Taking the metro has not only enhanced my experiences in public settings; it has made me prone to actively observe the world around me at all times. There are various aspects that have influenced me to be such a curious person. The primary is the metro. Like an academy, it is rigorous and shut off from the outside world—it teaches you its methods. First of the intensive school’s techniques is the close quarters. You have barely enough room between your neighbor to comfortably flip the page of your novel and god forbid you have to cough. You might as well try to hold it in to avoid awkward glances from your neighbor looking squeamish and deathly terrified of your germs. This car is one of the few situations in your life you are sitting too close for comfort. You are forced not to move, but where is there to go? When I am waiting in a dark tunnel and the train stops to let another train pass, I sometimes get the feeling of vulnerability. A moment of panic at the speed of light and my stomach drops ten stories. My head spins as I start to feel claustrophobic. The train hasn’t moved in practically two minutes and my attention returns to the small car packed of people. We are one together like an overstuffed jewelry box, all tangled up, and the walls creep in. But then train starts to move and it’s okay. My heart is at ease. The people who had looked up to share concerned looks have gone back to their palms while they eagerly await their stop. Noticing bits and pieces of people they think go unnoticed calms me down and is endlessly entertaining. I have quiet thoughts of details I would not see otherwise, like the subtle stick and poke tattoo that peeks out of the stomach of the 20 something’s tan skin, or that the suit cuffs of the man holding the railing have different initials than his EPA badge.
Another aspect to my observation skills is the boredom from the inability to do much of anything on the metro. Often, time is a transition period of simply nothing. Riding the metro as a regular can become inherently boring as almost anything does in life when it becomes solely a mundane routine. One must be careful not to let this happen; keep the boredom out of the trenches of mindless behavior and give it justice. There is plenty of research about the importance of boredom. As lucrative as it sounds, it does wonder for your health and thinking abilities. I find it is perfect time to observe and gain creativity. Don’t resist the boredom; use it to your advantage and think, using the people next to you.
Also interesting is the limited amount of service in the metro car. It seems to flicker and only be sure at the stations. Time and time again I see people try to talk on the phone, sometimes it’s clearly an urgent matter, and their phone conversation is murdered. They seem shocked and frustrated and set down their phone angrily. Usually after this they take a look around in slight annoyance of the passing time, not being able to accomplish anything. I chuckle to myself when this happens; I think it’s comical. Or maybe I simply like to watch people.
Sometimes when I am in a public setting I start to laugh internally. I mean, I really want to burst out laughing. It’s because the idea of our social standards and rules and made up shenanigans are quite trivial and mind-boggling. I often have this feeling when I am on a metro train. This is because of the social code I am watching being displayed, like a predictable plot of a movie. There is an invisible contract that the entirety of the metro users has sworn to when they walk into the platform. That is to keep to themselves. Now what does this really mean? Of course there are exceptions to everything and there are the occasional oddballs on a ride. But the vast majority has agreed to keep focused inward, not to talk to their neighbor.
What would happen if this social formality were eliminated? Would random things occur like sing-a-longs on the long ride to the end of the line? Would someone offer up a discussion of the book you’re reading? Though these things seem harmless, they aren’t. They are variables. Variables are unpredictable. And the unpredictable is scary. It’s easier to have rules so we feel safe and in control. Having our imaginary law hanging in the air gives us a sense of reassurance, however false it might be.
It is a sunny day and the harsh beams of sun are creating a geometric triangle pattern on the seat cushion next to the window. There is a Pepto-Bismol container with only half a sip left sitting still next to the faded muddy magenta colored seat. The bottle is lit up and glistening and the colors are glorious. It is the simple fact that the universe had let these matters line up at once making me giddy.
There is also a possibility to get completely lost when riding the metro—sometimes I feel like a wilderness explorer. Being lost is very underrated, as it gives opportunity. I often forget what a new place feels like since I’m around the same scenes everyday. We need refreshers and to discover the new. When people complain about how boring their city is or the lack of opportunity, I waggle my fingers at them. They are simply not looking hard enough. It takes initiative.
Little things I find endlessly fascinating because I imagine them as details for a narrative, preferably a dramatic one. I am very concerned with the aesthetics of the metro, and my friends say I am out of my mind when I mention them. Let me set the scene. It is a sunny day and the harsh beams of sun are creating a geometric triangle pattern on the seat cushion next to the window. There is a Pepto-Bismol container with only half a sip left sitting still next to the faded muddy magenta colored seat. The bottle is lit up and glistening and the colors are glorious. It is the simple fact that the universe had let these matters line up at once making me giddy.
Oh how I have a deep love of the colors of the metro. They never cease to amaze me as they seem different each encounter with a new mood and new me. There are dingy seats most prominently defined by the further dingy lighting making the yellow seat an off-putting mushy corn color. It kind of makes me vomit in the bottom of my throat, but hey—it’s still the same old metro. It’s something you learn to love, however strange you can’t explain why.
A downpour can fulfill a truly perfect metro ride while you are riding outside. The lights and glows of the unknown are seamlessly running together in a unique painting of the world you thought you knew. It distorts the buildings as they rush by, barely recognizable There are loud thuds pounding against the glass, they never falter in the berating rhythm. Press your cheek against the chilled side and the glass disappears; see the rain sway into you.
The last occurrence that gives me joy are the patterns and shapes humans make in the metro stations caused by rushes. There are mad exoduses off of trains and thus appears a crowd and the people condense around each other. They are compact, like something being shipped across oceans. I try to distinguish patterns of colors in their clothing while I stand on the higher platform looking below. My favorite place to watch the patterns is at big stops like Dupont where there are streams of people and the escalators keep on going for what seems like eternity. Also incredible are the intense shadows you can see at certain times of the day. At the Arlington Cemetery stop, the escalator opens up so big that the light pours in and the people are broadcasted on the wall next to them in overarching shapes. Never have I seen such distinct and striking amplified versions of a self. I feel naked and betrayed as I come down the escalator and my shape is formed for the people below to see. It is the first thing they glimpse as they start their journey up. I am put onto the wall in a large expanse and the tops of heads are peaking out the bottom of the escalator. We connect, even if for a second.
Riding the metro gives potential; there is a possibility when entering the platform. It is your station, it is your domain, it is your kingdom. You are in control of your destiny, like a choose-your-own-adventure book. The only thing to rain on your parade is construction delays, but even those cannot stop you (me). There is such an expanse laid out before my feet. I am a kid, maybe a young adult, but one who still thinks of herself as small and naive. I cannot drive; this is my transportation to the small universe of my hometown. It is accessible to anyone who has 4 dollars to spare. The metro is a gift of hope for people to create dreams—to go somewhere. My good old friend, the metro, is laying out the tools to build something amazing; it’s there to take.
Alden Myers is a gal hailing from the District of Colombia, where she loves to see shows and explore art galleries. She is obsessed with sipping lattes in cute coffeehouses and documenting her life. She mostly takes too many photos (annoying her friends to pose) and occasionally writes about what she is curious about.
Image by Marta Herrera