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Posted at 12:16 PM ET, 02/13/2011

Metro after Midnight: ‘If they cut service, I might jump’

By J. Freedom du Lac


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 washingtonpost.com, and add your own thoughts and experiences on our comment boards below.

It’s 1:15 a.m. on Sunday, and George Dizelos is at the Dupont Circle station, waiting with two friends for the Red Line to Bethesda. It’s late, but it’s early.

“I’ve missed that last train before,” he says of the 3 a.m. bar-hoppers’ express. “Like, you go to Big Slice or whatever to get some pizza, and then you have to take a cab home.”

“But some cabs won’t take you to Maryland,” says Lucas Georgiou.

“And it costs $20,” Dizelos says.

That’s four Yuenglings at the Big Hunt, the bar where they’ve spent part of the night.

“We also hit the Front Page,” Georgiou says

“It smelled like a sweat sock in there,” Dizelos says.

The Dupont Circle station has a peculiar, after-hours odor itself. It’s part distillery, part dirty ashtray and part Victoria’s Secret body lotion, with a box of Krispy Kremes and an overflowing barf bucket mixed in. Especially that.

Somebody has just thrown up in -- and on, and around -- a trash can on the platform.

“It looks like he had some oatmeal,” Georgiou says. He laughs. He’s seen this show plenty of times before at work, at the 9:30 Club, where he’s on the security staff.

Georgiou, Dizelos and their friend, Jake Feight, are on their way to a 24-hour diner near Dizelos’ place.

“We’re meeting some girls at Tastee,” Georgiou says.

“Hopefully just girls,” Dizelos says.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” Feight says.

“We’ll see,” Georgiou says. “But that’s why we’re leaving early.”

A crowded train pulls into the crowded station, where the platform looks not unlike it does during the evening commute -- only younger, more untucked and a lot more inebriated.

“If Metro stops running trains earlier, we wouldn’t go out as frequently,” Georgiou says.

“If they cut the service, I might jump on the third rail,” Dizelos says.

("Are we gonna die?" and more after the jump.)

The Traveler

At the Greenbelt station, on the far end of the Green Line, Beverly Kramer is alone in the first car of the first after-hours train of the night. She’s wearing a backpack, even while sitting down, because it’s a quick, single-stop trip from here to College Park, where her boyfriend is waiting to pick her up.

“I come to this area a lot -- probably once a month -- on the last bus that leaves New York on Saturdays,” says Kramer, a student at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan, where, she notes, the subways run around the clock and people get punchy when they have to wait (gasp!) 10 minutes for a train in the middle of the night. “I usually don’t get here until 11:30 or 12.”

Kramer couldn’t come earlier in the weekend because, she explains, “I’m a religious Jew, so I don’t travel until after sundown Friday until after sundown Saturday. Cutting late-night service would certainly make things more inconvenient for me.”

A freight train roars down the tracks adjacent to the station. Four additional passengers have stumbled onto the car, including a man who is yelling status updates into his phone. “THERE’S NO WAY I WOULDA BEEN ABLE TO WALK,” he shouts.

It’s a quarter to midnight, and Kramer wonders what the kids at Maryland, her alma mater, would do without late-night Metro service. “Midnight on a Saturday is a busy time for college students,” she says. “The night is just beginning.”

At 11:51, the train finally pulls out of Greenbelt. Four minutes later, Kramer steps onto the platform at College Park. The man who’d been yelling into his phone in Greenbelt is now fast asleep.

Soon, the train is filling up. There are young girls going home from a show at the 9:30 Club. There’s a Howard student clutching a biography of black activist Assata Shakur on his way to a party across town. And then, just after midnight, at Gallery Place/Chinatown, there’s a guy pushing a baby stroller onto the train as it takes off in the direction of Southeast Washington.

In the station, transit police officers interrogate a young man who is accessorizing with handcuffs. A girl stumbles down the escalator and nearly crashes into the cops, who barely look her way. It’s all slurred speech, droopy eyelids and wobbly walking down here.

A young woman throws up. A friend rubs her back. Everybody else moves away.

“Oh my god, I’m so so sorry,” she says as she plucks esophageal shrapnel from her hair.

“Oh my god, I feel disgusting.

“Oh my God, I swear I’ll never be this drunk again.”

The Emptiness

According to Metro officials, there are on average 13,400 riders every night during the Friday and Saturday service from midnight until the system shuts down. Not one of them appears to be on the Red Line train I’ve boarded at Shady Grove. It’s 2 a.m. and there’s nobody in this car, or the car in front of me, or the one behind me -- just Hosni Mubarak staring into the great beyond from the tattered copy of Friday’s Express that somebody dumped on the floor.

There’s also one half-eaten rib; an empty, single-serve bottle of Tabasco; a crumpled Coke can; some popcorn crumbs; and three copies of something called “Happiness Digest,” whose inside pages promise that “these books will bring you closer to God.” There’s also a single, DayGlo-pink feather -- somebody’s party prop, presumably -- that floated down the aisle earlier when the train held at Twinbrook with the doors open and a raw wind blew through the car.

'Are We Gonna Die?'

“Are we possibly not going home now?” Andrew Bank says.

“Hey,” Kyle Speight says, “the next train leaves in … never!”

The board above the platform -- the one that’s supposed to say when the next train to Glenmont is coming -- is blank.

“Are we gonna die?” Bank says. Everybody laughs.

It’s 2:40, and Bank and Speight and three friends are trying to get to Metro Center, to transfer to the night’s last Blue and Orange trains, which would take them home to Virginia. That is their immediate concern.

Or it is until a friend of a friend shows up and stars blathering about sexual organs. She wonders whether she’ll still be wasted by the time she gets home: “We only have, like, a thousand hours to sober up on the train,” she says.

She introduces a guy who has been trying to get her number since she walked into the station, then tells him: “No, not happening. I’m not interested.” (She’s also not interested in sharing her identity with The Post; something about protecting her job, and not alarming her father.) Then, the conversation turns to Four Loko and “Skins” and “Jersey Shore” and, more importantly, the girl in the short skirt who’s come thundering the wrong way down the escalator.

“Waiting for the last Metro train on Saturday night -- this is as good as it gets,” Mike O’Connor says.

O’Connor is a contractor for the Department of Defense. His friends also work for or with various government agencies. They’re like human mullets: Business up front, party in the back. Weekend revelry is important.

“If Metro closes at midnight, it would be [expletive] horrible,” Speight says.

“We would be taking cabs home every weekend, and it would cost $40,” O’Connor says. “Or we’d go home at midnight.”

“No, we wouldn’t,” Bank says.

“What time did we get out here tonight? 11?” O’Connor says.

“People are going out later and later,” Bank says.

“All I want to say is: 'Sup, ladies?!” O’Connor says.

The train arrives just before 3. Nobody is going to die.

By J. Freedom du Lac  | February 13, 2011; 12:16 PM ET
Categories:  Metro after Midnight  
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Next: Metro after Midnight: Stories, pictures, tweets

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