The DC Safetrack Program Changed Me Forever

DC Safetrack Program: A Memoir of Darkness
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The day was June 6th, 2016. It was the first day of the D.C. Metro’s major period of repairs, which meant single tracking lines and massive delays. I was on my way back from work, a PR firm near Metro Center, headed to my home in Northern Virginia, usually just a 25 minute ride on the Orange Line. It seemed like a normal day, a bit hot perhaps, but ultimately mundane.

Little did I know, I was about to embark on a nightmare that would transform me forever.

The following account may be disturbing to some readers, as it contains graphic descriptions of human nature at its most grotesque and untamed.

Reader discretion is advised.

6:05 PM:

I luck out and get to my platform just as the Orange line train to Vienna arrives. It is hot, certainly, and crowded, definitely, but I get a seat, we are moving, I have spotty 4g (but that is the norm in the tunnels under DC) I'm listening to Spotify and telling myself it will be over soon.

Before long, I will enjoy the sweet embrace of my air-conditioned car, and make my way home for some mediocre evening TV and leftover chicken salad.

6:12 PM:

Suddenly, the train comes to a halt in the darkness between stops. A tense moment passes.It becomes gradually evident that no one has cell service. My music won't play. My texts won't send. There is no air conditioning.A man’s khaki pant–clad butt is pressed into my shoulder.

We are stopped mid-tunnel.

Time passes.

Pastel button-downs darken with the mood as sweat rolls and the train doesn’t.

6:20 PM:

The victims begin to grow restless, quiet curses are heard as texts fail to send, and calls don't go through again and again. I smell desperation seeping from the pores of the moist life forces around me, and it is a pungent bouquet. I wipe the sweat from my brow and try to breathe.

6:26 PM:

Several passengers appear to be asleep, but I have a dark suspicion that they have perished. Are they the smart ones? Leaving this hell either entirely, or at least consciously, before madness takes hold? Updates to follow.

6:30 PM:

One man has found limited phone service in the corner of the car and is talking loudly.

My fellow people-rats stare at the phone man with the same resentment that I feel. It is an unspoken agreement that we will eat him first.

6:34 PM:

Having difficulty telling the difference between sweat and tears. Must minimize both to avoid fatal dehydration. A woman wearing a sensible grey pant suit and shoes that tell me she’s being preventive about back problems, who probably uses hand sanitizer up to her elbows after just thinking about the Metro, has sprawled out on the floor and is fanning herself with an informational pamphlet for vaginal mesh.Someone snaps, "MA’AM, EXCUSE ME, COULD YOU PLEASE STOP SNAPPING YOUR GUM LIKE THAT."Things are coming unraveled. The end is near.

6:40 PM:

Perhaps this is death. Am I Sisyphus and this train car my boulder? Am I doomed to sit in my own sweat next to a man openly, almost proudly, picking his nose and anticipate the movement of a train car that has no driver in a tunnel that neither begins nor ends?

How did I die? Was it romantically at the hands of some jaded ex-lover? Did I begin my final slumber in a cushion of my own flaxen locks, my eyes demurely closed, my full red lips parted just slightly?

Or did I trip reaching for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos on a top shelf, bang my head on a toaster and then poop myself?

Should I have worn more vests while I had the chance?

Why didn't I ever Google Michelle Obama’s arm workout?

6:42 PM:

A small electric fan is being passed around. No one knows who the owner is, but I think we all know, in our heart of hearts, that the fan has no owner. The fan is omnipresent. The fan transcends. The fan will always be here, has always been here.

We belong to the fan; the fan never belonged to us.

I weep with joy when ITS blessed breeze touches my face. Those around me have broken into melodic lamentation in a language I don't recognize, but my heart does. It is the song of the fan.

6:46 PM:

We are all reduced to dripping, prostrate hunks of meat. In a wave of realization I remember an energy bar in my purse. If I eat it I'm afraid I will be banished from the car for withholding food this long.

I must assert my dominance somehow. Power hierarchies are forming and I must end up on top.

A male meat hunk chewing tearfully on a Fitbit glances at me with suspicion as I peer anxiously into my purse. Instinctively, I snarl at the male meat hunk.

It cowers, and I grin a wolf’s grin, satisfied. I look around for more challengers, when all refuse to meet my gaze I know that they are my underlings now. I eat my energy bar with relish.

6:51 PM:

The air is heavy and moist and my breathing labored. Images of those I have loved drift through my narrowing vision.

I wonder absently why I keep seeing the yellow power ranger.

7:00 PM:

Clothes have become mostly obsolete; chaos has descended. The madness has consumed us like a wave.

We laugh freely, I dance the cotton-eyed Joe to a banker’s rendition of the “Friends” theme song that he is inexplicably singing in Spanish. A man cries out in exultation "I WAS the one to eat Bethany's leftover Sweetgreen in the work fridge!” Another man tenderly fondles the shouting fellows earlobes . The woman previously fanning herself with the vaginal mesh pamphlet is fervently braiding her hair into corn rows.

7:03 PM:

Order is beginning to restore itself. The meat hunks around me are forming tribes. My tribe consists of a Congressional staffer with adult braces, a former big oil executive, a 14-year-old honor roll student named Brayden and an elderly Chinese woman, Li Ming, who has taught me, despite the language barrier, to sew.

Our old lives don't matter now. We are one.

Our leader wears a leather jacket despite the heat. We bow to her, the unbreakable one.

Perhaps I shall become her tribal queen if I earn her favor.

I sculpt a likeness of her face out of gum carefully scraped from the underside of seats and give it to her as a show of respect and desire. She takes me as her bride.

7:07 PM:

The time of bounty has ended and war is upon us. My tribe is the strongest. Li Ming and I fashion slingshots from lanyards and pantyhose. We craft shanks from government ID badges and bulky costume jewelry.

We have taken possession of over a quarter of the car, barricading ourselves in with briefcases and creating a perimeter of sharpened high heels.

We wear hats made of tax forms and loincloths made of the Washington Post.

7:12 PM:

Our world is shifting. Everyone is screaming and clinging to the pillars of our existence. Everything is barreling forward at an alarming rate. Is this the end?

I cling to my wife, our king, as she chants for the almighty fan to deliver us.

Suddenly, we burst into light, we are blinded by it and deafened by shrieks.

My mentor, Li Ming, who taught me to sew such ornamental and grand ceremonial robes, perishes from the shock.

The world stills again, and I dare to open my eyes.

I blink. I read "Vienna/Fairfax." This is the end of the line. This is my stop.

I get off the train in a daze.

Slowly, everything comes back.

I head to my car.

I drive home.

I fuel my body with chicken salad and HGTV. I pack my purse with non-perishable food and I sew small weapons into the lining of my pencil skirt; in preparation for tomorrow morning’s commute.

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