6 Tips on Managing the Metro | The Washington Center

6 Tips on Managing the Metro

If there's two things I hate, it's germs and crowds. And if there's one place that combines them both with effortless grace, it's the D.C. Metro. However, given that I've been here a month now, I've had time to develop some useful coping mechanisms. I think they may prove worthwhile to other germaphobic introverts who wind up in the nation's capital, so I went ahead and whipped up this little guide. I hope it's helpful.

Courtesy of Reuters

1. Gain Some Perspective

After some friends and I emerged from the Foggy Bottom Metro station last week, someone who shan't be named noticed his white shorts has some brown stuff smeared on them. As I watched in horror, he brought his palm up to his mouth and licked it, then rubbed away the gunk, then licked it again, then rubbed again, inviting millions of disease-ridden microbes into his mouth on each go-around. I couldn't believe my eyes. Literally just stepped off the Metro, and this maniac is licking his hand. The idea of germs made me squirm - he put them in his mouth!


And y'know what? He was absolutely fine. I've been waiting for him to drop dead all week, but it's just not happening. As a guy back in Michigan used to say (he was prone to eating things off the floor), "that's why God gave me an immune system!" And he was right. It's not worth the fuss. As long as I keep the germs off my tongue, I think I can relax about the rest. That's perspective.


2. Stonewall Any and All Polite Interaction

The next thing I had to get over was my distaste for random strangers. I'm not a social butterfly, I'm a solitary caterpillar. My original plan for avoiding all contact with the Washingtonians was the same one I've always used: headphones. It works pretty well, but I've got some scruples. Sometimes the screeching and rattling of the tracks forces you to blast your music if you want to hear it, and that's bad because scientists are already predicting that all the Millennials will be deaf by 2060 (not that anyone cares what they think, I mean, come on, they’re scientists).


Also, if you use Spotify, as I do, you're stuck with just your downloaded tracks most of the time, because there's no Wi-Fi down there. Such a tragedy. But headphones do block out the rest of the world... mostly. It still doesn’t get you to 100% isolation - there’s still a lot of awkward eye contact. And that we simply can't have.


3. Watch Your Eyes, Sonny

Avoiding the ole’ awkward eye contact: this is a tricky problem for a couple reasons. One, there's nothing to look at, and two, lots of the seats actually face each other. So, you've automatically got people staring one another down across the car. And if you think you can just read stuff on your phone the whole time - well, not so much, because underground you barely get any service, remember? They set you up for failure. There's no safe space to park your eyes.


Then I discovered the obvious:


4. Bring a Book

Problem solved. I have loads of books, and the Metro is a great place to read, especially since I have such a long commute. And, I don't make eye contact with anybody! Hurray! However, there's a downside: I’m subjected to all the conversations around me (this is mostly in the afternoons; people aren’t so sleepy on the way to happy hour). I’ve always been bad about eaves-dropping on strangers’ lives, I just can’t help it. I’m a chronic listener. So sometimes I wind up holding my book to my face but not actually reading cause I’m listening to someone talk about how incredible Poland is.


Oh, is Warsaw beautiful? Is it absolutely stunning? Do I have to try the Kapuśniak?


I'm trying to read here, man. But I guess I've only got one option left. You've forced my hand.


5. Bring out the M.P.S.D. (Multi-Pronged Strategy of Defense)

This is complicated, but necessary: wear headphones and read a book at the same time. Ka-boom. I'm not capable of actually hearing music and reading simultaneously though, but I thought, why let that stop me? So I just wear headphones to give the impression I’m listening to music. They block out just enough sound for me to read. Plus, it's like I’m wearing a disguise. Like I’m in the CIA. Except, I’m British, so they wouldn’t let me in the CIA. MI6, then. They’re cool too. Might even be cooler - they’ve got James Bond.


So anyway, there I am. I'm following all the steps, like a good caterpillar. I have my nose in a book, my ears plugged, my eyes tucked safely between the pages of some 800 page novel... and someone pokes me on the shoulder. I had no contingency plan for this.


I glanced up. A middle-aged woman in a dark red dress was smiling at me. "Are you reading that for class?"


I, pretending that I had music playing, took an earbud out and said "Sorry?" She repeated her question. We got talking. Turned out she was a highly educated, very engaging lawyer. We talked about school, and work, and lawyering. I told her I was an English major. She told me how important being a good writer is for being a good lawyer. I said that's very interesting. She told me about how much she loves her work, and at the next stop she gathered her bags and said goodbye. I put my headphones in my pocket and zipped my book inside my backpack.


Ever so slowly, I started to wonder if I'd been going about this Metro business the wrong way. I thought long and hard, almost breaking out into a sweat, and finally arrived at the last point in my guide.


6. Maybe Don't Avoid Every Stranger on the Metro?

Don't get me wrong, caterpillars are adorable creatures, and every once in a while you gotta be one, but there's a lot they miss. Maybe give the Washingtonians a chance sometimes. Ask the person next to you how they're doing; brighten their day a little. You never know who you could run into.


Not that I ever do that, but, I’m just saying. It might be cool.


See you next week!



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