For a seasoned vet, riding the metro is a science. You know what train you're going to catch. You know how much money you have on your Metro pass. You even know exactly where to stand on the platform so that when you arrive at your stop you're perfectly situated to step out of the train and onto the escalator nearest to your exit. Heck, it gets to be so routine you can practically sleep right through it. Which is exactly what I managed to do last Friday. I fell asleep on the train and didn't wake up until we'd gone past my stop. Not only was it too late for me to get off the train, but I woke up with a crick in my neck, drool on my chin, and a look from the guy sitting next to me that told me that either I was snoring or I'd just ripped one. Like I said, I'm an old pro when it comes to Metro.
That wasn't even the most adventurous part of my travels that day. For starters, I was met at every turn by highschool students from the DECA Conference for the South-Mid-and-North Atlantic regions. What is DECA you ask? As I was informed, DECA is an association of marketing students. Apparently the acronym DECA no longer actually stands for anything, and there didn't seem to be anyone attending the conference who knew what it originally meant. Now, I've never taken any classes on marketing or anything, but wouldn't it make good sense to use a name that actually has a connection to the organization? And who was the marketing genius that came up with the South-Mid-and-North Atlantic Regional Conference? Why not just call it the Atlantic Regional Conference? Maybe there's something going on here that I don't understand. Maybe DECA is an elitist orginziation that's only meant for students who are really good at marketing. Maybe it's so selective that the people planning the events have to obfuscate the meaning of the organization as a litmus test for membership; you can only join if you can decipher exactly what it is they're talking about.
Anyways, these idiot marketing geniuses are having their little conference in the Crystal City Marriott, just a block or two from my apartment building. They came in Thursday night, and ever since the metro has been infested with these highschool pests. The regular Metro rider knows that there are several rules and customs to riding the system. Breaking these rules is not something you do lightly, especially in the morning, when your typical commuter is still waking up, and generally in a foul mood. You really don't want to experience the business end of "rail rage" (like road rage, only with fewer cars and more shoving-onto-the-tracks).
The following are people who run the risk of the commuter's ire: people who stand on the "walk" side of the escalator; people who speak very loudly; people who block the doors on the train; people who try getting on the train before others get off; people who stop at the bottom of the escalator; people who play their music loud enough so that others can hear it; people who eat and drink on the train; people who are generally oblivious to others on the train. I could go on.
The point here is this: stupid highschool kids attending a conference are quite possibly the worst thing that could happen to a Metro vet. Not only do they break each of the aforemetioned rules, en masse, they are also constantly finding new and creative ways to aggravate your average commuter. Why must they select a new cellphone ringer at 8 a.m.? At full volume? Why must they keep trying on each other's shoes? Why must they walk the wrong direction on the escalator? Why must they dare each other to lick the handrail? Why must they link arms and make a human chain the length of the platform? Why must they stand three feet away from me and play with the flash on their cameras?
After I was finally able to get to the bottom of the escalator, push my way through the crowd that had stopped right at the bottom, avoid the drink being spilled on the ground, shield my eyes from the flashing cameras to see that my train had arrived, duck under the human chain, squeeze through the group blocking the door, and find a dry spot on the handrail, that was when my train ride got really interesting. After a stop or two a seat opened up, and like an experienced commuter I moved to the middle of the train to take it, making room for the hordes of people coming in at the next stop.
Unfortunately, when I sat down I unwittingly filled a seat that no one wants to fill: the seat next to the crazy guy.
Now, I don't mean "friendly old coot who started up a weird conversation" crazy. And I don't mean "what's that funky smell?" crazy. And I don't even mean "dude with 3-inch-fingernails sharpened to a point and wearing raven black lipstick, reading from a worn-out-copy of The Yellow Pages" crazy (I've actually experienced all three). No, I mean full-fledged "unshaven man dressed all in white sweats and shouting about government conspiracy and explosives, and also what's that funky smell?" crazy.
He wasn't talking when I sat down, but he quickly started whispering furiously, "they lied they lied to the American public they lied to the American people when they denied that the buses were running on radon gas, and not natural gas, no, it's not natural gas it's radon gas radon gas the buses are running on radon gas."
His voice slowly got louder and louder, "radon gas is highly explosive [author's note: it's not] and they lied to the American people the government lied when they said it was natural gas it's not it's highly explosive radon gas the American people were lied to by their own government."
About two stops later he was in a full yell, and the whole car could easily hear him, "The government was lying, it's radon gas in the buses, they won't even let you smoke because they know they could explode because it's radon gas not natural gas natural gas is inert but radon is explosive but they put it in the buses and then they lied to the American public."
He kept furiously repeating himself, his stream of consciousness clearly locked on replay. By this time we'd reached the Pentagon stop, and when the conductor's voice announced our arrival the crazy man stopped for just a second before he burst into his own rendition of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" substituting words like "Pentagon" and "military" for the original "classroom" and "teachers". It was awkward, though he didn't have a bad voice. Once we got moving towards the next stop he again paused for a brief second before resuming - at a full shout - his previous tirade.
I was completely unsure of what to do in the situation. We were on a very full train, and so if I got up and moved away from the man I would be breaking all sorts of Metro taboos. And besides, then someone else would probably feel obligated to take the spot next to Loony McBatshit, and that's something I wouldn't even wish on a DECA student. So I decided to bite the bullet and stay in my spot, despite the insanity, volume, and stench of the man sitting next to me.
I was completely relieved when we arrived at my stop a short while later. As I got off the train I began to ponder if there was anything I could have done in that situation to help quiet the man down, and thereby relieve some of the discomfort felt by all of us commuters. I didn't want to make him angry, and there was no way to predict how he would have responded to any direct intervention, but it occurred to me that perhaps the best way to silence a crazy person is to make them feel as uncomfortable as you feel when they're shouting their lunacies. See, crazy people are obviously comfortable shouting bizarre conspiracy theories in public. That's what makes them nuts; they lack that sense of inhibition that makes them feel uncomfortable in those situations. So the best way to get them to be quiet is to re-instill that inhibition. You have to make them feel as uncomfortable as you feel.
And the best way to do that is to out-crazy the crazy. If he's yelling about government conspiracy you've gotta one-up him. You've gotta start shouting about how deceased world leaders are plotting to get back at the film stars who defamed them in various Hollywood productions. When they're spouting lines about extra terrestrials you've gotta come in with talk about the occult. And if they're claiming to be or know God, well, then it's time to bring out the big guns. You've gotta come up with the most insane thing ever: shouting, at the top of your lungs, the most mundane, boring, every-day material you can come up with.
When the guy sitting next to you blares "I was talking with Jesus the other day man, and he said that you've gotta use crayons if you want to get to Heaven, but they gotta be Crayola man, Word of God, they can't be Roseart or anything, nah man, gotta be Crayola, Jesus told me man, he gave me the Grace. Crayola man. Jesus man, that's what he said." well then you just blast right back, "On Thursday I had a bowl of Cornflakes, and then I rinsed out my bowl and put it into the dishwasher but then my dishwasher broke, and so I went to the hardware store to get the piece I needed, and on the way there I had to wait at 4 red lights, but then I finally caught a green light, and then the next one I thought I could make it through the yellow, but at the last second I decided not to try, but that was good because that was my turn anyways, and then I found the piece I needed and it cost fourteen dollars and thirty-seven cents, and was surprised because the tax on hardware is two percent less than it is on other items, but maybe it was just this particular kind of hardware because I think if you're buying tools those are still taxed at the same rate."
Because let's face it, we expect crazy people to yell about conspiracies and aliens and God. But if they were shouting narrative about their ordinary life? Man, that would freak me out.
Just a stranger on a bus
Trying to make his way home