Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fear and Loathing on the Metro

Tonight I was riding back from class on the metro with a classmate, when we noticed a couple get on the metro, walk to the seat across the aisle from us, and then turn around and walk away, because there was a cell phone and a cardboard box sitting unattended on the seat. On the box was a picture of some sort of electronic device with a screen, and there was a strap or cord of some sort hanging out of it. It was basically exactly the kind of sketchy thing you are supposed to be concerned about on the metro. Now I been riding the metro for years, undaunted by terrorist threats, sketchy/crazy/obnoxious/belligerent passengers and crazy crashes, but as I looked around the car I had that I NEED TO GET OFF THIS TRAIN feeling.

The box and phone looked so sketchy and deliberately placed that I was reasonably certain it was not actually a threat (one would expect a bomb would not actually look so bomb-like), but nonetheless it was exactly the kind of thing you are supposed to report. As we hesitantly discussed what we should do, more people around the train noticed the objects and started looking awkwardly around at each other. No one wanted to speak up, but all of these seasoned metro commuters seemed to be silently asking, "Should we be freaked out?" "Should we do something?" My classmate and I ended up getting off the train and going to tell Metro employees, who made a phone call but did not seem overly concerned. Having done our good citizen deed for the day, we hopped on another train 2 minutes later.

When we got on the shuttle from the metro station to campus, I was squeezed in next to two girls from American University, one of whom said loudly to the other, "Did you know if you want an abortion it costs $400 and Planned Parenthood is the best place to go?" She proceeded to talk about how annoyed she was that she didn't get any homework done because her roommate is pregnant and was on the phone talking about it all afternoon. For most of the ride back to campus she talked about how annoying roommate was stupid and deserved an unexpected pregnancy. Of course I remember some of the conversations my friends and I had on public transportation in college, but this was just seemed so completely inappropriate (not to mention unabashedly judgmental and mean... and ok both annoying and a little entertaining).

How weird it is that we are willing to have loud private conversations in front of strangers, but not to initiate conversation in a situation when common sense and the transportation authority say we should? It is totally OK to come off as mean, but not to seem too concerned. Sort of like we're still in middle school.