I don't know why I run to the bus stop everyday. I give myself plenty of time to get there at a normal walking pace, and it's not easy to run in heels. It's cold now too, the kind of frigged cold that frosts your breath and numbs your lungs. But I find myself running down the hill every morning anyway. I guess there is something joyful about running in the early morning, even when I'm tired and it's freezing outside. I'm not sure. But I run anyway, down the hill, through the spongy, wet leaves gathered along the sidewalk. I only pause once, at the busy road, to wait for a break in traffic so I can sprint across the street.
Sometimes he is at the bus stop before me, and sometimes he doesn't come at all. Most of the time he wears army fatigues and a snazzy beret. Sometimes he wears a suit. Once, he brought a bike. We don't talk much, but we always say good morning or at least acknowledge each other. He seems nice. Organized. Grown up.
The bus driver wears a stud in one ear, maybe in both but I never see the other ear. I'm not sure how he manages to stop the bus exactly in front of me every time so that all I have to do is step up and I'm on the bus. My metro card makes a little ping sound to let me know it's been charged the $1.25, and I pause my iPod to be sure I hear that little ping. That's the only time I ever pause the music that gets me from home to work and back everyday. It lasts about one and a half seconds.
Another face I see everyday. Without fail. He sits in the same seat everyday too. The one reserved for handicapped passengers right up front. He sits there for the leg-room, I think, knowing that no one with a real disability rides this bus with us. I never acknowledge him, though I know his face well enough now that I could easily recognize him in a crowd. I sit at the very back of the bus. I need more leg room too, but I'm not gutsy enough to sit in the handicapped spots like he does.
They hand out free papers at the metro stop. I walk by them everyday, those two, but I never take a paper. Once, one of them whacked me in the stomach with one trying to force it on me. I didn't even bother to scowl. I couldn't spare the mental energy. The hardest part of my commute was right in front of me.
Three escalators. My niece's dream come true, but much more akin to a nightmare for me. Heights, heels, and crowds all mixed together and multiplied by three. I try not to think about it too much. Three escalators from the ground level to the train level, and then I'm on the train. It smells like DC. A little sour, some international spices underneath, not terribly clean, but for all that not wholly unpleasant. I rarely get a seat. When offered one, I rarely take it.
Only two escalators to get back to street level from Foggy Bottom station. I love that name. It's so cartoonish, like I should expect to run into a fraggle while there.
There are no fraggles today, but there is a man in a banana suit. "Happy Thursday! Happy Thursday!" I'm not sure what he's about with the shouting and, well, the banana suit. But he's right, it is Thursday and I'm pretty happy. More men handing out free papers. They don't pressure me, though, the crowds are bigger here.
I pass him setting up shop, scurrying about in the chill light of early morning to get his snack stall up and running for the early morning commuters. I pass it twice a day, but I haven't stopped yet.
Five minutes or less and I'm walking into the doors of a shopping center. CVS, Expressions, Au Bon Pain, a news and magazine outlet. Through the fancy glass doors, smile at the security guard who knows me well by now. Elevators are still stressful, but nothing compared to the escalators. Fifth floor. Key badge. "NCEE and NISL, how may I help you?"
In about eight hours I'll repeat the journey in reverse. And there he'll be, sitting in the handicapped seats again. Somehow we always catch the same bus in for work and the same bus back.
I never run home. Even though I'm much more awake. It's dark now, uphill, and lonely somehow. No soldiers standing at the next stop, no business men sitting in reserved seats, no one to force reading material on me.
Maybe that's why I run in the mornings.