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Posted at 10:23 AM ET, 02/13/2011

Metro after Midnight: Take me home

By Brigid Schulte

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.

Shortly after midnight on a frigid Saturday night under a hazy moon, Asad Shaikh, 31, sits in his Alexandria Yellow Cab at the King Street Metro station. He, like the other cabbies behind him in line, started his shift late in the evening. On Saturdays, there are always good fares to be had as revelers come back from a night in the District, Clarendon or other hopping night spots. If the Metro closes at midnight, will that be better for business? “No, it will not be,” Shaikh said. “After midnight, I will just have to go out into the streets. And maybe not so many people will be out.”

Steps away, Aileen Molloy, 32, an environmental consultant and Mike Brown, also 32, a federal worker, had just come home from her office party in Clarendon. The two, who live in Alexandria, frequently go into the District for an evening out on weekends. “If anything, I wish the trains would come more frequently late at night,” she said. “Sometimes you have to wait so long for a train.”

“If they close the Metro,” Brown said, “I’m afraid that’s just going to encourage a lot more drunk driving.”
……

It’s 12:45, and Leanne Sedowski, 31, and William Girardo, 40, both of whom work for non-profits, are riding the brightly-lit, nearly deserted Yellow Line past National Airport to their home near U Street NW. They were invited to a friend’s house for dinner near the Van Dorn Metro and enjoyed a long, lazy evening playing pool and drinking wine, rather than watching the clock to make sure they could get home. The two don’t own a car, so they’d have to rent a Zipcar, stay the night with their friend, or start the night much earlier were Metro to shut weekend service at midnight. The cost of a taxi is out of the question. “Or we just wouldn’t go at all,” Sedowski said. “Closing down the Metro at midnight is not a good idea. People’s lives don’t end at midnight.”

“You got that right,” said Nicole Ifill,28, her SmartTrip pass dangling from a lanyard around her neck. She works at Rustico, an Italian restaurant and brewery in Alexandria. But she lives in Takoma Park. “It makes me so angry. What about the people like me who need to work? If Metro wasn’t an option, I’d have to quit and look for another job.” All her friends are angry, too, she said. “Everybody’s talking about it.”

A few riders sprinkled through the train, at least those not listening to iPods, plugged into mp3 players or reading a book, nod in silent assent.
…..


1:30 a.m. Sedowski and Giraro get off the Yellow Line at U Street. The station slowly fills with so many passengers waiting for Yellow or Green Line trains that it looks almost like a downtown station at rush hour. All manner of people, all ages and dress styles – from spike heels and miniskirts to tie-dyed T-shirts, Converse sneakers and shorts – crowd the platform. Twenty-somethings sit cross-legged on the floor, texting or playing games on their iPhones. Forty-somethings in pressed jeans talk earnestly about world events. Thirty-somethings re-run scenes from the night’s revels.

“So you’d give her a 10?” asks one.

“Which one?”

“The European one.”

“Oh, her. Yeah.”

A group of 25-year-olds who went to Notre Dame crowd onto a bench and wait for three of their friends who got separated when they didn’t jump on the train at Dupont Circle in time. They arrive on the next train, 14 minutes later.

They don’t know Metro officials are thinking of closing down the lines at midnight.

“What?” screamed Helen Adeosun, who lives in nearby LeDroit Park.

“Really?” blinked her friend, Danielle Thomson, who lives in Foggy Bottom, doesn’t own a car, and uses Metro to go everywhere, especially out on the weekends. She ticks off her hot spots: “Dupont, Union Station, Clarendon, Woodley Park, West Falls Church.” The others give her a quizzical look. “I have a friend who lives there,” she shrugs.

Adeosun said she’s unhappy about Metro, but if they touch bus service, that’s it. “That’s a civil rights issue,” she said.

As the group re-assembled to continue their party at Paddy Boom Boom’s, a shriek echoes through the cavernous station. “No! That’s the wrong train!”

James Naylor, 22, shouts at the top of his lungs from the top of the escalator to keep his friend, LeVon Greer, from heading the wrong way so late at night and run the risk of getting stranded when trains stop running at 3 a.m. The two, both 22, were out with another friend, John DiFato. And they started their evening out when they always do: around 11 p.m. “And I’m supposed to be done by midnight?" Naylor said. “Please. You can’t have the bars and restaurants open until 3 a.m. and not have Metro running. There’s a 3 a.m. lifestyle in this city.”

“I hate WMATA,” Naylor said. “I’m a business major and they don’t know how to operate.”

“I’m an economics major,” interrupted Greer. “It’s the margins.”

DiFato rolled his eyes. He works so late as a teacher in a nearby suburb that he continually worries about not making the train on time. Really? On a weeknight? “Parent-teacher conferences,” he said, smirking. “With these parents, are you kidding me?”
………
It’s 1:50 a.m. and Lauren Townsend can’t find her phone. “Where’s my phone?” she says, cursing and slurring her words slightly and pulling her waist-long red hair out of her eyes. She paws through her black Converse hoodie and jacket. They fall to the ground. A friend picks them up for her.

She walks backward, stumbling a little on her chunky black platform shoes, as her friend pulls her onto the train at the U Street station. She continues to paw through her things, looking for her phone, asks to borrow her friend’s, dials a number, then doesn’t put the phone to her ear.

A few stops later, at Gallery Place, the friend climbs over her and bolts out the door. As the doors begin to close, Townsend tries to follow, but the train jolts to a start and knocks her to the ground. She lands face first, on her chest and neck. Other passengers jump up to help right her.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” she says. “I don’t want to cause any harm.”

Townsend has fallen, quite literally, into my lap. I count to three and help lift her into the seat next to me. I ask where she is going. Silver Spring or Glenmont on the Red Line, she isn’t sure.

“Is this the Red Line?” she asks.

“No. It’s the Yellow Line. We’ll have to get off at the next stop, go back two, then transfer.”

She looks puzzled. And lost. And about to find herself at the end of the line in Virginia, about 20 miles from home by the time the Metro closes.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll take you.”

The train stops and I help her up. “Go with her,” another passenger says to Townsend. “She’ll take care of you.”

Not quite what I had in mind for reporting on the Metro after Midnight. But it is after midnight, I am on Metro, and Townsend needed help.

“You’re an angel,” she told me as I held the small of her back, just above the “Montgomery County” tattooed in black showing above her rhinestone-studded jeans waistband. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

I tell her about our Metro after Midnight project to document life on the rails in the wee hours, and she wants to share her story.

“Metro is a vital resource,” she says, drawing up to her full height. “People think it’s their magical genie that will take them where they want to go, when they want to go, and it’s not always like that. Metro closes at 3 a.m. I feel bad for the people who are stranded, because I’ve been one of those people.”

I prop her up against the concrete wall to keep her from weaving. Townsend, 22, is a nursing student at Montgomery College. She’s on the dean’s list. She does like to go out at night, she says, but she never gets this drunk. It’s just that those Long Island Iced Teas at the Velvet Lounge, where she and her roommates had gone to hear the band Sovereign Sound System, were tasting so good.

“I like Long Island Iced Teas, but they don’t like me,” she said. “They should not be allowed to go down that smoothly and that nice. They should not be allowed.”

Halfway through the night, she decided to leave her friends and go back to Montgomery County to hang with someone else. “I just didn’t want any more drama,” she said. He’s the one, the guy she calls “Boo,” that she’s been trying to call, if only she could find her phone.

At 2:15, now waiting for the Red Line train, I ask if she’s tried her purse

She paws through the oversized bag. “Oh. Thank. God.” She pulls out the Droid and begins texting like mad.

On the Red Line to Glenmont, Townsend said that while she owns a car, she’ll drive only to the Metro, never to the District. “The parking is so expensive,” she said. She usually meets her friends around 9 at the Metro station, like tonight, and arrives at whatever club, bar or party around the fashionable hour of 10. She and her friends know exactly which bars close at 2:30, which at 3 and which stay open until 4 a.m. That’s just the way the night unfolds in D.C. She can’t imagine what she’ll do, how she’ll adjust or what nightlife will look like if Metro follows through on its proposal.

At 2:53, we pull into Glenmont Station. I help her from her seat. She apologizes again that I’ve seen her when she’s not at her best. “I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life,” she says, “But then, I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t.”

I get her to the top of the stairs, where Boo awaits her, only to find out that all the trains have stopped running. There will be no way to ride back to Alexandria, where I live and where I’ve parked my car outside the King Street Metro. And I need to add money to my Metro card before I can get out of the station.

Over at the Exitfare machine, four burly men struggle to find small change to add to their fare cards. They’ve been to a Capitals hockey game and stayed downtown to eat and drink. And if the Metro closes at midnight? “We would still have gone to the game, but we wouldn’t have stayed,” said one in a Capital jersey who gave his name only as “The Moose.” “We wouldn’t have patronized all those local businesses and spent all that money down there.”

I ride the deserted escalator up to the street. This is the end of the Red Line. There are, thankfully, a handful of baby blue Barwood cabs waiting. I ask if one can take me to Alexandria. He nods. The trip up cost me $5.25 on the Metro. And $81 to get back home in the cab. My driver, Sintayehu Wondimu, takes my money and smiles. Metro closing early, he says, will be good for business.

By Brigid Schulte  | February 13, 2011; 10:23 AM ET
Categories:  Metro after Midnight  
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Next: Metro after Midnight: ‘If they cut service, I might jump’

Comments

$81.00? You could go to Baltimore.

Posted by: ornery11 | February 13, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

If you work evenings and weekends, you're a second-class citizen.

Posted by: ocassiuso | February 13, 2011 12:26 PM | Report abuse

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