Monday, April 23, 2012

My Baby Takes the Morning Train

Well, I did take the morning train last Monday, but I don't think anyone was singing that for me unless it was Becky and I don't think she knows it and if she did she probably wouldn't want to sing it. I kinda like the song and I was singing it (to myself) as the VRE pulled out of the Manassas Station at 7:56 AM last Monday, to be precise.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I was on the train because I had a brief appointment in upper Northwest Washington, D. C. in the 4900 block of Massachusetts Avenue near Westmoreland Circle at 11:00 AM. (Got all that? There will be a quiz later!) I had never ridden the VRE into Union Station. I didn't want to drive to my destination because of traffic and because I was told there was little parking in the area. So the train it was.

I don't live far from the station, so I showed up about a half an hour early and worked the crossword with a few other commuters waiting around. About five minutes before train time, people seemed to come out of nowhere and lined up to board the train which pulled slowly into the station, right on time. The doors opened and I joined the silent crush of people boarding. They were clearly experienced at this routine commute: it was, of course, new to me. I wrote a poem about the journey in that morning and posted it on Facebook as part of my attempt to write a poem every day during the month of April, National Poetry Month. Here's my entry for Tuesday, April 17, the day after my trip:

                               On the Morning Train

This is my first time riding the train into the city
I am all eyes.
(No ears necessary this morning--
I am sitting in the quiet car

The regular commuters do not speak
And keep their heads down
Exhibiting elevator behavior
Not making eye contact
To maintain anonymity.
No one says "Bless you"
When someone sneezes.
For them, this is routine.

But I am, as I said, all eyes
Peering out the window
At lush sunstreaked woodlands
The backsides of restaurants
Isolated elegant houses
Cars backed up behind crossing guard arms
Their red warning lights bright in the sunshine
Impossibly green highs school football fields
The back side of strip shopping centers

And I am singing (to myself) all the train songs I know:

"The City of New Orleans"
"Morning Train"
" If I Got my Ticket, Can I Ride?"
"Chattanooga Choo-Choo"
"The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe"
"Freight Train"
"This Train" and
"My Baby Takes the Morning Train."

We slide out of the suburbs
Across the sparkling Potomac
The Jefferson Memorial white in the near distance
Washington Monument in the far
Monuments and colossal buildings
But also at the back of a row house
A lady hanging out laundry.

So into a tunnel and to the platforms of
Union Station

"Good morning, America, how are you?
Don't you know me? I'm your native son!"

But I ain't no train

I am a wide-eyed

First time rider

On the VRE.

So I got to Union Station about 9 and then hoofed it over to the Metro, which was a pretty good hoof as it turned out since I got onto the platform about 9:15. I caught a northbound in just a couple of minutes headed toward my destination, Tenleytown, up near AU where I went to college, graduating in 1970 (no adjustment to your blog is necessary. The date is correct--it is 1-9-7-0). The Metro train got into the station about 9:30, which left me plenty of time to make the ten-minute walk promised by Google maps to my destination. Or so I thought.

For one thing, it took ten minutes of riding upward escalators to reach street level. I had forgotten how deep some of the Red Line Stations are and man, are they deep. I wouldn't have wanted to have walked up to the surface. So, by the time I reached the street and looked around to figure out where I was supposed to go next, it was about 9:45. I had a GPS with me but it wasn't showing which way I should go so I relied on my sun sense of direction and started south toward Massachusetts Avenue and then hooked a right onto van Ness Street toward my destination. Unfortunately I was going the wrong way for about ten minutes before I figured out that the little dot on the GPS was headed east. I wanted to go west.

I reversed course about 10 AM, figuring I would be early. The Google Map directions showed it to be about a mile away or ten minutes. I didn't notice that I had it set on "automobile" so the ten minutes was by car. Walking would take 25 minutes. Still it was downhill, it was a nice day and the neighborhood was filled with nice (and expensive) houses. While I didn't recognize anything in the neighborhood from my time at AU, I expected some changes in 42 years. Everything looked different. The Tenleytown Metro was not opened until early 1978.

I got to my appointment by 10:30, half an hour early and was done by 11:00. I had plenty of time to walk back to the Metro, have some lunch and catch the VRE at 1:15 for the hour ride back to Manassas. I walked back up Alton Street which was uphill (duh). It was also unseasonably hot (about 80 degrees) which warmed me up on my trek, but the scenery was nice and I was in no hurry. I wrote another poem about seeing a milk box at a nice house on the street. Here it is:

            Deja Vu

On Alton Street
In Spring Valley
Upper Northwest,
Washington D.C.
I saw an old-style
Dairy delivery box,
Outside one of the houses,
The same kind of milk box we had
When we lived in Maryland
In 1950.

The house on Alton Street
Was beautifully maintained
With a well-tended plot
Of pansies, alstroemeria, aranthera and jonquils,
Between house and sidewalk.

I bet a house like that would go for
A million dollars

Our little government surplus temporary house
In Maryland
Had porous walls that
I could stick thumbtacks in
and put up pictures of my heroes
Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy
And hard-packed dirt between
House and street
(no sidewalk).

The little house in College Park
Might have cost $2000
And was torn down shortly after
We moved out in 1953.


Both houses had
The same kind of
Milk box.

I had a nice lunch at a Panera in Tenleytown using a gift card I had, caught the Metro back to Union Station, poked around the shops at Union Station for while, including the Barnes and Noble to see if they carried a book a friend had written. They didn't and I told them they should. One clerk said she would have to read it based on my recommendation and enthusiasm about the book. I had some coffee and a croissant as a kind of dessert and made my way to the gate about 12:45 to wait to board the train at 1:15.

It came up right on time and I got on board, took a nap in the nearly empty car and was back in town by 2:20. It had taken me over six hours to go to and come back from a 20 minute appointment, but I enjoyed every minute of it (well, maybe not getting turned around for a few minutes). I have not traveled by myself since I went to visit my brother in Atlanta for a few days in November. Before that I would have been in college eons ago when I made a solitary trip. With a wife and then a family, most journeys are group ventures, which is as it should be. But traveling solo is fine, for a change. I probably won't do it again soon, but if the opportunity comes up, I'm ready. I also want to use the train to go with Becky to the new museums on the Mall we haven't seen and to make a test run with my dad down to Union Station and back as a precursor to our planned trip across the U.S. by train this summer. Now that's going to be one train ride!

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