My primary and really only mode of transportation around DC is public transit. I ditched my compact car in Vegas for environmental, financial and not-so-bougie reasons. Unlike my car-driving bretheren, I’m totally cool with sharing the bus with homeless people. Avoiding humanity in all its forms is like trying to avoid breathing air. There are just some things you can’t control. And really, I think riding public transit makes me more compassionate towards others. It might also be a mild form of Stockholm Syndrome, but let’s try to keep things positive.
So on Wednesday night when “Thunder Snow” came down upon us, I was totally chill. In fact, it was an altogether positive experience. I had just been whining that nothing exciting ever happens in my life. Ask and ye shall receive, right?
Therefore, I’d like to thank the following people for their compassion, humanity and all around zen attitude toward a day that was a nightmare for millions of commuters in the DC area.
Like A Z6
The Z6 to Castle Blvd was rolling along nicely as sleet and snow came pouring down. We made it past Dale Dr, but when we got to a hill on Colesville at Franklin Ave, a stopped car turned our momentum into a backward slide. We could have made it. Our fearless bus driver complained later that the bus had a traction system that is supposed to help buses, but really only hinders it when going up icy hills. Tire chains? No chance. That option went away in the 80s because too many drivers were injured from putting them on. So we sat and waited for a tow truck.
About half the bus emptied and decided to hump it to their destinations. I stayed on. What the hell was I doing anyway that night? Watching reruns of Criminal Minds, that’s what. Little did I know that morning that the book, snacks and iPod I packed would tide me over for the following eight hours.
Yep, eight hours. Eight hours that could have been spent in horror, but really was only spent in mild irritation and constant amusement. People chatted, read their books, warmed their mits on the heater, and watched as cars with rear-wheel drive struggled to make it up the hill. We cheered them on, cringed at fishtails, and talked turkey about tires.
The Denizens of Colesville
Lights went out pretty early into the evening. So what were the cold inhabitants of these homes to do? Light a fire, read a book? No, they braved the cold in their wool coats to push stalled cars up the hill. One house near our bus even opened his door to let stranded commuters use his facilities.
I counted at least 20 neighbors running to the aid of compact cars and SUVs alike. Pushing, bouncing, guiding and encouraging bewildered drivers. Later on during the hump home, we ran into a few of them who had made it up to Univesity Blvd to guide cars through that tricky little turn.
Slipping and sliding up the road, these men and women really showed their stuff when the 929 MTA bus to Columbia slid to a halt next to us. How were they going to get up? It took them half an hour, but they were able to create enough traction using fallen tree branches and digging at the ice beneath the wheels to get that bus going. If I were to make an artistic rendering of this feat, it would be a gold plated mural of a hundred men and women pulling the anvil of an ark up a steep hill. What’s the message? That I’m really loose with my artistic interpretations and maybe a little wide-eyed about human compassion. But also that these people were kinda like heroes.
A Merry Band of Travelers Are We
When a Metro supervisor gave us the update at 10:30 pm that the tow truck couldn’t take us to our destination, four of us decided to make the walk to White Oak. Our driver let others stay on in the warmth, but it was our fate to start trekking.
There’s a lot to be said about shared experiences. I don’t say enough about it because I live in a world where people experience similar things on an individual level, hundreds of miles apart. But there’s nothing like walking two miles uphill through 10 inches of snow to bring people together. Sure, there were a few anxious be-suited individuals in Oxfords who slipped and slid in their attempt to overpass us. For the most part, we were all in the same boat and we were going to help each other out.
At one point, I fell behind but one of our Merry Band came back to make sure that I hadn’t gotten lost. Yes, my heart melted.
The Other Z6
Somewhere between University Blvd and Trader Joe’s we heard the harkening of a bus. It was another Z6! He had maneuvered his way around the hill by taking a long detour and coming back around. We ran to him like children to an ice cream truck. This driver kept going after the 9:30 pm call for buses to head back to their stations. Rules be damned! Also – snow emergency routes be damned! He dropped us off on our regular route, which meant I only had to brave my apartment’s parking lot to get home.
The take away message of the night is that a system is built on people. And if enough people make the individual choice to turn a potentially nasty situation into a positive experience, you will probably get home safe and sound. Maybe not dry and warm, but safe.