Monday. 8:11 a.m. I left the house as usual, planning on my approximately forty-five minute commute to the office. I had gone back and forth about which book to bring and settled on the useful, less interesting one.
When I got to the station, I heard something over the PA about delays due to fire department activity. That didn’t give me pause, as once a week there is fire department activity somewhere within the metro system. On a whim, I checked online and discovered that yes, there were issues somewhere and yes, it would probably lengthen my commute by a few minutes. No worries. I waited two minutes for a metro train and ambled on with my fellow commuters. We sped along as usual. I enjoyed my book. Then, the train came to a sudden stop, right on the elevated track. Now, I don’t have fear of heights or anything, but I also don’t love stopping on elevated tracks, especially when I am standing sideways staring into the abyss, especially when the abyss is a freeway.
Fortunately the train starting moving again. Then stopped. I was in one of the cars with a half-decent intercom, and the train conductor said something about a problem at Foggy Bottom and a switch problem somewhere else. He also alluded to “several trains” ahead of us waiting to hit the next stop. Truly, there must have been several trains, because it ended up taking FIFTY minutes to travel one stop away from my home.
The doors opened and more commuters boarded the train. We waited. I read. After more than ten minutes, the driver made the announcement that strikes fear into the hear of every regular metro rider: “This train is being off-loaded.”
With many a groan, we disembarked. At this point, I wondered presciently if it would be faster for me to walk to work.
As is always the case with a rush hour offload, the next train to approach the platform was full to bursting. Some of my platform-mates tried to get on, but I knew the game and waited until the next train, which took its sweet time. I finally got onto another train by 9:25, and was once again on my way to work. I had long ago alerted my colleagues that I would probably be late, but was beginning to wonder if I would make it in time for my 10:00 a.m. meeting.
The train jolted along underground, finally hitting the next two stops. Then, at stop three (remember, only four stops away from my house, a journey that usually takes 10 minutes): “Attention passengers. This train is being off-loaded.”
Yes, my second train of the day had been off-loaded. I would definitely be late to my meeting. This is when I started to wonder if I would ever actually make it to work.
Apparently a spate of stations were closed down due to the alleged fire department activity, so our driver announced that shuttle bus service would be available into the city. I’ve taken shuttles before (most notably on the Veteran’s Day Commuting Disaster of 2012) and it’s not terrible. I joined the hoard of disenchanted commuters emerging into the (still swampy) fresh air and crossed the street to where the shuttles would pick up. The folks at the front of the line assured us that the line formed behind them and that they had been waiting an hour and a half. I assumed this might be no more than DC exaggeration. Then, I realized the line stretched down the block…and around the corner. In fact, the shuttle line stretched all the way around the block.
No way, I decided. I texted my colleagues and let them know I was giving up on metro and walking to work. (At this point, I should say I did consider a cab for about two seconds. Then I realized there were none to be found. Shockingly, everyone else had thought of that idea first. When I discovered later that Uber had been charging an almost-5x surge fare, I was glad the temptation to find alternate vehicular transportation didn’t linger.)
Fortunately I’ve run through Arlington a bunch of times. I headed through the city, then walked across the Key Bridge into Georgetown, talking to my mom on the phone the whole way. After waiting for the correct circulator bus for a while, I gave up, took the wrong one, and rode up to Dupont Circle, where I once again descended into the metro. I emerged at my station at 11:20 and walked the last five minutes to work, arriving only 3 hours and 14 minutes after I left the house that morning.
I used to plan for two bad commutes per year. This experience more than makes up for the relatively smooth sailing for the past eighteen months or so. I think the most frustrating part, though, is that I really could have walked (not even run. WALKED.) to work in as long as the metro-walking-bus-metro situation took. Next time: I’m heading right back home.
(To be fair, 99% of my commutes are just fine and this in no way changes my feelings about living in this here great metropolitan area.)
(One more thing: how can I complain when tonight my great husband brought me a big bag of pistachios to soothe my metro PTSD? He is a keeper.)