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Posted at 2:00 PM ET, 02/12/2011

Metro after Midnight: When you have to go

By Theresa Vargas

This weekend, Washington Post reporters fanned out through Metro's trains and platforms after midnight to capture the sights and sounds of the region's transit system in the wee hours--the time when the whole train system might shut down if Metro budget-cutters have their way. Watch for their reports Saturday and Sunday, and a full account in Monday's Post and here on washingtonpost.com, and add your own thoughts and experiences on our comment boards below.

Dayo Olufisoye hears what no Metro rider ever wants to hear: “I’m gonna pee.” The man a few seats away – a 24-year-old bartender who had served himself a few drinks as well – grabs an empty Gatorade bottle and sweeps his head from side to side to see if anyone is looking.

“Can you please go in the corner?” Olufisoye, 23, tells him.

So he walks to the other side of the train, where no one is sitting, and returns a few minutes later.

“Did he leave his bottle back there?” she says, craning her neck to see the no-longer-empty container on the floor.

This is New Carrollton, where at 1:15 a.m. on a Friday night the lives of a J.C. Penney’s sales clerk, a bartender who just got his second DUI (and lost his license) and a government worker collide within a few rows.

The government worker Sadrudein Abuwi, who wears shiny brown shoes and a pink collared shirt that peeks out from a gray scarf, fell asleep on the train and missed his stop.

“New Carrollton! Are you serious?” he says upon learning where he’s at. He left a happy hour gathering at Courthouse and meant to get off at L’Enfant Plaza to catch a Yellow Line train toward his home in Alexandria. “How did I get to New Carrollton?”


Abuwi and Olufisoye, the J.C. Penney’s clerk, sit across the aisle from each other. Neither likes Metro’s proposal to stop service on weekends after midnight, but Abuwi is more open to the possibility.

“If they could temporarily cut service to get back in the black, well,” he says, tilting his head to imply it might not be so bad. “Someone has to make a hard decision somewhere.”

“Cut weekend service!” Olufisoye says. She calls it a “dumb idea.” There have been times when she hasn’t gotten off work until after 1 a.m. and what about when she wants to go out?. “By the time you get to the club, you have no way to get back.”

Three rows behind them, the bartender, who doesn’t want to give his name but will take the train to Bethesda this night, shouts, “I need a [expletive] drink.”

“Did he really just piss back there?” Abuwi says, registering what happened 10 minutes earlier.

“I’m looking at the bottle,” Olufisoye says.

“Oh, it’s in a bottle,” he says. “It could be worse.”

Over the course of the night, from Virginia to Maryland and back again, the Orange Line will transport college students heading to and from festivities, couples on first dates, and late-night workers with tired eyes, just wanting to get home. None are happy to hear of Metro’s proposed shortened schedule.

The college students:

By about midnight, the usual scenes at Ballston Metro are over: the man selling flowers from plastic buckets, the stand displaying purses and scarves, the smooth trumpet sounds of street musician Freddie Dunn. Instead, a Styrofoam cup rolls unimpeded on a mostly-empty floor outside the ticket booths.

On the platform toward Vienna, a lone young man in a nice coat and dress shoes lies on a concrete bench, asleep. Across from him, on the platform for the New Carrollton-bound train, stand about 25 people, including three young women dressed for a night out.

“I think it’s unfair,” Candice Gaines says of Metro’s proposal to stop weekend service at midnight. She and her friends are Marymount University students heading to George Washington University for a party. “It’s already 11:45 now.”

“There’d be no point going out,” her friend Joi Russell says.

“All this money I pay to Metro, they need to keep it going until 5 a.m.,” says the third woman, DeLaura Mosby. As the lights from the train approach, she hurries her friends toward the doors. “We better catch it or we’ll be waiting another 30 minutes.”

The first date:

“Booooooo,” Emille Bryant, 40, says of Metro’s proposal. He and his date left Clarendon Ballroom after midnight and the line stretched outside the door. “D.C. doesn’t even wake up till midnight.”

Would it make more sense to decrease the frequency of trains instead? he wonders. What about shortening service during the week?

“I’m sure there is business to be made, but as a service, I’d prefer to have fewer drivers on the road who are drunk – as these gentleman behind us are proving.”

On the other side of the car, two young men shout and laugh. One drops a beer bottle, shattering it. More shouts. More laughs.

They are joined at the next stop, Foggy Bottom, by eight people who have also been drinking. Now, both groups are shouting. Both laughing. It’s deafening.

“It’s the party train,” Bryant jokes. “They’re obnoxious but harmless.”

When his date’s stop comes, he walks her to the door and gives her a hug. He has several more stops to go before he gets to L’Enfant Plaza, but not as many as the partygoers, who have dwindled to four: an aunt and her nieces and nephew. They are church-going people, one of the nieces says, but they “like to go out and have a good time.” They will ride to Minnesota Avenue, shouting and laughing the whole way.

The late-night worker:

In the middle of the family of revelers sits Aloh Che, 63, quietly reading a newspaper. His eyes look tired.

A patch on the arm of his jacket explains why he is out at 1 a.m.: Security. His job often ends at midnight, he says, and so during the week it’s already a struggle to catch the train in time to get home. He can’t imagine having to also worry about it on the weekends.

“Once you miss the bus, then you miss the train, then your only alternative is hiring a taxi or sleeping on the street,” he says.

Has he ever had to do that, sleep on the street and wait for the buses and trains to start up again?

“Yes, I’ve done that several times,” he says. “Three or four times.”

He is “praying,” he says, that Metro won’t go through with its proposal. A native of Cameroon, Che works in Bethesda and lives in New Carrollton, so even now, it can take him two hours to get home.

“They should increase services, not decrease services,” he says.

He has he worked two shifts this day and is eager to get home. By the time he gets off at New Carrollton, the buses will have stopped running, so he will pay a taxi driver $10 to take him the rest of the way.

The young professionals:

Spread across a bench at Farragut West are four friends taking one of the last trains to Fairfax for the night. Allan Watson, a 26-year-old George Mason University graduate student, knows all about Metro’s proposal. He tweeted this about it the night before: “You give me #metrocurfew and I will be on the first ticket out of here.”

“I moved here for the big city and if it closes, there is no point in being here,” says Watson, who is from Lexington, Ky., where he says trolleys run until 2 a.m. and a horse-drawn carriage can be caught, if needed, at 3 a.m. “I want the big city life. I’m not going to go to a city that shuts down before my horse-and-drawn-carriage hometown.”

He and the three young women on the bench all live in Northern Virginia.

“We all make enough money, why don’t they just charge more?” says Ali Cane, 22, an auditor. She holds a pink Coach clutch.

It’s after 2:30 a.m. when she and Watson catch a Vienna-bound train. On a seat nearby a man wearing headphones sings “Forever Young” loudly and off key.

“When you take the Metro this late, you realize how many drunk people need it,” Cane says. She had a friend killed in a drunk driving incident. “What’s more important, money or lives?”

Instead of shortening weekend services, she has another suggestion for saving money: clean the system less often.

Of course, she wasn’t on the train when a man turned a Gatorade container into a port-a-potty.

By Theresa Vargas  | February 12, 2011; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro after Midnight  
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Next: Metro after Midnight: Hard day's night

Comments

Boooring!

Posted by: trollboy69 | February 12, 2011 3:01 PM | Report abuse

I never bothered to take the Metro much when I lived in the DC area. If the trains are forced to stop at midnight, people will just have to make other arrangements, as expensive as that might be.

The BART system in San Francisco used to stop around midnight. So, if you were out late, you had to figure out some other way to get home.

When I lived in NYC, the subways ran 24/7. At 3AM, though, they weren't very crowded, with the exception of a few questionable characters. Come to think of t, I remember a few times when I was waiting for a train at 3AM, wondering if I would make it home alive.

That's another factor, right? Does the Metro have its own police force? Someone has to pay those guys.

Posted by: John991 | February 13, 2011 2:44 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: kimtyler133 | February 13, 2011 2:45 AM | Report abuse

Couldn't the guy with the Gatorade bottle take it with him and toss it in the trash? A few people make Metro so gross.

Posted by: MarkT3 | February 13, 2011 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Metro for pouring more drunks back behind the wheel where they kill innocent people.

Great idea.

Posted by: Please_Fix_VAs_Roads | February 13, 2011 2:42 PM | Report abuse

I wish they would run it all night. Taking the train downtown for a night out is too unreliable, always got to check the time. It would have been great also if they could have restrooms at the stations. Not being able to pee does not make for happy customers.

Posted by: DrWho2 | February 13, 2011 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I've been riding Metro for 32 years. I remember well when the hours were limited, and very late on Sunday morning. Can't Metro find some other place to cut rather than hours? A first class transit system is open late, if not all night

Posted by: Nemo24601 | February 13, 2011 7:00 PM | Report abuse

This story and the unreconstructed drunks who populate it do not by any means strengthen the argument for keeping Metro open late.

It would be much cheaper to pay the drunks cab fare every weekend for the next 20 years, than to run a massive operation like Metro to accommodate them. It almost seems like the government is enabling alcoholic behavior by running the trains, even though doing so may keep a few of them off the roads and protect the rest of us who drive.

Posted by: loulor | February 13, 2011 11:30 PM | Report abuse

Metro 24 hours all the time. Find a way to make it work.

Posted by: kls1 | February 14, 2011 12:29 AM | Report abuse

"learning where he’s at."
Is that AP style now?

Posted by: kls1 | February 14, 2011 12:37 AM | Report abuse

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