I first rode on Metro when it was almost new in July of 1976. I grew up in New Freedom, PA a small town of perhaps 1,200 people. Washington, DC was a big city, though perhaps smaller than Baltimore at the time.
Our town had a dual set of train tracks, part of the Northern Central Line. U.S. Presidents used to ride on those tracks on their way between Baltimore and Harrisburg, PA, and then on to points East and West.
Our town used to have passenger service, but not in my lifetime up to that point in 1976. The tracks were not in use because Hurricane Agnes had taken out the bridges in 1972, while I was taking Aquatics Counselor training, of all things, at a Boy Scout Camp. It is interesting sleeping outside in a tent during a hurricane to say the least. But that is a different story.
New Freedom did not have a traffic light in 1976, we did have a phone booth at the Main Street railroad crossing. So it was a big deal to ride on the brand new subway, to ride on the Metro from Falls Church to Washington, DC and back. It was a treat and a bit of a lark. At the time the whole country was caught up in patriotic spirit as we were celebrating the 200th anniversary of the signing of our Declaration of Independence.
I continued to enjoy a ride on the Metro every now and then for the next 21 years, with a three year break while I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Barbados. My future wife lived in the Washington, DC area, I looked for possible career and graduate school opportunities in the area before and after my Peace Corps Service. I liked the Metro.
Later I transferred to the Washington, DC area to work for the Boy Scouts of America. I rode the Metro occasionally into and around Washington. Later, I worked for the Smithsonian, the American Red Cross, and the World Bank Group. The Metro became part of my regular daily commute. For the most part they provide a great service, though the price per ride and the price for parking in the suburbs continues to escalate. Most days it is a predictable and reliable mass transit system.
My wife and I were car pooling the day of 9/11. The traffic stopped in front of my Red Cross building as I walked out the door to meet my wife. It did not move for two more hours. The Metro service stopped, I ran down the street four blocks and luckily caught my wife in her car before she got caught in grid lock.
The next morning I rode the Metro in early. I was heading to my work at the American Red Cross. I walked along the yellow police tape that roped off most of Red Cross Square since it is near the White House. I worked welcoming thousands of volunteer blood donors who swept into Red Cross Square to do their bit. President Bush asked us to collect as much blood as we could since we did not know what shoe would drop next. About 11 PM that night I walked back up 18th street to the Metro. My wife asked me if I would be safe. I said yes, knowing that there was a Humvee with armed soldiers at every intersection on my walk to the Metro. I would be safe.
Knock on wood, the Metro has been reasonably safe since 9/11. I learned not to touch the moving hand rails on the escalators, since they could be laced with some type of nefarious germ warfare agent. As directed I look for bags that have been abandoned and if I saw one I would ask the stranger, “Is that your bag.” For a couple of years I thought I had spotted the secret plainclothes watchers who seemed to always be waiting on my platform looking back towards the station, this regardless of how many minutes early or late I arrived. Metro made many investments to make me safe as I took my regular commute in and out of town.
There have been accidents, there have been delays. I have been off-loaded due to faulty equipment, I have ridden the shuttle-buses between stations when there was a broken down train. A few people have been killed, but mostly the Metro continues to be fun. I read the free paper on my ride in, perhaps take a nap standing up, and I read a book on my ride out. Occasionally I even get a seat now that the Silver Line splits up the volume of west bound evening rush riders.
I really have just one big gripe. Every evening when I approach Farragut West at the 18th Street station I see two escalators coming up with perhaps a total of five people riding and a very full escalator going down. It does not seem to matter if I get to the station at 5 PM, 7 PM or 9 PM these same three escalators are running, two up mostly empty, one down relatively full. If only Metro could take a minute to turn off that middle up escalator at 5 PM, I wonder… perhaps over the next 39 years they could keep the fare increases down and save a bit on their escalator maintenance budget. I know I would be happy. Thank you Metro for thousands of safe trips for me and my family.
By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales