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Snapshots of Life in the City

Delays Both Ways: Person on Track

(picture taken from Wikipedia)
An above-ground metro stop in Maryland.

As I sat on a bench in DC waiting for a subway train, I saw a message appear on the display indicating this subway line was delayed in both directions due to an unauthorized person on the track.
 
I felt a wave of sadness. This is never good.
 
Did someone attempt suicide? Was some pushed onto the track or did they fall? How sad it was to contemplate what happened – what would cause a person to land on the frankly disgusting track of the subway system?
 
Then a pleasant female voice filled the air saying, in part:
 
"We apologize for the delay. There is an unauthorized person on the track. We appreciate your patience."
 
The voice was pretty clearly a recording.  I guess this happens enough that a button can be pushed and a recording can be sent throughout the affected stations.
 
I later learned that this incident happened at Southern Avenue Station in Maryland. It is an above ground station so I hope that the person was able to get to safety. The underground stations are far more constricting in terms of a person's chances of navigating back up to the safe platform from the track.
 
It is still concerning.
 
Since a person caused a delay, clearly they must have been on the track for a while, however they got there. Who was that person? And if my fears are merited, what was the reason for being on the track? I can't think of a good one.

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The Melting Ice Rink

The ice rink on the national mall melting on a warm day in winter.

A few times this winter, the ice rink at the sculpture garden on the national mall was closed because it was just too warm outside. I bet it must happen near the end of the season each year, but I have never witnessed it. Yet, this year I saw the rink closed a few times, and sadly, in the heart of the winter months.
 
This particular day, birds were flying around and singing loudly and the sun was bright. The rink area was entirely blocked off – no one was allowed to even sit around the periphery – which is a favorite area for the humans to perch.
 
I took a picture (above) that shows some workers with shovels, hacking at the ice that was melting. Why didn't they just let the rink alone until the temps drop again? Why were they breaking up what little ice there was?
 
I don't know.
 
As I sat alone on a wooden bench nearby, people wandered into the park and some commented to each other about the rink closure.  Most seemed to be tourists.
 
"Oh look – an ice rink…oh no, it's closed. What a shame."
 
"No reason to stay and have lunch here – the good seating is blocked off."
 
"I hope it gets cold again so we can skate before we leave."
 
I was just one of very few people that day who chose to sit outside the rink area. And I wondered where this change in weather was headed.
 
Maybe now we just have a few days in winter where it's this warm but what happens in a decade, two decades, or more? Surely the number of hot, sunny days will just increase.
 
Will we use more energy to keep the ice rink cold enough? Do we abandon the idea entirely of converting the pond into a rink in the winter and just leave the pond of water as is, year round? 


Whether or not they stopped to notice (and comment) on the fact that the ice rink was closed, most people walked through the park quickly, only briefly pausing to admire the blossoming of dogwood trees and other signs of plant life emerging so very early in the year. Some took pictures.
 
This was just a snapshot of the new normal.

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Namaste

"Are you not thinking what I'm not thinking?"

 

I had a battery replaced in a watch and it worked well for about an hour after I left the store but then it stopped. It had been a long day and I didn't feel like walking all the way back to the jeweler to deal with this. Instead, I waited until the following week.
 
When I explained the situation, the guy quickly grabbed the watch and he spirited away to a separate little room, and then re-emerged in a few minutes.
 
"It doesn't appear to be the battery but I will try another one." With a few well-honed movements he replace that battery and we both looked.  Nothing.
 
"Do you want me to send out the watch to get fixed? There must be something else wrong with it."
 
"No, it's not that valuable." I wasn't sure if I should take the broken watch back or just ask him to toss it so I stood a moment.
 
"I can ring through a credit but you asked for a battery and I put one in." He stood unsmiling, unmoving, staring at me.
 
I was at a crossroads – clearly he was waiting for my response, probably waiting for a fight. And I am no shrinking violet.
 
However, just an hour before this showdown, I had listened to a meditation expert say something like: "Be kind to others. Remember we are all in this messy life together, so be kind, give others a break, someone else may be having a bad day." 
 
I decided to heed that lesson. "OK, you're right. You did the job I asked you to do." And I began to leave the store, stuffing the broken watch in my pocket.
 
"Wait!" he called out and I turned. He looked surprised, if not shaken. "Do you have another watch I could put a new battery in?"
 
"Not with me – just the one I am wearing now."
 
"How old is that watch's battery?"
 
"You know I have say several years at least."
 
"Let me replace that battery. Then you get a battery that you paid for."
 
So I removed the watch from my wrist and handed it over. In few movements, he popped out the old battery and replaced with the new, and handed the watch back.
 
"Thanks!" I said with a smile. He looked relieved.
 
Maybe it was just luck that it worked out that way but it was surely nice that I didn't start an argument or have any bad exchange with him. I walked home smiling and got on with my day. 

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Have You Seen The Book of Mormon?

Waiting for a train on the platform at Metro Center, I was approached by two young women who asked me where to catch the train to Foggy Bottom. I gestured and nodded. But instead of moving to that area, they stood looking at me.
 
"Do you live in DC?"
 
"Yes."
 
"We like this city so far. We are here on a mission from Utah."
 
"Are you Mormons, if I might ask?" I peered at them.
 
"Yes but we call it The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints."
 
"Oh – sorry.  Right." There was a pause.
 
Then I realized something. "You are talking to the wrong person – I am not interested in conversion."
 
"That's fine. We are just curious if you like living here."
 
"Very much." There was another pause. "In DC you can be what you want – all kinds of people are here with all kinds of views on life."
 
They nodded, staring at me. Then they asked how long I'd lived in the city and what I did for a living – all very polite.
 
"All I know about your religion I learned from that musical The Book of Mormon that was on Broadway. Is it basically accurate?"  I asked.
 
I knew I was likely pushing a limit.
 
"I have heard of it but I never saw it," one of them said and the other whispered agreement.  
 
"I recommend it. I never knew the Rochester story nor how the missionaries worked." They looked at each other as I continued on. "And oh, and have you seen Jesus Christ Superstar?"
 
"No but someone in the church recommended it to me," one of the young women said quickly.
 
"Really?" The other one said, looking at her colleague.  
 
"It was controversial in its day but it comes pretty close to the Christian story I'd say," I said. "Very clever - and it's still being produced on stage, going on 50 years now."
 
As I looked down the track to see if a train was coming, they sort of backed away to stand elsewhere on the platform but not before one of them gave me a card of a local temple. I smiled and waved to them as I left. They were whispering and did not wave back.
 
Usually I don't engage with people who approach me about religion but I guess I thought why not, I'd just say what I thought and see what would happen.
 
I would love to know what they were whispering about.

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First Day of Chemo

I entered the elevator at the Foggy Bottom metro stop (on the platform level) and three women rushed in behind me. We were in tight quarters and it felt like I was a part of their group because of this close proximity.
 
"Have you been smoking?" one woman asked another.
 
The other woman's response was to burst out crying.
 
I looked down, keeping my eyes on the floor.
 
"God forgive me - yes," the crying woman gasped. "I am on my way to my first day of chemo and I still can't quit cigarettes!"
 
I lifted my eyes surreptitiously to look at all of the women, but kept my head down. Her friend was frowning and shaking her head in disapproval.
 
The third woman simply said, "God bless you."
 
As we exited the elevator, I kept pace with the three women through the station in order to stand behind them on the escalator to the street. It was difficult to hear much of what they were saying but the smoker was crying and clearly she wasn't getting much support from the first friend. I felt so drawn into this drama and I knew it was weird of me to want to hear more yet there I was evesdropping a bit longer.
 
But at the top of the escalator, as the three women walked towards the hospital entrance together, I went on my way in a different direction.
 
The whole scene couldn't have lasted more than a few moments and yet I witnessed a very vulnerable and stressful moment in that crying stranger's life. I could fully empathize with the stern friend who was worried about her friend even though she probably went overboard a bit.
 
Clearly the smoker was already beating herself up for her own behavior. I'm guessing that was the worst punishment of all.
 

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The City Keeps Us Young

An Asian couple very short, skinny, and very old, walked so slowly inside the grocery that everyone glanced at them. They sort of shuffled along, seeming to nearly fall with each step. The woman was a bit heartier than the man and she patiently waited for him at various points along the way.
 
I don't think I have ever seen people walking quite that slowly - ever - and, for others to notice, it was a thing. In that grocery, shoppers stay in their own heads, not really seeing much else.
 
The couple wound up ahead of me in line to check out and I watched them go up to the checker, slowly put their items on the table to be scanned. Then they retrieved a few bags back from the checker, placing them slowly in their own small personal cart. They paid and slowly shuffled to the door, with the man pushing the cart but also leaning on it for support. 
 
I was next.
 
"Those people are amazing!" I said.
 
"God bless them. They have lived a long time and are still going," said the checker. "The woman argued with me about how expensive these rolls were and removed them from her order!" 

 

I looked at the rejected bag of rolls that were placed off to the side and smiled. "Good for her!"
 
Then the checker shook her head with a furrowed brow. "Where are their children? They should be helping them!"
 
"Maybe they don't have any children or maybe they died or something," I said.
 
The clerk dropped her head and stomped in place. "Oh I should not have judged! Of course they might be alone."
 
"That's ok. I understand. You meant well – you have concern for them!"
 
"I do. But I shouldn't have said that." She continued stomping, as if to punish herself.
 
"I bet this keeps them alive and healthy - having to get their groceries and walk around," I said.
 
"Maybe it's a kind of exercise plan for them!" She said and she stopped stomping, the furrow in her brow receding.
 
"That's right. This could be an important part of their day that they look forward to. They don't need children to help them!"

 

"Right!" She exclaimed. 
 
We smiled and said goodbye, relieved and satisfied that we had wished the couple well. In fact, we clearly were a bit in awe of them.

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A Quirky Sign for a Quirky Hotel

"Every 180 Years, One Needs a Little Refresh.'

I have seen a lot of building renovation signs in my day but this one really is unique. This historic building, opened in 1839, used to be a post office. It's now a quirky hotel.

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"I Was Invited to a Divorce Party!"

Returning from the suburbs, I got into an uber car hoping the driver would be reasonable because I anticipated a 20-30 minute trip back to the city.  It would have been ideal to have a quiet ride but that was not in the cards.
 
"I haven't lived in this country very long," he said. "But today was the limit. I was invited to a divorce party!"
 
"Oh?" I asked.
 
"In my country you don't go to divorce parties! Divorce is shameful - you hide this kind of news as much as possible!"
 
But he soon started laughing boisterously and I joined in.
 
"And I was fired from my first job here in America because I refused to sell condoms to a woman," he said. "In my country, women don't buy such things!"
 
"So what happened?"
 
"The woman called for the manager and he sold them to her. But I just couldn't do it. So I lost my job."
 
Again he started laughing almost uncontrollably. "This is one crazy country!"
 
"So are you thinking about going back home, leaving America?"
 
"No!  Of course not!" And he described how much fun it is to relay stories of life in America to his friends and family at home.
 
But as I exited his car at the end of the trip, he still wasn't sure if he would go to the divorce party. I suggested that if he did, it might make one great story to tell people back home.
 
He turned fully around in his seat to look at me while nodding vigorously, laughing uproariously, and then he waved and wished me a good evening.

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"He Looks Scarier Than He Is"

I walked to a nearby jewelry store with the simple goal of getting a watch battery replaced. The workers keep the door locked and there is a sign saying you should knock on the door.
 
There is no electronic means to let people in. You just wait until someone brings the key and lets you in. And then as you leave they have to unlock the door again to let you out and then lock it behind you when you are on the street.  
 
Lots of quaint steps in that security system.
 
As I waited inside the store for the battery to be changed, a short, extremely skinny man in rag-tag clothes appeared in the glass door outside. He was waving awkwardly but excitedly, and he seemed to be talking while smiling from ear to ear. Surprisingly, one of the store workers took the key and went outside to talk with him.
 
"Poor guy," I said when the worker came back inside. "Nice of you to go out to talk to him."
 
"He's harmless. He's been on our street for over 15 years now.  He looks scarier than he is."
 
"It's amazing that he has lived this long on the streets – it is such a tough life."
 
"Oh, he has people all along this street who have adopted him. We watch out for him. His name is 'Howard.'"
 
As I left the store, he unlocked the door for me, and pointed to the street. "See that car? The guy who owns it gives Howard a lot of resources so he's OK."  (The car looked expensive.) 
 
"I'm glad people have adopted him – it's really terrific. One day, I hope someone might adopt me if I need it," I said.
 
We smiled at each other and I walked out onto the street. I heard the lock click behind me but I didn't walk away. I stood a short while and looked up and down the street but Howard was nowhere to be seen.
 
I'll remember Howard's name and watch for him when I happen to be on that street in the future. I'd like to greet him properly and ask him how he's doing.
 

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White Pigeons Too?

As I noted in an earlier blog, some city residents are all about the white squirrels disappearing from Franklin Square. I showed a picture of a white squirrel on the national mall and said how they aren't entirely gone. 
 
Then just a few days later, first cup of coffee in hand, I pulled back the shade to my balcony and what to my wondering eyes appeared?
 
A white pigeon!
 
There it was – in all its glory - accompanied by a traditional silver pigeon, bobbing around on my balcony floor. They didn't fly away nor react to my sudden appearance.
 
I hurried to get my camera, snapped a picture, and then I stood watching them. After a while, they flew off together. 
 
Is the universe messing with me?

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