The Regulars

Not counting the bus driver, there were three of us on the RideOn bus this morning. I work with one of the other passengers, and I know the third by sight – I know if he’s on the train when I board, that I’ll be catching the 7:02 bus and can kiss any chance at the 6:52* goodbye and adios. We have the same stop, too, but I walk south and he walks north. The driver mused, on that long shot to the office park, “Where is everybody today?”

Most of the regulars from when I started this bus ride have left. That was just about three years ago (yesterday was the third anniversary of my move to Washington, DC, so to be specific, June 18th will be my third anniversary of the commute). There are still a few I recognize from the early days. On days when I’m early enough to catch the 6:42 bus, the first of the day, nearly two-thirds of the passengers are nurses traveling three blocks to a nursing home. Often, on the 6:52, I talk with Tony, who works in one of the government offices here and lives just a couple of blocks from me. He’s about twenty years older than me, and he’s had this commute for a long time, too, although I can’t remember how long.

Lyria also had this commute. She told me her name was supposed to be Lydia but something went wrong filling out her birth certificate. She’s Puerto Rican and, when I knew her, she had thick black hair tied back into a ponytail. I took her out to dinner at Meiwah back in the fall of 2009, then walked her ten blocks home and gave her my sweater to wear. One day, sleeping on the Metro heading back into DC, I felt a tap on my knee and it was her, passing through the train to get to the front car, moving from car to car at each stop, just stopping to say hello very briefly. She splits her time between DC and Puerto Rico, and I rarely hear from her – on occasion, she’ll send me a Gchat and we’ll talk for a few minutes. She tells me she cut her hair recently. I still can’t believe she said yes when I asked her out on a date.

There are others whose names I’ve forgotten. Some ride other buses and I see them on the train. This bus, the one from Grosvenor, used to cost twenty-five cents. Then the economy tanked and Montgomery County raised the fare to match the other routes. I flaked off of it for a while, but eventually came back. There are two black woman I see on the train, but rarely on the bus, who were regular riders before I was. Both of them came in to the Bookstore at some point: at the registers, one asked me, “Hey, don’t you ride the __ in the morning?” The other was looking for a dictionary for her son who was about to enter high school. We talked about the bus, and then we talked about our works, and then I had to get back to work.

My routine every morning is roughly the same: I wake up ten to fifteen minutes before my radio turns on (6:40), which turns on ten minutes before my alarm goes off (6:50, for those of you who can’t add ten to 6:40). WTOP is the cue for Tippy to start meowling and jump up on the bed and walk right up to my face and sniff my eyes (weird, right?). Then she curls up and settles down in just such a manner that I get full-on-nostril contact with cat ass stench, which is my cue to turn to the other side of the bed and ignore the tail thumping up and down against my cheek. Sometimes I’m actually out of bed before the alarm, sometimes I hit the snooze. I’ve usually gone ahead and put my clothes for the day out on the table the night before. I stagger into the shower, get dressed in my living room/library/dining room/media room/studio/etc., and head out the door.

I almost never see anyone in the hall. I more commonly see an early morning runner heading out of the lobby. I cross the street in front of my apartment after a cursory glance to the left, and then to the right. There’s not a lot of traffic at this time, and I walk down the alley that runs from the front of my building, parallel to Connecticut, for a block. Here’s where I see my first regular of the day: an African American guy with headphones whose cords are wrapped in blue tape. Sometimes he’s far enough ahead of me that he gets across Connecticut before the light changes and takes the elevator down while I’m still waiting to cross. Sometimes we walk to the elevator together, in silence. When we do go down on the elevator together, and descend that final escalator to the platform, he goes left to catch the train downtown, and I go right to catch the train to Grosvenor or Shady Grove.

Sometimes I wait at the elevator with a woman who I think is about my age, with brown hair. We acknowledge each other and I let her on the elevator first. I always let everyone onto the elevator first, but don’t think it’s chivalry: I’m a strong believer in the FOLO rule: the first person on the elevator is the last person off the elevator. Hence, if I am the last person on the elevator (and at this time of morning, that’s never more than four people), then I will be the first person off.

The elevator is a full half block closer to me than the escalator. And since the station is like five or six stories underground, and since I’m usually running late, I just prefer to take the elevator. I almost never take it coming home, though, especially since I like to stop by the corner market at the top of the escalator for anything my kitchen is short of.

At the foot of the escalator, on the platform, I turn so that I’m walking south. I walk from under the mezzanine overhand and proceed to the second bench on the right. When the train pulls in, I will walk a tad more south so that I board the train car that stops just before the bench. On the train, depending on seating availability, I will walk to the middle of the train. The doors here will open right at the Grosvenor escalators. Generally, seating isn’t an issue at this time of the morning. No matter how crowded the train is, the vast majority of the passengers will exit at Medical Center.

There was this woman I used to encounter fairly regularly, out walking her dog. I don’t know what kind of dog it was, I’m not good with species. It was a big gray dog, the type that looks like it could be equally friendly or dangerous. This dog didn’t like me one bit: it would start barking, which I think kinda confused his owner. Maybe the dog could smell my cats on me. Maybe it just didn’t like the cut of my jib. I have seen neither woman nor dog for quite some time, although now that I think about it, I do go to work later now than I used to – I used to be up and out of bed early enough to catch the 6:15 RideOn bus from the Bethesda Metro when I was in a “who can get to work earliest” competition with a now departed colleague.

He still stops by sometimes, and we catch up. He’s a big Abraham Lincoln buff and is involved in a historical group. You wouldn’t think there’d be political maneuvering in a history group, but as in all things, there are. I gave him a poster of The Conspirator I acquired from my part-time job. In addition to Lincoln, he’s a big fan of motorcycles. He works now in sales for his son’s company, and gets to travel quite a bit. We used to sit across from each other in the cube farm, but don’t picture tall rickety cubicle structures: the walls are white-painted plywood on a metal frame, about four feet tall. It’s pretty tasteful for a cube farm, as things go.

* This is not necessarily a bad thing as the woman who usually drives the 6:52 consistently misses my stop and responds “I didn’t hear the chime! Did you pull the chord?” when those of us making that stop holler “That’s our stop!” Yes, we did, and it made that really loud “STOP REQUESTED” at like volume fifty.