The D.C. Metro system has its quirks. The escalators and stairways are mountainous in design, to the point that people suffering vertigo would be advised to take the bus over the subway. The lines are open until 3 a.m. on weekend nights, but revelers in, say, Adams Morgan will find themselves buzzed and bored as they wait 20 minutes for the next Red Line train to mosey on through. Food is strictly prohibited (not even a snack bar when you’re late getting to work?). I had countless experiences squeezing into a train during evening rush hour, only to have the train go out of service two stops later and deposit the group into an already shoulder-to-shoulder crowd on the platform. There is an occasional deer. And concern over protesters threatening to mess with the commute (I’d always been in favor of people wanting to speak out, but wasn’t down with people speaking out by making me late for work).

But I always liked the Metro. I rarely minded my daily underground journey from my apartment to Union Station: the subways were clean, the depth of the stations in the ground made me feel a world away from the city above me, I had a knack for winding up on trains with amusing operators during mornings full of delays, and I always got joy out of turning up Tori Amos’ “Wednesday” whenever I strode off the escalator and around the corner to the Hill.

(“Out past the fountain, a left by the station, I start my day in the usual way…” I know. Dork. That’s nothing new.)

But what made me come to love Metro most were the commuters and the unspoken rules that came with a SmartCard and a daily commute. The biggest one, the one that made the most sense?

When you’re on the escalators, you stand right, walk left.

Metro users didn’t mess around. I learned this the hard way during perhaps my first week in Washington. My typical T-familiar self was standing on the left, talking to my roommates, when one gently tugged on my sleeve. “Be smart. Stay right,” was the advice offered me.

This caused confusion for a moment – was I getting political advice? – until I came to see others who failed to heed such wisdom. Metro people would storm up the stairs and nudge hapless left-standers – or mildly scold, or yell at – because there are places to go, people to see, and rules to follow. It’s what you do: you get where you want to go or make sure that people can get through if you want to rest your legs during a trip up or down the concrete mountain.

I saw the logic. I championed it. I enjoyed getting around easily. And I forgot for a time that other cities don’t have such natural philosophies of their own.

Which is why I find myself muttering under my breath when I’m trying to exit the Harvard Square T stop and a girl isn’t simply standing right, but standing center. And then gets off the escalator and proceeds to weave as she walks toward the Charlie Card machines, so that anyone behind her can’t move past and is instead left thinking of Ron Livingston in those opening scenes of “Office Space.”

“You. Just. Don’t. Do. That.”

It’s not me. I’m simply a product of another Red Line.

(The title comes from my brother, who was very much a left-walker during his visits to D.C. and could never understand why my parents preferred to just stand right.)

Advertisements