes, they do it verbally, as well. I remember a time over the summer when they made a station announcement saying to avoid Gallery Place and expect delays because of “fire department activity.” “Fire department activity” sounds pretty innocent and routine—a drill, perhaps. After a quick search online, it turned out “fire department activity” meant a train malfunctioned, and the tunnel was filling with smoke as everyone had to get off the train.
Therefore, my mind was already churning when, recently, they announced on my morning commute that the 17th Street exit at Farragut West was closed due to “police department activity.” It turned out to be a false alarm, but given the euphemistic prowess of whomever writes Metro announcements, it could have been a wild-west shootout. I appreciate these announcements, because they remind us of language’s ability to clarify or obfuscate—and Metro’s excellence at the latter would qualify them for many other jobs in Washington.
The Metro is awesome: You stretch the bounds of pronunciation, meet new people, engage your survival instincts and contemplate the nature of language itself. And who knows? Maybe you’ll even get to your destination on time.