Pond Water People

(please note that this story contains a misspelled profanity of the F variety.)

My commute is mostly a ride on the metro with one transfer between trains. In the mornings it’s red line to yellow line, and in the evenings it’s the reverse (duh). The morning transfer involves a trip down to the lower platform, via the escalator. Due to the timing of the trains, you usually have a wait, but sometimes, if you’re fast enough, you can get off of the red train and get down to the yellow before the doors close.

This is assuming you don't have a crowd of people moving like pond water in front of you. Even then, moving quickly is not a guarantee you'll make the train. You might reach the platform in time, but you're too slow to bridge the distance between the bottom step and the open doors. Missing a train by seconds leaves you just enough time for you to hit the brakes before you smack into the closed doors. At that point, it's not even about catching the train, it's about salvaging your pride, which is harder if the people inside of the train witnessed the whole thing.

If you're close enough to the front car, sometimes you can look over and see the train operator with his or her head poked out of the window. If it’s a merciful person, he or she might open the doors, or wait for everyone running down the steps before shutting them. If it’s a sadist, the operator will make eye contact and smirk at you for a second, and then, just as you think the doors will open, the train operator retracts his or her head back into the train and leaves you to watch what could’ve been your ride as it disappears down the dark tunnel.

One of the things I gained from going to West Point was the ability to walk quickly. “Move with a purpose” was the running motto for most of the first year you spent in the place. It gets so ingrained that after awhile, you no longer know how to move at a relaxed pace. Living on the sixth floor transferred this skill to being able to descend a stairwell in eight tenths of a second. All of these skills are helpful if you have to hurry up to catch a train. And if there are pond water people in front of you, the art of moving with a purpose quickly turns into a curse.

This morning, guess what—I had the pond water people in front of me. From the down escalator, I had a perfect view of the yellow train with its open doors and empty seats. Sure, everyone was walking down the escalator steps, but this was a Friday crowd on the eve of a summertime weekend. No one was moving with a purpose, except me. I wanted to say something. “Move it or lose it” was trapped in my throat as I watched the doors close and found myself only midway down the escalator.

As the train pulled off, I exhaled. I was not going to be like that woman, I told myself.

What woman?

The one who was in a similar predicament on one of my more recent commutes. You see, that day I was the pond water person. Usually I will hurry down the steps, but the people ahead of me were slow. Besides, the train waiting at the platform was not a yellow line train, but a green line train, so I was content to move with the slow flow that morning.

Even with my back to her, I could feel the anger bursting to the surface. You know how it goes, the impatient breathing, the sensation that someone’s toes are grazing your heels—but what could I do? The escalator was packed and the people ahead weren’t going any faster. This was rush hour traffic without the cars.

Then, just as I approached the bottom of the steps, the warning chime sounded and the train doors closed.


Look, I know that feeling. I’ve said it many times in my head and out loud. But never in a crowded train station when the next train was due to arrive in two minutes. I even felt like that today, but you didn't hear a peep out of me. Not even a sanitized “Fudge” could be justified. I calmly accepted my fate, stepped onto the platform and waited for the next train.

And what did I do after the woman's outburst?

I ducked my head down after she said it, partly because I was hiding a disbelieving smile and partly because I figured the blows would be coming next. With a smirk, I took my place on the platform and watched her train disappear down the dark tunnel.

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