Thursday, August 5, 2010

Not Your Typical Commute

When Holly's lease on her Toyota was up last month, we decided to try and cut back to one car between the two of us.  It was a decision that was both green and economical.  It was also a decision that lead me to almost losing my life today and, I'd like to think, a renewed sense of clarity in my life.

Holly took Morgan to Virginia Beach today where she will stay while we're away on vacation in Seattle next week.  The drive there is approximately 200 miles from home, so she took the car and I relied on public transportation for the day.  No big deal, this is a major metropolis, right?

Here's how it unfolded.

Holly calls me from Virginia Beach to inform me that she should return back to DC to avoid storms that are approaching the area.  An email that I received about 20 minutes ago from DC Alert (our city's text-based citizen alert system) confirmed her information, and I advise her to get on the road.  I go on my computer and pull up the Metro bus schedule for Ballston Station (about 5 stops from where I work) to see if I can easily grab a bus transfer home.  A work buddy offers me a ride home when he gets off in a little bit, which I briefly contemplate.  But there's a break in the rain, the bus schedule looks good, so I bugger out a little early and head underground to the Metro train.

The Rosslyn Metro station at rush hour is a sweltering hot, damp, crowded, nasty place to be.  Everyone just wants to get home.  The unfortunate downfall of Rosslyn in this case, however, is the fact that it is the first stop in Virginia for trains departing the District.  Read: the trains are already jam-packed full of DC commuters heading home to Virginia by the time it gets to Rosslyn.

Tonight, I'm here 5 stories underground, and the platform is full, and the trains are full. I wait one, two, three trains, not a chance of getting on one.  People's faces are practically pressed to the glass, it's so crowded in there.

I finally decide I'm going to make a last ditch effort to get on a blue line train, which will take me out of the way, but at least I'll still get closer to my destination where I can hop on a 16 bus and still make it home in reasonable time.  I find a tiny window and squeeze myself on.  Away we go!

The train is stopped, approximately half way between Rosslyn Station and the first stop ahead, Arlington Cemetery.  It's peculiar to be stopping, since there should have been no trains ahead of us.  Then, I hear the last thing I needed to hear: "this train is going out of service, all passengers must exit at Arlington Cemetery."


Ok, fine, I'll get off at the Cemetery and hop on the next train.

The platform at the station is jam-packed with people.  Nobody can even vacate the train because it's so crowded.  Both sides of the platform look the same.  It's hot.  It's pouring rain.  Nobody is going anywhere.

I charge my way through hoards of people, get off the train, and make my tiny but critical steps toward the station exit.

I emerge from the underground into the elements.  A medium rain pelts my forehead as I gaze down the Memorial Bridge to DC, past no less than 300 people on the side of the road, all on the same boat as me.  The idea of a taxi cab is out.  Even if I tried to get one, the only cabs are DC cabs and they will not take me anywhere in Virginia.  I'm stuck.

I talk to some other folks who are trying to get home.  They don't know what to do.  There's no bus.  There's no cabs.  There's no train.  If you're not familiar with the Arlington Cemetary area around Jefferson Davis Highway, let me just tell you that it's virtually in the middle of nothing.  Nowhere else in the city can you be so far from just about everything.

I make an executive decision.

Clad in dress slacks, a dress shirt, tie, and dress shoes, I make my way up the hill towards JFK's eternal flame, past the Arlington House and the Tomb of the Unknown.  My briefcase workbag strapped over my shoulder, I can clearly see the high rise towers of Rosslyn off in the distance.

The rain is coming down hard now.  My shirt and pants are soaked through, and my shoes are beginning to swish water out of the soles with every step.  I press forward past the thousands of iconic, sand-blasted white gravestones of our nation's finest men and women, water pouring down my face, and coming out of my mouth with each exhalation.  I hear rumbles of thunder in the distance.  I chuckle to myself sarcastically.  Who would have thought I'd be here right now?

I've made it almost half way across the Cemetery.  Of the 300,000 people that surround me, I'm the only one who is alive.  It's a moment I choose to breathe deep and take in.  There's something beautiful about this moment, as I glance at my surroundings.  I look up to the sky, and above me I see the canopied oak trees dropping their oversized rain droplets on my face.  Each one representing something pure, something real.

I press on.

The sky is open full-throttle, and the rain falls to the ground in thick sheets.  The water hits the ground and ascends back up 3 or 4 inches into the air, like a life force of it's own.  Some raindrops come up clear, others that landed in the mud come up brown.

Almost through to the other side of the Cemetery, and I feel the wind against my face start to push me backward.  I'm walking with force and determination.  Then, without warning, and as unsuspectingly as it could have happened, my life flashed before my eyes.  A white flash like none I have ever seen enveloped everything around me, accompanied simultaneously by the most startling, ear-splitting clap I could have imagined, except louder.

My body fell back like a brick wall had hit me sideways at 50 miles per hour.  I saw that the lightning had struck within 50 feet of me, with the sheer energy that nobody but God himself could have created.  I lay on the sidewalk with both hands behind me on the ground, my butt on the pavement, and my face to the sky, and I recited the Lord's prayer.  By God, if this is my time, let it be my time.  I will go your way.

A few moments passed, and as I sat there, for some unexplained reason a smile came across my face.  It was an unexpected happiness, a relief, a respite.  I rose back to my feet, and began to walk.

As I approached my office and where I set out for home a little over an hour ago, I recaptured what had just happened to me.  The driving rain began to let up, and I began to see pedestrians again.  I was the only person without an umbrella as far as the eye could see.

I could see people looking at me incredulously from their cars as I walked through the intersection near my building, soaked head to toe and splashed with mud.  My bag now heavily saturated with water smacked against my backside with each step I took.

What an experience it was.  Everything had to happen just the way it did.  It was meant to be that way.

I smiled, grabbed my cell and called my buddy from work.

"Hey pal, how about that ride?"