Tanner and I leave our apartment at 4:44 every morning. We blearily stumble down five flights of stairs and head to the train station. Thirteen minutes later, on the train platform (with Tanner on his way back to bed), I climb on the Quiet Car, place my ticket on my hip, toss my book bag on the aisle seat, and stretch out across two seats for a nap. At 5 o’clock, blessedly, there isn’t much noise to keep me awake.
The train rolls into Union Station at 5:56. Everybody pops off the train, and we all walk past the Al-Jazeera news advertisements and into Union Station. The walk from the platform to the station isn’t so bad—that early in the morning, it’s not terribly crowded. The first bottleneck occurs at the doors that serve as both an entrance into Union Station and an entrance into the Metro. For some reason, a hefty number of people who make this commute every single day struggle to remember which door to go into, so there are always people who go through the door on the left (and have to force their way diagonally to get to the Metro), and people who go through the door on the right (and have to force their way diagonally to the left to get to Union Station). Inevitably, those misguided folks who can’t remember which door is which cost the rest of us an extra thirty or forty-five seconds. This sounds petty, but when you’re standing there waiting to go to work, every second of delay is costly.
Once past these morons, I head to Union Station, where I’m hit with a putrid medley of smells from the Sbarro Pizza, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, Ben & Jerry’s, Au Bon Pain, and Crumb’s Bakery (the Party Size cupcake—selling for $36—is not what anybody’s in the mood for at 6 AM on a Monday). I continue through Union Station at breakneck speed, taking the hypotenuse shortcut through Sbarro Pizza, casually glancing at the dry, powdery scrambled eggs they’re serving up to individuals who willingly eat them for some reason that’s difficult to grasp. I navigate around the slower people, and pop out into downtown D.C. To my left I see the vendors setting up their fruit, nut, and bread stands. To my right, there’s the rollerblade commuting man, sitting on the curb lacing up his skates. The early morning newspaper men are there, unloading Express Dailies, cutting off the twine in short swipes of their knives, and announcing the paper’s arrival.
I walk to work, which usually takes ten or eleven minutes (never nine, never twelve; I’m a very predictable walker). I arrive at work, head straight to the gym, and am in my office by 7:25. Eleven hours and ten minutes after I’ve left my apartment, my work day is done. At exactly 3:55, I sprint out of the building and inevitably into huge crowds of tourists. They are usually walking four abreast, gawking up at the Capital or consulting maps, completely eliminating any possibility of passing them on the sidewalk, so I’m forced to dip out into the street to get around them. These tourists are on vacation. They’re presumably museum hopping; they have excellent dinner reservations awaiting them; and they’re already with their families. Allowing me to pass them on the sidewalk will in no way hinder or hurt their vacation experience. And yet, they persist in making my return trip as obnoxious as possible. I mutter insults under my breath and press on towards Union Station.
Once there, I risk the shortcut through Au Bon Pain, although every so often my book bag—filled to the brim with shower materials, gym clothes, sneakers, books, water bottles, and lunch containers—clips somebody on the side, which slows me down and earns me a frown. Things get worse as I enter the Amtrak/MARC shared space. The Amtrak vacationers are standing around trying to figure out how the (admittedly confusing) platform system works. They’re rolling their gigantic suitcases on the ground, adding to the utter confusion and chaos.
I continue my sprint to track A7, one of the farthest tracks from the entrance. I finally get to the train, and all I want to do is sink into my window seat and fall asleep for the ride home. But every seat on the train is invariably filled at rush hour so close to the departure time, so I end up walking through three or four train cars before finding an open window seat. (Were I brave enough to ask somebody for the middle seat in a three seat bench seat, more often than not, I would be rebuffed. I know this from experience, and I’ve given up.) When I finally find an open window seat, I have to ask the person occupying the aisle seat if he can let me in. This is the part that makes me the maddest. Even though I point to the window seat and politely ask if the window seat is taken, and even when the aisle occupier says no, they frequently either (1) don’t stand up, so I have to crawl over them, or (2) stand up but then take the window seat I just requested!!
When I at last sink gratefully into my seat, I fall asleep quickly—unless my seatmate is rudely talking on his phone, or loudly texting, or loudly snoring, in which case I just sit there, seething all the way back to Baltimore. An hour later, we pull into Penn Station, and I attempt to quickly jump off the train. Of course, I’m rebuffed by the now incredibly weary, and consequently slower-than-ever, Baltimore-to-DC-to-Baltimore commuters, who cannot summon the energy to walk quickly up the stairs. Have these people nowhere to go? No one to see? No desire to eat dinner and chat with their family and loved ones? After a rough four minute push and shove out of Penn Station, I’m on the road. Fifteen minutes later and I’m in my apartment building where I ebulliently sprint, as quickly as my heavy book bag and tired legs will allow, up the five flights of stairs. Finally, finally, I reach the fifth floor, walk to our door, and twelve and a half hours after leaving that morning, I am finally, finally home.