Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Metro Notes #?

On a cold wet gray day I am in a Metro car reading from a library book that I like so much I cannot bear to leave it at home. A few minutes extra to be absorbed in the text is all I expect so I hunker down, concentrate. But it never is possible to stay isolated on a subway car. The man in front of me is slaked out, deadbeat, mumbling to himself as he slides into a soporific pose. The woman across  the aisle looks wide awake by contrast. Even more so, it would seem, when she looks me over and reads the title of the book in my hands. Before long, she has moved over to the empty seat beside me, asking  abruptly "How do you like that book?" ('Lila,' by Marilynne Robinson, 3rd in a trilogy set in the mythical Gilead, in Iowa. The book's dedication reads" To IOWA.) She is casually and warmly dressed, and has an easy manner about her. No introductions are necessary, I feel.. Had I read the other two books, she wonders. I answer at once and say, smiling in response,  how it might be possible to have a reading group in the subway somewhere, how there once (DC or NYC?) had been lines of poetry spelled out in the cars or on the billboards spread out on platforms, and whatever happened to those? Oh, yes, it was New York, she asserts. I continue with my idea (still sure I saw some similar effort on Metro), imagining how Metro's any book readers might connect through a bulletin board, or a sign in a station, recommending or not various titles. Then suddenly we are at  Metro Center.  Up on our feet and out the door, doing in two different directions. No goodbye. No need for one.

Curious how the same night on a return trip from downtown, I decide to study my fellow passengers shoes. As though it is possible to tell a person's background or personality by what they wear on their feet. A couple waiting on the platform in front of me look vaguely familiar - at least enough so I let my eyes linger on both their faces and feet. He has on sturdy brown shoes of no particular distinction. The woman, whom he draws close in a slight brief embrace, is in sturdy stylish black flats secured to her feet by broad velcro bands. The shape of the shoe is entirely familiar to me: they are a mirror image of the same style I am wearing at the moment. I follow the feet until we arrive at our stop, then lose them in the crowd.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Boundary Matters

Yes, boundaries matter. Especially when it comes to planning the original District of Columbia. Originally, it was  a 100 square mile federal territory stretching across the Potomac River into Maryland and Virginia, with marker stones in place every ten miles. A geographer's dream, or maybe nightmare. although the first survey was led by a major (Andrew Ellicott -  think Maryland's Ellicott City)  with the help of astronomer and surveyor Benjamin Banneker - namesake of one of the modern city's major academic public high schools. Of the original 40 milestones on four lines, 36 remain: most of them sturdy sandstone blocks behind iron railings -  the oldest federally placed monuments in the US, claims Wikipedia. They are worth a look, often entailing a colorful walk to out-of-the-way places. Or accessible at unusual places that few passersby would bother to notice. Look on the southwestern side :
-At a cornerstone now in a seawall of Jones Point Lighthouse, 1 Jones Point Drive, Alexandria, Va. Not far from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge traffic streaming overhead over the square's south corner. River view guaranteed.
-Southwest No. 3 boundary marker in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church, 2952 King St. Don't bump into it while backing up...
- Southwest No. 6 in a grassy lane divider on So. Jefferson St., south of junction with Columbia Pike, on your way to REI and Gold's Gym. (Pull over and park, then  carefully cross the road while cars go whizzing by honking at you.)
One could joke and say the stones mark the only time when Washington DC really was attuned to order. given that its citizens are 'stateless," their home officially a disenfranchised 'federal district,' since their federal election votes don't matter. Stuck inside the boundary.