I boarded the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority subway, or as us locals call it—the metro—to head out of the District of Columbia and into the country for the weekend. The country, to me, is defined as anywhere that isn’t the city.
I hopped onto the infamous Red Line towards Shady Grove, which in itself can be an adventure, and sat next to an old lady minding her business reading a book—a real book, none of this electronic nonsense.
I’m sensitive to motion so the best place for me in a car is shotgun, the best place for me on a boat is land, and the best place for me on a roller coaster is as far from the amusement park as can be managed. When boarding public transportation, I plan my sitting arrangements where I won’t feel like I’m going to regurgitate my meals from the past week. Typically, this is facing forward in the middle of the train car by the window.
Bloggers Note: For those not familiar the WMATA metro, the cars are laid out with rows of two seats on left and two seats on right, front half facing forward and back half facing backwards. Poles dot the way for those who stand and/or feel like breaking out into a city-sponsored striptease.
The train was too full for me to sit at the window so I toughed it out in the aisle seat. After going approximately 6 stops, there was a window opening and I adeptly maneuvered to its comfort. I feel awkward moving mid-ride. It feels insulting to the person I was sitting next to even though I know they would prefer the comfort of solitude on their journey home. Ideally, they would de-board prior to my destination, but transportation deities were not on my side in this instance.
I had just leaned my head against the window and closed my eyes, willing away some nausea that was creeping about in my belly, when I heard, “Is it all right if I sit here?”
Look, that in itself is weird. It’s rare that someone asks permission, in fact, most people if they feel they are intruding on someone’s extra seat, just stand rather than chance this gesture. We aren’t quite New York City, but we are city people and that means we are more on the defensive than on the gregarious side.
Taken aback, I nodded and said, “yeah, sure.”
I proceeded to get in the relaxed, anti-regurgitation position I needed to recover, when the man, probably late 20s, started small talk. Small talk is annoying. I’m a nice enough person, and more effervescent than a bubble bath, but for some reason, small talk just seems futile and a waste of inhaling and exhaling. Neither party truly wants to talk to each other, so skipping the awkward pleasantries at the end of a hard work day seems a kinder gesture.
When the “how are you” and “interesting weather we have here” conversation was completed, I thought for sure he would open up a paper, or start tinkering on an electronic device, but he didn’t. He started more detailed questions. My heart started to race:
What is he up to? Is he hitting on me? Oh god, he is going to follow me off the train. Is he missing a chip in his head? He can’t be from around here. Is he one of those weirdos who loves redheads to the point of obsession? Why is he still talking? I’m not going to make it off this train alive—I’m going to die on the metro. I knew it. I’m sitting next to a serial killer.
As he chatted, my knuckles became whiter, my teeth clenched, and my thoughts skipped to the will I never wrote down (who will inherit my clothes???). He asked where I worked and I thought he was trying to find intel for his impending attack. He asked my name and I wondered if I should give him a fake one (I usually give my sister’s name when approached by creepy men). He asked if I lived in the city and then I ended up going on a nervous tangent wondering why the hell anyone wouldn’t live in the city. He also shared information with me, that he worked in IT (I figured), the places he’s lived in the area, the high price of real estate, the kind of truck he drove.
As the ride progressed, I became slightly less fearful. My thoughts deviated to musings about my current situation:
A person sits next to me on the metro and starts talking and my instant reaction is to fear for my life. What does this say about me? What does this say about society? What does this say about the saturation of crime drama on TV (SUV, CSI, I’m talking about you…)?
My PopPop never misses an opportunity to talk to anyone or anything that has a pulse. If he rode the DC metro, by the time he reached his stop, he’d be friends with the entire car full of people.
But the fellow who sat next to me wasn’t an octogenarian or particularly charming. He was conversational but socially awkward. Does that justify my right to feel ill-at-ease?
If the guy had been attractive, or dapperly dressed, or even a woman, I may have acted differently. So what does this say about me? Do I assume that every nerdy guy who is socially awkward and pleasant is automatically a serial killer? Because then I really have to rethink my relationship with my boyfriend because he ticks all those boxes.
For the remaining ten minutes or so of my journey to Shady Grove I maintained a dramatic internal dialogue with my various emotions (had long forgotten the nausea). When the train pulled into the station, I said goodbye to the “creepy” stranger and hauled ass to my awaiting, apparently, serial killer boyfriend’s car.