"Lord it’s hot," an older black woman exclaims next to me. It had been seventy degrees earlier today, but it got back up to 95 in the afternoon, and afternoon commuters now must bear the remains of today's heat as they wait outside in the open-air station. "I didn’t realize it got so hot." She speaks aloud, ostensibly to the older black man at the other end of the bench, but really it is to no one in particular. "God works in mysterious ways," she intones. A breeze whips through, a reminder of earlier today. "Just got off that bus 42."
A Red Line train pulls up from Washington and dumps countless commuters off, back to their cars. As quickly as the train drops people off, it leaves again, back from where it came, speeding again towards the capitol. The commuters, mostly dressed for desk work and slack jawed from at least eight hours of sitting and two 45 minute train rides, all line up to ride the lone escalator down into the ticketing terminal. Out beyond this is a large bus station and an even larger parking garage. People of all colors stand about, some sit, all waiting for the buses to come or for their kiss and ride to come pick them up. After the commuters have all filed off the train platform, the slow sad hum of the cicadas overwhelms the bus engines off in the distance. Trains arrive once every five minutes, the same scene played out over and over again. Sometimes it’s slightly different, like the time that a young man ran towards the escalator in order to beat the crowd, which caused the entire crowd to begin to run towards the escalator, but for the most part, there is zero variation as the minutes creep by. Even though yesterday was Labor Day, a day most of these commuters got off, everyone looks really tired, as if they’re wondering when their commute will ever end.
A MARC train passes by on another, non-Metro track, bound for upper Maryland and beyond. Now the black lady is talking about her Labor Day picnic and her potato salad and how she didn’t get a chance to appreciate any of it. Even on Labor Day we work. And on days like this one, we never get a chance to appreciate it.
Just yesterday, back up in old town Gaithersburg, I walked down the main street in the Gaithersburg Labor Day parade. The sides of the road were comprised primarily of children and old people, mostly minorities, blacks and Hispanics. I feel like white people must also live around here, but maybe small town parades are less popular or less interesting than midday cable television to this demographic, or maybe it's that all the white people just went to the beach.
Even though parades are a throwback to a time that’s long gone, the parade struck me as something remarkably modern, in an unexpected way. Gaithersburg, as its name suggests, hasn’t always had the most ethnically diverse of backgrounds, but here, stretched along a road for miles, was a contemporary mash up of nearly epic proportions. Just within eye- and ear-shot of the group that had invited me to join the parade was a high school marching band playing Sousa, hip-hop bleared over loudspeakers for a pom-squad, inspirational instrumental music coming from the Miss Maryland convertible, American musical theater, and a five-minute loop of vaguely Middle Eastern music played by the Jews for Jesus van. Parades, it maybe turns out, were one of the first fast-cut music videos ever conceived of, predicting an entire generation of attention deficiency.
Back at the station, it’s nearly six, and the heaviest part of rush hour is over. Now trains linger in the station, quietly waiting for passengers to board and sit down, waiting to take them back into the city. Fewer and fewer commuters are dropped off as the trains roll into the station. It’s amazing what less than a hour will do to the traffic patterns. Just minutes ago, someone I used to know left her workplace, drove her car from Shady Grove Rd. to 270, to take the same reverse commute commute the departing trains will take from Shady Grove. It’s a long way down to the city from here. At least I think she just left. We haven’t spoken. Maybe she works somewhere else now. As the minutes roll by, change is coming. The sun is now full on towards the horizon, and shade is cast in all directions. Each minute now the shade grows longer and longer. It’s amazing what three months will do to a relationship.
This is one part of a series of writings, each part written inside of one of the 86 Washington, DC Metro stations.