Tuesday, March 3, 2020

At the Gas Station





               On Capitol Hill, we have a Capitol Hill Arts Center, a community Hill Center (these are actual buildings offering programs for a price to residents and beyond), and ever so many other physical spots such as  Eastern Market indoors and outside where one as likely or not to run into people one knows and sometimes may only barely remember.  
                We also have a service station for gas and auto repairs that is now is in its third generation of same-family ownership. The name is Distad's, and the longer a person has lived on the Hill (as its own, because, yes, the Capitol building is on the same elevation - a Hi-Line of sorts) the more likely he/she is know to Distad's employees. I go regularly for help with mundane things such as filling my tank or figuring (why don't I ever learn?) proper gauge for air in my tires each season. Recently, I dropped by to buy new windshield wipers after having dared  one rainy evening to cross  the bridge  from Virginia into the District with little rubber tailings on my window wipers that did very little actual wiping. I made it home, sweating.
                While paying up, I chanced into a Woman of Some Importance in these parts - at least to those of us bearing and raising children in previous decades - the estimable Marguerite Kelly whose  Almanac column was a mainstay, and a life saving guidance outlet, in the Washington Post Style section. She was there to do some repairs on her - was it really? - 20-year-old car, laughing at the check-out counter with another acquaintance from 'old times..' Marguerite's writing was my substitute at times for a godmother giving me the only advice I had on how to handle a newborn. I had no mother, no relatives around, no no doula (not then much spoken about) and my husband was eternally, it seems, away on missions specific to a member of Congress who always have to be seeking reelection.
              'How is your son'?' she immediately inquired. How could she remember that I had a son, now 43? I immediately wanted to know how she kept her skin so smooth. This is a beautiful woman of 87 with a flawless complexion. "Vitamin E oil," was her answer. Another secret of aging well, she implied, was 'not doing anything." No heavy breathing exercise regimen. She has a daughter and son-in-law living with her, another daughter nearby working for a local theater complex. Marguerite had just had her driver's license renewed and lo and behold, she marveled, she was now good to drive for another ten years. "Ten Years!" she exclaimed.
              I suggested she might consider becoming an Uber or Lyft driver and specialize in the senior market. To make other seniors comfortable and confident they, too, can survive the prejudices of the anti-aging crowd.

            There is another sort of community, too, not often acknowledged as such: riders in a Metro car during rush hours. The physical closeness of strangers  isn't a likely social group - until an emergency arises. I thought of this while sitting on a window seat during the hour when Metro platforms can fill rapidly with the tremendous energy of teenagers  getting out of school, presumably on their way home, letting off steam.
             WAs that the reason for the presence in the car of two very tall (handsome!) uniformed Transit policemen wearing a slew of devices and standing up by two different exit doors - one of them leading to the next car, not normally used. They were unsmiling guardians of the peace, though one appeared to carry what could have been a laser or light (maybe a foghorn!) on his chest. One of them kept staring into the car, while the other looked watchfully onto the platform at each stop before alighting at Metro Center, the usual connecting link for other trains. None of the passengers - except me - seemed intrigued by the sight. Almost everyone had their eyes and hands on mobile phones, though at least one woman was absorbed in a book. My intense stare didn't seem to bother the two men. I was puzzled by public indifference  -- either they found it normal to have fully armed guards aboard or they = we = choose to stay cloaked in indifference as a way of simulating personal privacy. Until otherwise summoned to act... since, these days (a long long stretch) we are conditioned to be constantly aware of what is around us, what could be happening, what would be the correct response.
               I was intimidated by their presence to some degree, being by nature attuned to scenes around me. The journalist's weapon perhaps. Only minutes before the two men had entered the car, I heard a commotion at one stop. There was a delay of some kind. I saw out of the window what could have been a group of tourists yelling and gesturing to someone who might have been part of the group - telling someone, or several, 'get out,' words to that effect. To get out of the Metro car because it was not the right train? I saw expressions of worry, frustration. Definitely a 'crowd scene, ' until the car door closed and we moved on.

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