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Posted at 7:51 AM ET, 02/13/2011

Metro after Midnight: Hard day's night

By Annys Shin

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 today, and a full account in Monday's Post and here on, and add your own thoughts and experiences on our comment boards below.

After midnight, the Metro is the domain of the young and inebriated.

Their chatter forms a kind of chirpy white noise, occasionally interrupted by the distinctive slapping sound of vomit hitting the platform tile. This, however, makes it easy to pick out the night commuters, who stand out the way a hungover club kid might in the middle of morning rush hour.

At Metro Center, there is an IT guy with a knit cap and a corporate-looking ID badge poking out beneath his jacket. He's just pulled a 16-hour day in Rockville and wants to be at home already in Upper Marlboro.

At the farthest end of the platform at Gallery Place, waiting for one of the last trains to Shady Grove, is a 50-something lawyer who's used to spending Friday nights at his desk. And sitting on a frigid platform in Silver Spring just before 3 a.m. is an Alexandria man who just finished closing the restaurant where he waits tables, knowing he has to be back there in a few hours to open it up again.

The Breakdancer

Adam Dula, 17, of New Carrollton, is passing through Metro Center on his way home from Bethesda, where he has weekly rehearsals with DLG, his breakdance crew.

At first, he is hesitant to say what DLG stands for. A minute later, he fesses up: Delicious Lawn Gnomes.

"We came up with it by saying the first thing in our minds," he explains sheepishly.

A few of the other guys have been breakdancing for a couple of years. Dula only got into it last summer. They practice for a few hours every Friday night until about 11 p.m. Sometimes, they'll stick around and talk and stuff, Dula says. A lot of them wouldn't make it home if Metro closed at midnight. Their parents -- in Dula's case, his grandmother -- often have to work or are too busy to provide a regular ride home.

Practice has paid off for the Gnomes. Not long ago, they placed first in the Prince George's Best Dance Crew competition. "So I guess that means we're the best crew in P.G. County," Dula says, as if the notion had only just occurred to him.

"We could practice in the Metro," he says, referring to a couple of occasions when the Gnomes tried to perform inside stations, tossing a hat on the ground for tips. "But [Metro officials] didn't like that too much."

The Sock Salesman

Women love socks.

This is one of the many lessons Emmanuel Eesoula, 17, of Capitol Heights, Md., has learned in recent months after embarking on a side career as a sock salesman. The Central High School senior explains this as he stands on the Blue and Orange platform in Metro Center waiting for an Orange Line train to Deanwood. He is headed home from a long day at a shopping mall in Forestville, where he was hawking socks to raise money for college. He usually takes one of the V buses, but tonight he missed the last bus. A bus driver told him to take the train instead.

Valentines Day has been good for sock sales, he says. He sold nearly 200 pair today. His bestsellers were pink. "Or they got 'Love' on them," he says. "Or stripes."

"Girls love roses. It's romantic," he says. "Socks? They gonna go crazy."

The Waiter

Derrick Odom, 20, occupies one of a few semi-enclosed benches that line the Silver Spring station platform. He's waiting for the last train into town. At the moment, the transparent glass walls are blocking the freezing gusts of wind about as well as they block light. But he doesn't bother to button his jacket, and from underneath, you can make out a green T-shirt, a black apron with an order pad tucked in one pocket, and a plastic name tag from Austin Grill with the initials D.J.

Odom is headed to Gallery Place, where he needs to catch a Yellow Line train to Huntington. He lives about a five-minute walk from the Braddock Road stop. He isn't sure if he will make his connection. He's missed it before. The last time, it cost him a $44 cab ride.

Because he is in culinary school during the day, he works nights. Sometimes, he gets off by 11 p.m. Other times, like tonight, he stays until the restaurant closes around 2 a.m. He has to be back at Austin Grill by 9 a.m. to help open up. He can guess what will happen if Metro ended weekend service at midnight. He would miss the train. He already does a few times a month, on weekdays, when service ends at 12.

"Specially Wednesday nights," he says, shaking his head.

Once he misses the train, he doesn't bother to try to get home to his mother's in Alexandria. His alternative is to take the 70 bus down Georgia Avenue NW, to Florida Avenue, where he catches another bus or a cab, and bunks at a friend's or relative's house. Until a few months ago, Odom lived on Clay Terrace in Northeast. He still knows people all over the city.

Those ties saved him one night in early January, when he missed the last train to Alexandria. He took the bus down Georgia to Florida, and as soon as he got off, a stranger walked up to him. As he rides the Red Line train to Gallery Place, Odom tells the rest:

"He said, 'I need some money. Can you help me out?' So I gave him two bucks. He said, 'Naw, this is not going to work.' Then he starts to grab his chest like he has something. I gave him more dollars and he asked me where I was from."

Odom said Clay Terrace.

"He asked, 'Do you know this person?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And he said, 'We was locked up together.' He said, 'I could have robbed you or killed you. And I know your folks,'" as if the guy couldn't believe the coincidence himself.

"After that, he stayed with me at the bus stop." Odom goes on. "He said, 'So no one else robs you. I'm going to walk you to the emergency room [at Howard University Hospital], where you can catch a cab.' And he walked me to the emergency room and waited with me until I got a cab.'"

Before they parted, Odom says, the guy gave him his street name: Crunchy Black. Just saying it makes Odom smile.

Odom finishes his story as his train pulls into Gallery Place. As soon as he steps onto the platform, he hears the sound of another train pulling in just below. He picks up his pace, stops to look down over the railing at the Green and Yellow platform below to see whether the train might be his. It might be, so he takes off toward the escalator, shouting apologies. Once he reaches to top of the escalator, he sees it's a Green Line train and slows down, obviously disappointed. Then he sees the station display, turns around beaming, and raises one arm in the air.

"Huntington, three minutes," he says. "Woohoo!"

By Annys Shin  | February 13, 2011; 7:51 AM ET
Categories:  Metro after Midnight  
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Next: Metro after Midnight: Closing time


If Metro does cut its post-midnight service, I won't feel sorry for the affluent white kids who can afford taxis after a night of hard drinking. If they choose to drink and drive because they would rather spend money on alcohol than a taxi, then I hope they get picked up on a DUI and have to live with the consequences (which, hopefully, will be harsh). But I feel bad for the night shift workers who really can't afford taxis and whose dependence on late night/early morning subway service is for their jobs, not their play. They're the ones who truly are getting screwed.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | February 13, 2011 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I live in P.G. County and during the week my bus stops running at 11pm. Which means taking advantage of a midweek concert or show often ends up costing me $20 from the train station. So anything that starts late is completely out of the question because it's nearly 3x's as much from the city all the way home... if you can even get a cab to take you.

Therefore, I try to take advantage of as many late night activities as I can on weekends when I can be a little more flexible. I too want to enjoy all the live shows and cultural experiences that our afforded to people who live in our area. Having the metro end at 12 a.m. every night will cause me to feel even more disenfranchised because I don't have a car. People sell their cars when they move to this are because "metro goes every where." This is something DC uses to bolster both tourism and relocation to the area.

Ending train service at 12 a.m. during the week is already absurd enough and barely puts DC on par with other major cities metro but ending 12 a.m. completely knocks us under all other major U.S. cities with metro train systems! Even the train is L.A. (not a place even know for their metro) runs past midnight every night!

Yet another problem is many District cabs will not take passengers from DC to MD or VA because they loose the opportunity to get a return fare on their trip back into the city.

I also this it is rude and irresponsible of WashingtonDame to wish DUI's on people when the most harsh consequence of the drunk driving is DEATH, many times for people who have no even been drinking and are trying to make it home themselves.

So while I'm not a fan of the drunk people on metro at 2 a.m. it is better than them getting behind the wheel putting lives at risk.

At any rate our sub-par metro service is just one reason I'm strongly considering make the permanent move to NYC or Chicago or even L.A.

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Posted by: retacline | February 14, 2011 6:20 AM | Report abuse

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