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Morning Commute

Life in the DMV – that’s Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to you out-of-town folks – has improved dramatically this month. My day job has gone to 80% telework, meaning I only have to go into the office on average once a week. This pay period, I’m checking both boxes by teaching a 2-day class, so I’ve been enjoying a week and a half long telework binge, falling right after 2 weeks of vacation. Getting up at 6:15 to get on that train was almost novel enough to be fun.

The novelty wore off, however, by the time I reached Union Station, transferred to the Metro and stepped off into a cool 71° but a soggy 98% humidity. I moved to the right and rode the escalator up to the surface, willing the sweat to stop trickling down my back.

Halfway up, a burly young man in black pants and an unbuttoned white Oxford bustled by carrying a disheveled satchel and muttering something about “those of us who grew up in the country.” Guess only City Slickers ride the escalator.

Almost as quickly as my ego jumped to defend my apparent laziness, I realized that moral judgments about escalator riding were not foreign to my character. And though I’ve never voiced my thoughts, I’ve certainly been guilty of basking in smug superiority while striding up in the fast lane.

It’s easy to do, jumping to conclusions. Your mind and body are in a hurry to get to work, you’re uncomfortable and generally not thrilled about the process. The whole exercise is about taking shortcuts: avoiding traffic, deciding whether the MARC train or the Metro will be the best bet this morning, shaving angles as you walk obliquely across streets and around buildings. Stands to reason that one’s mind would fall into the same rut. That guy standing on the escalator? Must be lazy. Lacking in ambition. Or just pathetically out of shape, a consequence of said laziness and complacency.

Metro Riders, too, play their roles. The guys in paint-stained work pants and boots carrying hard hats. Women in business skirts and tennis shoes reading their Kindles. The summer interns, hoping they’ve dressed the part. The scented oil hucksters, bandoliers of multi colored bottles across each shoulder, smoothly peddling their wares through the car. The panhandlers’ various poses: ingratiating, pathetic, confrontational.

Alerted to this somewhat shameful process of categorization, I look at myself, as introverts are want to do. What do people see? The tailored pants and Brooks Brothers shirt, the more casual slip-on leather Skechers. The service academy ring. Slightly balding and slightly receding gray hair. The leather courier briefcase. Do I really look that put together? Where am I in all this?

Maybe in my sunken eyes they can see the four kids at home, clothed, fed, housed (if compactly), guided, cajoled and loved. Maybe my slight stoop betrays the tuition bills and the months of rent my tenant owes and the divorce debt. Maybe they can discern in my rigid stance the work before me this day – teaching for the first time in 6 years. Maybe my hurried gait implies impatience or anger or worry or drive or purpose or inertia.

Taking the time to observe, to see the possibilities that just graze the surface. Sometimes the morning commute is a writing exercise in itself.

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