Yesterday, before my 88-minute Metro ride turned in to both a near-brawl at Dupont and an almost-riot at Metro Center, I witnessed something so surprising, I had to share it. I’ve worked in customer service and retail, in soul-crushing jobs which require interacting with the general public, so I’m well aware of how people are far more likely to complain about a problem than to compliment great work; because of this, I try and do the latter as often as possible. I remember how wonderful it felt to hear kind words. I can’t be the only one who appreciates being appreciated.
Once we left Tenleytown, I found a seat near the doors and sat down with a great sense of relief. I had three bags with me and the two times I attempted to hail a cab, all I had accomplished was getting pelted, first with hail, then with snow. It was 4:30, and while I knew that the storm was worsening and trains would be crowded, I hoped the ride wouldn’t be too crazy. Two minutes after making that naive wish, a boisterous, incorrigible group of boys rushed inside the train.
They were loud, brash and within moments, they had sucked all the air out of the car. I noticed adults of all hues and classes eying them warily as they barreled past, taking the first free seats they found. The moment they sat down, they unpacked several bags from McDonald’s and proceeded to vacuum fries and McNuggets in that powerful, awe-inspiring way that only teen-aged boys are capable of. As the train lurched, so did their food and dipping sauces. That was bad enough, but the eye roll-inducing conversation they were shouting was worse. It was so loud, it even eclipsed the voices of the two inconsiderate pigs who were shouting “What? I can’t hear you! I’m on a train!” in to their cell phones.
One boy turned to another, mid-nugget: “Right now, I’m livin’ better than you, your Mama, your neighbor…even your cousin, too. Right now, I’m basically livin’ better than anyone, ‘cept me. HAHAHA!”
“Man, shut up. You ain’t ****.”
“I’m better than you!”, he boasted back.
Just when the rest of us were about to lose hope and commence texting and tweeting about “kids these days”, an imposing man came striding up the aisle. He wore a Metro uniform and spoke with righteous authority. Everyone was stunned. I was thrilled. Was Metro finally doing something about its terrible customer experience?
“Is there something about ‘No food on the train’ that you DON’T understand?”, he bellowed.
The grown-ups commenced cheering, silently. The boys crumpled everything they were eating and tried to hide the evidence between their denim-clad thighs.
“And YOU!”, the man hollered at the child closest to him. “YOU live on my block, don’t you? How are you gonna act like this? I know where you live!”
My father used to tell me that when he was a boy growing up in India in the ’40s, he didn’t dare misbehave, because if he did, by the time he arrived home from school, his Mother, Father or one of his EIGHT older brothers would be waiting, switch in hand, to administer a thorough beating. “Everyone knew everyone; there was no keeping secrets. My parents would learn within a very short time that I had done something naughty.” He’d then lament that this was one of the problems with “today’s youth”.
“There’s no fear of parents, no sense that there will be consequences. It’s easy to hide and lie.”
I thought of this long-forgotten story, as the Man from Metro glared at the suddenly meek children, who were probably either middle school or very young high school students. One of them weakly tried to change the subject:
“Um…um…hey. I mean, excuse me. I have a question.”
“What?”, the Man from Metro spat.
“Um…is it true they gon’ have ten-car trains? I heard that somewhere.”
“No. They are not going to have ten-car trains. Now sit there and behave yourselves, y’heard?”
Each boy stared at his lap. I was amazed. This. This was exactly what Metro needed: more of a presence on their various subway lines. But it was more than that– it was heartening to see an adult look out for one of his neighbor’s children, and step in to discipline them when needed. I had been raised that way. When an unrelated “Aunt” or “Uncle” corrected me, my parents were grateful for the assist. I looked up at the Man and after a few moments, he noticed.
“Thank you.” I mouthed.
He smiled. “You’re welcome.” he silently replied.
I wanted to find his badge number, so I could let Metro know there was at least one officer who was doing a fantastic job, but at the next stop, snow-crazed passengers kept trying to force themselves on the train, jamming every door. Their elbows and bags protruded towards the platform and the familiar, frustrating sound of the doors rolling towards closing, then back, filled the car. The conductor repeatedly requested that people stand clear of the doors. After warning everyone that she would off-load the train, the Man from Metro strode through the crowd to see if he could help enforce order on the platform. As he went by, I realized with a twinge of disappointment that he was not part of Metro security. He was a Metrobus driver, probably on his way home like the rest of us. I want to be clear; the reason I was disappointed is because I would love to see people like him riding the trains all day, especially during the afternoons, if it meant restoring order and preventing chaos.
I wish that display of discipline was a regular occurrence and not a random situation. In any case, once he left, the train took a dramatic turn for the worse, which only served to emphasize how much of an impact he had made in a few minutes. Whoever you are, Man from Metro– thank you. You are appreciated. I hope you got home safely.