I’d like to share a story that ends happily.
I live in Washington, D.C., about three blocks from the Air and Space Museum. I love my city and adore my neighborhood, but as you can imagine tourist season is often very trying. DC visitors tend to be unfamiliar with urban environments and transit, and therefore cause unnecessary delays on the Metro system by blocking escalators*, eating and drinking (which is illegal), or letting their children run amok on the trains. They come to an abrupt halt almost anywhere, throwing subway platforms into chaos, or whine audibly any time they have to walk further than two blocks. It’s frustrating, but I understand that our city is dependent on tourist revenue, and that one should always be hospitable. I try to be gracious and offer directions and other advice when asked.
Few things strike dread into the heart of Washington commuters like seeing a large tour group, especially one full of young people, on the Metro during rush hour. I feel for the organizer – it is almost impossible to herd 20 people onto an already overstuffed train, especially if they are young and/or not familiar with transit. But why they can’t schedule their travel for when the trains are less crowded is utterly beyond me. It’s easier for the tour group, fares are lower, and, hey, it’s much more pleasant for the locals. But I digress.
So imagine how I felt one summer evening when I boarded the Metro at 5:30, tired from a long and hectic day, only to be met by an impossibly large group of Boy Scouts. They were chattering and bouncing around the train like meth-infused popcorn. Most locals see train time as quiet time (my friends and I call it the Metro Cone of Silence), so everyone let out a communal sigh and dug in for a difficult ride.
But then, something wonderful happened. One of the chaperones, in a calm, cheerful voice, said, “Boys, the folks on this train have been working all day and they’re tired. Let’s simmer down and let them rest.” Amazingly, the boys immediately settled down, and a few passengers broke into spontaneous applause. It really made my day, and reminded me that most tourists don’t mean to be annoying, they just need a polite reminder to respect local customs. Therefore, I nominate that chaperone for E-Heaven.
*There is a custom on our Metro system to stand right, and walk left on escalators. Therefore, if you need to speed up to catch your train, you can, and if you prefer to stand and ride, you can. It’s a lovely system until a tourist family blocks the escalator, you politely ask them to stand aside in deference to local custom, and they give you a gum-smacking tirade about how city people are in too much of a hurry. Sir, not really, it’s that you are on vacation and I am not. Sigh. To be fair, most people cheerfully move aside when you say, “Excuse me, would you mind standing to the right? It’s a local custom, sort of like not travelling in the passing lane.” 0125-11