Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Commuting on Public Transporation

I always forget how much I love to ride public transportation and walk the city streets until I consciously choose to park my car and get on the bus and train. Since Monday rather than drive into Washington, DC to attend a professional development workshop, I drove to the metro station and hopped on the train.

As a native Michigander (or Michiganian if you regard the other demonym as pejorative), riding public transportation after you got your driver's license, in some circles, was downright shameful, particularly for boys. However, I never felt the need to own a vehicle. When I think about it, I have only purchased two vehicles in my entire life. I suppose that my native Detroit status needs to be revoked for not supporting the automobile industry all these years.

I fell in love with riding trains first as a child when my mother would take my siblings and me to New York City to visit her family. There was something very magical about the swaying and clanging of the train moving up the track: a behemoth of steel, an over-sized cradle to me when I was child.

As a teenager, I was permitted to ride the New York subway as long as I stayed with my cousins, Timothy and Robin, whose city sophistication was much more than mine, both cousins having grown up and spent substantive time in Brooklyn, even after they relocated to upstate New York. My cousins had been riding the subway most of their lives. I was from a town where you learned to pull the car in the driveway while sitting in your father's lap as soon as your legs could reach the gas pedal or your arms the steering wheel, whichever came first.

My adventure with public transportation and strolling up Georgia Avenue in the early morning reminded me of the absolute urbanity I love when I am catching trains and walking, as well as how it makes environmental and sense for me to ride public transportation rather than get in my car. The trains in metro DC are clean, timely, and efficient. The only drawback to riding metro is that a premium is charged on fares during commuting hours, so that to commute during the rush hour from Northern Virginia and into the District can cost as much as $3.80 one way. I know that the folks in Long Island who commute into Manhattan are laughing at me. Hey, sorry, I'm still in shock. Why should it cost me nearly $4.00 to travel eight miles to the District line, and $4.50 to park my car? Yes, Ethelbert, we need free public transportation.

But I am not complaining. For when I am riding mass transit--instead of being sequestered in the private space of my car listening to music, whizzing by people and places, and ignoring on some level that my body is moving through space--I am forced to pay attention to my environment, to be conscious of how I am traversing the landscape, and to interact with people.

Two little boys wearing similar red and yellow jackets scream; exchange coded recriminations with gapped-tooth smiles; and scoot along the bench at the bus stop on the corner of Georgia and Florida, Ave. N.W. Their energy catches my attention; I can't help but chuckle because most of the adults in the vicinity are dragging their behinds on the pavement. It's 7:00 a.m. How can these boys be so wide awake? Presumably the woman who smiles back at me is their mother; she shakes her head in wonderment, too. We don't have to exchange words. It is a mother thing.

I pass the Howard hospital, I see the personnel in blue scrubs headed toward the entrance. An eerie silence permeates the cold, morning air. Calmness slices me to the quick. Later that afternoon when I walk past the hospital en route to the metro station, the silence and calm have been subjugated by throngs of people, blaring ambulances, and a general sense of controlled chaos.

So content am I with the swaying of train while riding home this afternoon, I fall asleep. I am listening to Thelonius Monk on my ipod. I barely hear a woman say, "Miss, Miss. I'm sorry to bother you, but we are at the end of the line." I rais my head, smile, thank her, and disembark the train. When I finally arrive home, rather than being worn out from navigating the gauntlet inherent in traveling on the highways in metro DC, I am refreshed and ready to commit myself to doing something productive. Later that evening while I am driving my son to the barbershop, he laughs at me for having fallen asleep on the train.

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