The Breakfast Table

More on Metroland

Dear Michael,

It’s true; there are few interesting conversations to overhear on the Metro in the morning. Toddlers are shushed; newspapers are stowed; it’s all so very civil and orderly. Once, I got on the Metro and a Cambodian man in a neck brace offered me his seat, then proceeded to tell me how his wife was murdered before his eyes. Another time, at the Alexandria station, I watched a hostile exhange when a man from Maryland came to drop off his baby with his estranged girlfriend, who got so mad she ended up calling the police on him, standing there, yelling into the phone booth, the baby between them in a stroller. But such emotional human occurrences are, I grant, very unusual on the Washington trains, where people mostly just read their papers and look stern if they can so much as hear the tinny echo of a nearby Discman. (When I was at City Paper, one of the writers put a Twinkie in a Metro seat and then took a seat nearby, to see how far it would travel before somebody had the temerity to displace it. The answer was very far.) Anyway, I’m sort of guessing that as an embittered anti-trainer, you didn’t like very much the Post story yesterday about the couple who met during their morning commute and–who would have thunk it!--ended up getting married. I know, I know, it’s all very hard to take. Still, I like the train, and I even like those boring Orange-Line cell-phone conversations, because I just think they’re such a window into, I don’t know, the endearing absurdity of life. Most conversation is really boring, and cell phones make this fact audible to the rest of us.

I also reject the idea, implicit in your message, that there is somehow greater morality in taking the bus vs. taking the Metro–a sort of ancillary to the argument that there is greater virtue to living the city vs. living in the suburbs, especially the scary, white-bread, right-wing VIRGINIA suburbs. This is, I think, a pretty widely accepted notion in D.C., but I think it way oversimplifies this region. I live in Arlington, which as you know is a dense inner suburb of Virginia; down the street from me is a hair salon owned by a woman named Cindy Phuong, the immigrant daughter of a Vietnamese woman and an American GI. Across Lee Highway from Cindy’s salon is a used car place owned by her fiance, Loucas, a Greek immigrant who grew up in Wales. They’re getting married, and recently, when I asked Cindy where they were going to live, she said that Loucas has his heart set on a fancy five-bedroom tract mansion. My point here is that things are complicated, sometimes, even in Orange-Line land; that there is diversity of life and experience and opinion; that sometimes, the people living in tract mansions aren’t noxious overpaid government lobbyists but, say, immigrant businessmen who aspire to their own little patch of marble foyer. I mean, I don’t think that people in Orange-Line land are automatically morally inferior to those in Tenleytown; I don’t think it is unfortunate, necessarily, that Metro makes it “easier” for us to live here.

I also think that if Metro were sending buses into streets where the system was actually on fire, and then failing to evacuate people (as they’ve been doing with the trains) then the newspapers would cover it.

Anyway. I just don’t want to fall into a stereotypical urban-hipster vs. suburban-commuter dialogue, because I think that those divisions are so simple and polarizing. I would go on about that a little more, but it’ll have to wait–gotta sprint for the train so I can get home in time to get the preschooler to her riflery class.

Tomorrow: no more lifestyle stuff. We’ll tackle missile defense instead. Barring that, we’ll sort out the wire-service item I just read about the father who killed another father at a little league hockey match. A conversation that could bring us back, I grant you, to the topic of, um, suburban parenting …