D.C. - beside the beltway

unearthing the Nation's capital

by Benjamin Malcolm



This is the year, New York!

This is the year our metro system kicks your metro's ass!

No contest, hands down, thanks for showing up ...

Here's your silver frickin' medal.

You see, it used to be that you New Yorkers owned us. You had your big, nasty subway with your pseudo-grunge core punk rockers beating up on grandmothers and 12-year-olds and everyone else who dared come into your graffiti-splattered trains.

Well, now we get to tell the real war stories ...

Now we REPRESENT on bad subway stories.

And we're not just talking about your garden variety assaults and collisions ... we're talking tunnel fires. We're talking rush hour, close the system down, screw up the entire city's traffic pattern dealios.

I mean, we've already got your number on traffic. We're trailing LA by only a few points on the "worst traffic in the U.S." meter, and we're gaining every day.

You heard of the Mixing Bowl? That's us!

That's just a little nickname we came up for the area south of the city where Interstate 95 collides with the beltway. Try driving through that ninth circle of hell at any time other than midnight to 4 a.m., and you might as well bring along some "personal development" material.



But back to our subway fires, where, to repeat, we're kicking your ass!

Our biggest fire of the year (thus far) occurred on April 20th. That's when one of our blue line metro trains drove into a tunnel despite warnings of a fire, and then became stuck for two hours, leaving 250 people stranded during the afternoon rush hour.

See, we don't avoid the fires ... we drive straight into them!

The only reason the DC fire department responded to that one was because people started screaming at them through their cell phones on the train. Fourteen people went to the hospital for smoke inhalation and one person suffered a heart attack.

You taking notes?

Then there was the time that a fire occurred at Shaw-Howard University station, and firefighters arrived at the Archives-Navy Memorial station, three stops away. By the time they figured out that Metro had sent them to the wrong station, a station manager had doused the flames with his own extinguisher.

Score at least a two point conversion for the safety aspect on that. We send our station managers into the raging chaos, baby!

There was a span of about a week during the summer where we had a fire-spotting subway-shutting incident almost every day. People weren't even bothering to go home!

Metro keeps saying that it's the old age factor... random electrical wiring shorts and metal plates falling on tracks and all sorts of happy crappy like that. The system began running all the way back in 1976... that's as old as RFK Stadium and that place is a dump!



You want more stories? I got your stories right here.

About a month ago, during morning rush hour, a train driver had some braking problems, shut the train down, and refused to communicate with the passengers for about twenty minutes, leaving them baking in the dark without AC. Metro has sent that operator away for "reeducation."

YOU got anybody going for reeducation?

Then there was the blind man's guide dog incident, which happened at the end of July. That's where a guide dog got a paw stuck in the escalator of Fort Totten station, as some person bolted by the owner and the dog on the way up the stairs. The dog had to be carried away and treated by a vet. The owner doesn't want to take the train anymore.

We even beat up our guide dogs here during rush hour!

We SO own you!

But I've got to say the best incident happened last April when we had our "metro revolt."

I'm convinced this is where our dominance began.

In that one, which happened at the ever-popular Smithsonian Station (where the capital's working stiffs and tourists collide daily), the train driver was having problems with the doors, because too many people were trying to get in at the last minute. He told everyone to get off the train so he could take it out of service.

An entire carload of people refused to get off, staged a mutiny, blocking the whole metro system during the rush hour. The system backed up for miles! They had to send the police in to clear the train!

We've got you beat with our escalators as well.

We make people walk up those.

You see, a long time ago, engineers designed these nice, long escalators at every metro stop, including one monstrosity up in Wheaton that apparently is the longest in the western hemisphere. But, wouldn't you know it? They never did get around to designing roofs for the exits. As a result, almost everything you can think of (rain/snow/hail) gets a chance to enter and do its noble part to corrode the escalator system and shut it down.

You want to actually ride the escalator? Cry me a river of tears, monkey boy! Put on your running shoes and hoof it, Regis!



Now, I'm going to have to go ahead and admit that you've had our number for some time now.

One look at the stats sheet convinced me of that one.

In the latest figures, from 1998, DC was listed as having three safety incidents for the whole year. That's two collisions, and one "personal casualty."

New York -- 99.

Ninety nine to three. Game, set, and match.

According to this survey, put out by the American Public Transportation Association each year, safety incidents include collisions, attempted/successful suicides, derailments, personal casualties, and non-arson fires.

New York has a numbers advantage. If you threw in your people from New Jersey, it would be like two teams pig-piling us. DC ranks fifth behind New York, Chicago, LA, and Boston in terms of "unlinked passenger trips." But we're still a big market team.

Now, our metro officials are doing what they can to stay competitive.

Last month, for instance, they announced that they were thinking about shortening the train's waiting time in stations, ending the practice of actually waiting for crowds to get on, thus "improving" speed during rush hour. We need to hire some surly Japanese crowd pushers to put this one into effect.

I'm a big fan of this plan, especially as the design of the cars works directly against us.

You know how most subway systems have cars with benches along the wall of the train, so that people can move around fairly easily in the middle of each car?

Not ours!

No way... our seats are designed in nice little Amtrak-train-like rows, allowing maximum comfort, and an aisle the width of Calista Flockhart's waist.



Now, imagine, if you can, what happens when someone located at a window seat in the middle of the car tries to get off at a major station well into rush hour. You've got about thirty seconds to get by the aisle-seat person and bull rush the people in the aisle, breaking for the door before the crowd gathered at the platform starts getting on the train.

You think you can top that process?

It's guaranteed mayhem, especially in the morning where you've got all that pent up anger heading into work.

Now, Metro wants to speed this process from thirty seconds to two. I imagine that during our tunnel fires, we'll want to decrease that time even more.

So, as you can see, New York, we're staking our claim on your big bad subway.

We're entering the new millennium with renewed focus.

Now if we could only reclaim that whole "murder capital of the U.S." thing ...


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