I left the Library a bit later today. For the last week or so, I’ve been sleeping in, and getting to work about 30 minutes to an hour later than usual, which I means I leave later, too. This wouldn’t be worth mentioning, except that today, my lateness (presumably) allowed me to board one of DC Metro’s shiny new trains.
Very rarely, have I even seen these trains. When one arrived on the orange line, I braced myself: what would await me inside? The exterior is more homogenous than its predecessor: a deep, consistent metallic silver. The interior walls are pale and brightly lit. The varying shades of orange coloring the old cars’ seats are replaced with blue ones. The seats themselves are flatter, but definitely look more comfy. (My car was standing room only, so I didn’t get to test them.)
Two things, however, caught my eye. In the car were displaying each stop on the orange line. On each stop, the screen listed the number of stops it would take to get to each one. On the bottom, updates scrolled like a CNN newsfeed. It also provided information about what was located at the next stop, including carpooling, buses, biking, and parking. Another screen, lining the upper wall, also showed what stops were next, only it was bigger.
I couldn’t help but marvel at the dumb simplicity of it. Someone with no metro experience could get on this train, read one of those screens and know how many stops it would take to get to any station on her line and where she could transfer to any other line, without ever looking at a map. The screens tell you exactly what you need to know, except where you are in the city.
It reminds me of Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head. Not only are those screens yet another distraction (which I’m sure will be used for ads in the future), but they don’t promote the sense of place one acquires through carefully studying a metro map and actually riding the metro. They’re useful… mind-numbingly so.
Who among us, in our ignorance as subway novices, hasn’t had to pause and consider where the fuck he was going?
Who hasn’t had to jump off their car at the last minute only to realize they exited at the wrong stop?
You need those moments of uncertainty and panic – to learn, to live, to make life interesting, dammit. Those moments keep you engaged in the act of traveling and build your confidence. Having had many of them, I feel surer in my judgments when boarding the metro, even in a less familiar are of DC.
I worry these screens will prevent future riders from making the mistakes that will enable them to master the metro. Or maybe I’m just hearkening back to the good old days of two months ago. Only time will tell.