American Independence Day and we have another guest commuter up here. No matter how hard I tried, I could never win a prize for English in Ridge Church School … all of them being female. My earliest memory of Abimbola Laniyan involved watching her jumping up and down after winning the Spelling Bee for Class 5S. It hurt. She followed me to Achimota School and I still never got a look in. Not with her around. Today, she lives and works far away in Washington DC, bumping into senators and dressed up lobbyists headed to and from Capitol Hill, while she works in class action litigation (the snakes).
So today, she tells us about the Washington DC commute, where she jets by the White House, George Washington University, the museums and in her own words, “the whole shebang in terms of notable stops.” Once again, you’ll love it. And to those who celebrate it, Happy 4th of July.
WASHINGTON. The morning rush hour on the Orange Line train downtown to DC’s business district is serious business.
Ridership is pretty predictable: Middle-aged men in gray suits accessorized with the ubiquitous morning newspaper; Capitol Hill college interns so fresh to the “work world”, the price tags literally still dangle from their crisp white shirts in some cases; and then, of course, there’s the BlackBerry-armed career woman brigade – ‘killer’ heels, ‘killer’ bag, ‘killer’ attitude, ‘killer’ everything.This particular rider’s lip will take on an irritated curl at the lack of vacant seats when she gets on. With three fingers or less, she’ll grab hold of the railings for support, despite herself.
The morning ridership has a silent understanding of each other. There is no arbitrary smiling or chit-chat… besides maybe the quick good morning that must result when you mistakenly linger too long in a “meeting of the eyes” with a stranger.
In sum, no “basabasa” before 9:00am.
It was late one morning, early in the spring and there was much I was soon to learn. I was going into work at noon that day, and therefore getting to experience the “other side” of 9am on the Orange Line. I got onto the train at my usual stop: West Falls Church. I was elated at the rare pleasure of finding an available seat. The car was relatively empty. I noted a few riders in shorts and flip-flops; some loudly chatting, others dozing off, and others, apparently, practicing for their rap music demo tapes. This one particular young man’s huge noise-cancellation earphones had rendered him oblivious to what I would respectfully describe as his not so brilliant “flow.”
In the far corner was a couple lightly making out. The young lady looked like she’d just recently transitioned to solid foods (then again, when isn’t that the case?) Anyway, it was a relatively relaxed atmosphere. I sat back to take in the view from outside for the four or so minutes we had until the train hurtled underground. For the next twelve minutes, we travelled through East Falls Church, Ballston, Virginia Square, Clarendon, Courthouse and then we were at Rosslyn.
At Rosslyn, a whole hoard of people boarded the train. More relevantly, a whole hoard of children boarded the train. Please note two facts. In the city of Washington, the blooming of cherry blossoms early in the spring is something of a tourist event. Lots of families countrywide come to witness these…blooms. Also, the Rosslyn metro station is situated very close to a Holiday Inn, the preferred accommodation for many of the aforementioned families.
So gangly, chubby; quiet, screaming; blonde, dreadlocked; cute, or more whippersnapper-inclined, these families boarding the train that day were batting at something like a three-child average. “Now it’s a party,” I thought resignedly as I removed my handbag from the no longer vacant seat next to me.
A minute or so out of Rosslyn, I noticed this one lady who’d boarded with the throng. She was escorted by 5 children. Five! And no spouse. There was one infant and 4 more children appearing to range between 3 and 11 years old. Hindered, perhaps, by this mini sovereign nation following her around, she’d been unable to find herself a seat. The 2 younger non-infants sat, and she and the remaining 2 non-infants stood as she carried the infant in a sling across her chest. I offered her my seat. She refused. I didn’t insist. The lady next to me (a member of the career woman brigade) spoke into her blackberry in a clipped posh little accent, feigning obliviousness to the rapidly deteriorating situation in our car.
Within about 3 minutes, perhaps irritated by the rap artiste, the jerky train and the other kids’ excited screams, “Quinto-mom’s” infant began making little “ihi ihi” noises – you know those noises; the telltale ones that start out slowly, then follow each other more rapidly, working their way into a hanging breath and then exploding into a jarring “waaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaa?” Yea, that was “Quinto-baby.” I offered her mom my seat again. “Don’t worry, we’re doing fine,” she cheerily replied. “No you’re not,” I worriedly thought. Again, though, I didn’t insist. Career woman was frantically “BlackBerrying” at this point (I’m not sure how, seeing as how we were underground and therefore out of coverage area).
Foggy Bottom was the next stop. For obvious reasons, that station name’s always gotten a giggle out of tourists. With the kids on this day, it was raucous laughter and, somehow, a cue for all-out mutiny: swinging from railings, teasing, yelling …and from “Quinto-baby”, teary screams. I personally thought she might like a little rocking. I myself needed a little rocking.
“Oh, you know, I know what she needs! I know exactly what she needs,” offered “Quinto-mom” suddenly. Respite. I offered my seat again. I had three stops to go and was willing to do whatever I needed to to have this lady shut her baby up. I naively anticipated that she needed to sit in order to properly rock the child. “Oh no. Seriously. We’re fine. She’ll be alright in a minute,” she declined. At this point, Career Woman cocked her head to the side, interested in what this mystery remedy could be. We all were.
“Quinto-mom” adjusted her sling to orient the infant to the center of her chest. She was standing with her back to the doors, and therefore her front and baby facing the entire car. With horror, and in what seemed like slow motion, I watched as she suddenly whipped both her ‘mammaries’ out. Huh? Two? I was confounded. Breastfeeding is perfectly normal and necessary in itself, but in Quinto-mom’s case…well her boobs – both boobs – dangled exposed and unsupervised for what seemed like an eternity. Then she finally set about orienting her baby. She took the time and the care to look around and smile the whole while. “Hailey usually likes to try them both,” she chatted to nobody in particular, motioning towards her chest. Hailey finally “picked one.”
The younger riders stared in awe. Career Woman, whose seat faced Quinto-mom directly, shouted something. It was short, but it sounded like an expletive. I gasped. We had no idea where to look. Our train car was dead silent. The rejected boob remained dangling, pendulous and unsupervised.
It was noon, way past 9:00am and I, clearly, had no business on the Washington Metro Orange line train.
 These kids’ parents, obviously unexposed to the pre-9am Orange Line, simply carried on benignly about blooms and museums.