The big thrill for me was in the late 70s when the Orange Line went down to Ballston, which meant I could hope the 24 bus from Westmoreland St. to Ballston, and go to DC on my own. I cringe at the thought now, because I'd never let MY son ride alone right now at age 14, but there I was, barely 10, and visiting Kung Fu theaters on the weekend (off of Foggy Bottom or Federal Triangle, I think, I forget which stop I used). How a skinny white kid like me didn't get his ass beat down in Adams Morgan or Annacostia, I'll never know. I guess I never thought of myself as white, just a kid. I stopped when I was 13 or so after someone I knew got mugged real bad near Deanwood. Why my parents let me ride alone is another mystery. My father encouraged me riding the Metro alone, stating he rode the trains alone as a kid to go to school in Chicago or something, and my mother thought the Metro was really safe based on the constant comments she made about how clean the cars were. And truthfully? The worst that has even happened to me was some guy attacked me at the Westpark stop near Tysons Galleria because he thought I slept with his girlfriend (I had no idea who he was, I assume it was mistaken identity or he was high on something). So despite the crazy people I do see from time to time (and who seem to want to sit next to me), Metro is pretty safe.
Since I have been riding it since the day it opened, I feel like I have "grown up" with it. I have seen the growing pains, places where design withered and aged badly, and some things that still work as well as the first day they were implemented. But I haven't been on the Metro much in the last ten years or so, and when I was, it was for a few one-time trips to an MSD game or something. And I have noticed a few things that have changed and stayed the same.
- Stayed the same - It amazes me how little graffiti the cars still have. I mean, compared to New York, for instance. I see graffiti all over the outside of the Metro area, in the bus booths, on the bus stop signs, but rarely, if ever, in the train cars or stations themselves.
- Changed - Car colors. Most of the colors I see are still the same, Harvest Gold and Burnt Umber seats (the colors of the 70s), but a few new cars have red and blue.
- Changed - LED signs that show you which train is next, and when it will be here. These are nice. Before I had to detect subtle changes in air pressure and wind direction to tell when a train was coming, and now I can just look at the sign.
- Changed - It used to be that you'd never see homeless people on the Metro, of if they were, you never really knew because they stayed quiet. So far, I have seen several who have done the song and dance of, "Attention! [rattle rattle] My name is Bill. I am a World War Veteran, have 600 children at home, and the people on Capitol Hill wouldn't even give me a slice of their government cheese..." Some just have cardboard signs on carts, and a few just quietly saddle next to you and ask for change. "Hey, man... you gatta quata?" Now, I really don't have anything against the homeless, they have every right to be on the trains like any other paying customer, and I am not sure why they used to be invisible and now they are pretty common on the Metro (court case? more homeless in general?), but it is rather depressing because you're not sure who are homeless by choice or by circumstance.
- Changed - Automated recordings. "Doors closing... please stand clear of the doors..." I wish they had them for stops, like at DFW Airport, because you still can't hear a damn word any conductor is saying. "Orange line gone murp awarrw in nest stop meffers sar..." That's a universal problem around the world, I fear.
Also, I have determined that a gang circuit operates between Silver Spring and Rhode Island Avenue. It seems that most of the people in gang-related clothing, tattoos, and attitude use these two stops almost exclusively on this side of the Red Line. I have seen several deals take place around the Silver Spring Metro stop on Wayne Avenue where money and something else changed hands in a calm and rehearsed rapid motion. What that something is, I am not sure, but I have a pretty good guess it's not candy bars for choir.