_Going into the Metro takes total commitment, putting your head down, bulling passed the people distributing flyers, ads for tattoo shops, electronic stores, restaurants, furniture outlets, plumbing. These distributors cause dangerous rip currents in the traffic, the flow engorging them, pushing us all tighter together as we begin our descent of the stairs, these days capped in a grease-like combination of mud and snow. By this time, there is no turning back, those behind you will not stop, the wave will only snap and crash atop you, snow boots slipping into an all out avalanche.
At the bottom of the stairs, the floor turns to puddles, and the crowd seems to idle, reducing speed to rubberneck at the underground shops, tiny hole-in-the-wall places with window-display merchandise: sweaters, kitchen tack, eyeglasses, week-old pirogues, yarn, locks and keys. The traffic jams as people constantly jerk left or right, mesmerized by an electric kettle, a new pair of boots. Pensioners dawdle with Buick-like integrity, conserving energy for better gas mileage, as young slicksters weave around them, burrowing out passing lanes. Yesterday, I saw a man reach from behind to shove my wife aside, simply to walk the same speed in front of her.
Then, you find the doors, and they are the next obstacle, the wind pushing and/or pulling them in either or both directions, the person in front of you letting the heavy glass panels swing hard, whether you are ready or not. And, there always seems to be a second row of doors so that, clearing the first, another Tyson-like right hook is headed straight for your nose. Reaching the turnstiles, you emit a tiny prayer to the god of bar code readers that your Metro card will work, open the gate, allow passage, and prevent another incident of floundering about as the grandma from the corridor catches up and looks poised to beat you with her handbag if you don’t get out of the way.
After that comes a strange interlude, bottlenecking onto the escalator (no manual steps available), where almost all passengers merge right, coming to a complete standstill as the motorized staircase eases them into the howls and screeches of the platform proper. The sense of urgency disappears, as if this mechanically-produced motion is maximum speed, no need to clamber or climb until you reach the final fifteen feet. There, the surge builds up again, a collective holding of breaths as the escalator spits riders free like errant pinballs. God forbid an outgoing train arrives in those last fifteen.
Generally, the platforms boast a station-specific style of décor, mosaic tile-work or brass columns, something distinctive to ignore as the swell gathers round waiting for the next departure. The trains careen in every three minutes or so, doors clanging open as new passengers create two walls between which the arrivals depart, something like a high school football team running through lines of cheerleaders. Here, though, the cheerleaders crowd in on the last few exiters, begin throwing basketball elbows, boxing out for position, then seemingly pivoting in unison once aboard, creating a red-rover-type wall you’ve not seen since the elementary playground.
The wagon’s doors slam without discretion, unrepentant about trapped bags or scarf ends. The big locomotive heaves, flinging any unprepared passengers off-balance and into the arms of strangers, changing gears, then driving the two of you closer together with another lunge. The rails through the tunnels scream conversations into submission, drown out max-volume MP3 players, and create the same choppy jar of a speedboat skittering across a lake. The brakes grind, squeezing it all to a crushing halt so that the whole passenger exchange happens in reverse, nine times out of ten providing a good shoulder wallop from a boarder terrified of getting clamped in the doors.
It’s a mad dash to the escalators again, sometimes resulting in a massive mob of zombies inching their way towards freedom, but very few seem willing to use the left side of the escalator, the climber’s side, where undoubtedly, halfway up, you’ll be blocked by a couple engaged in a full-on make-out session during the transit lull. You will stand like the rest, too reserved to interrupt the foreplay, so you spurt out of the top with the others, racing through the turnstiles again, trying to time it so that the gate doesn’t close on you, beyond the two rows of swinging doors, up the snow-capped staircase, where the grand old workday begins.