When I was planning on moving up to DC, one of my fraternity brothers who had lived in DC before asked me what I was most excited about.
The metro. Definitely the metro.
And I mean, he tried to warn me. He told me that it would be fun at first, but that it would get old. As a recent graduate, I built it up to just be the jaded attitude of adulthood. The metro was awesome. The metro is how the cool kids go places. And you know… maybe it is. But the thing about the metro is that you have to know what you’re doing; it’s kind of like walking into a gay club or a drug deal. You don’t go to “ya boy’s boy Demetrius” and go and ask him what kind of illicit materials he has available this week. That’s pretty much how the metro works. You don’t go to mingle and conversate, and you don’t dare mosey. You get on the metro to get shit done.
But very similar to my first drug deal and gay club experience, the metro took some getting used to, and it didn’t come without it’s fair share of errors. As a young resident of what some (okay, very few) have come to call “The District,”all I wanted to do was talk to people, which seems like a natural thing to do considering that back in Tennessee I have fifteen minute conversation with gas station attendants. But I quickly learned that no one wanted to talk back to me. Occasionally there would be a man with an airbrushed Obama shirt or a disheveled homeless man up for some incomprehensible rapport, but on the up and up, the metro just wasn’t the place where you had conversation.
I made a series of errors on the metro in my first week that could have gotten me arrested and/or killed. Occasionally, when I would get bored, I would take pictures of myself with sleeping people to see if I could get away with it. Once when the doors were closing, I stuck my leg inside thinking that it worked like an elevator, but all that happened was that my leg was closed inside the door, like an unforgiving guillotine. Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that there is nothing fun about the metro. It’s not a game, and it’s not a social site. Most of all, it’s not for children or people without direction.
It wasn’t long until I became “one of them.” I had a bonified metro pass with reloadable features, and I judged people who used paper passes. Once I descended into
hell the escalator, I make eye contact with no one. People do not watch out for each other once they are underground; you are simply on your own.
Today seemed like any other day–I talked to my mom on the way to work, scanned my metro pass to get in and board, and just like every other mid-week venture, the metro was absolutely packed. I wore my colorful sweater and corduroy pants, you know, because it seemed like that kind of day, but with it, I wore my blue Chuck Taylors. I always try to wear something against the norm because DC is a boring place when it comes to fashion. People wear the same black slacks and loafers every day, so it’s important to find some kind of way to stand out. The person standing fartherst from me couldn’t have been more than a foot away, but the rule still applies: no looking and no conversation. The man standing directly in front of me was looking down at my shoes; it wasn’t surprising to me–like I said, people don’t really wear things like that to work.
But after the first stop, I could feel someone staring at me. You know the feeling… that pressing awkwardness when someone’s eyes are quite obviously fixed upon you, and when I looked up the same man was staring at me. He was probably around my age, Hispanic, and a decent looking guy. I nodded at him and gave him a brief smile, then quickly turned away. But the longer I stood there, the more pressing the feeling became. He is still staring at you. You can feel it. So, I glanced back in his direction, and indeed, he was still staring. Feeling a little more energized this morning than usual, I decided to play his game.
We held each other’s gaze for about fifteen seconds, and then he lifted his hand off the bar he was holding and gently put it over mine. For a second I was stunned… I mean, you don’t look at people on the metro, and you definitely don’t talk to people on the metro, so I can only assume that you are under no circumstance supposed to purposefully touch anyone on the metro. I glanced up at his hand, and glanced back at him, and he was still staring at me… smiling. The woman next to us looked at me, then at him, and gave us this knowing smile as if to say, I support your decision to be homosexual together. Congratulations. I did something akin to a smile/mouth stretching exercise and slowly pulled my hand down by my side. Yes, I risked the possibility of eating it on the metro, but it seemed kind of worth it to avoid this awkward situation with [this stranger/creeper/my new boyfriend].
The man immediately apologized, and I said, I mean, it’s cool. I’m not bothered. Thank you. It’s not a big… okay. And then I just kind of turned perpendicular to him and tried to evaluate what had just happened. Yes, a good sixty-five percent of me was really weirded out by the whole ordeal, but there was this other thirty-five percent that was oddly appreciative. People in DC, and a good number of people in my life, do not show emotion, let alone physical affection. I don’t know if the guy was interested or potentially blessing my hand with some odd Hispanic ritual, but something compelled him to do it.
Because DC is DC, I’ll probably never see my mysterious hand-holder ever again, but if you ever read this, I will never forget the thirty second visual exchange we shared, and the five seconds that woman thought we were a couple. And for a number of reasons, I hope that you’re the only random man who ever caresses my hand on the metro. Let’s be honest–it just wouldn’t be the same with anyone else.