The D.C. Metro may be one of the most unlikely places on earth for anyone to gather inspiration, but for a writer, it's a treasure trove of material. I don't ride the Metro very much these days - maybe once every other week if I go to the movies with LNRB and Sarah - so I am still able to enjoy it (I'm sure if I commuted on it every day all those sweaty lost souls would be a nuisance rather than a resource). I don't get to be "alone" very often either (without Jack, in other words), and I had always hated being alone up until having a baby. But now I relish those rare moments where I can get lost in a crowd. There is an unexpected sense of freedom that comes with simply walking without a stroller and a diaper bag. I feel like my old self again. I can put on my head phones and grab a book and pretend to be completely absorbed in either one of them when really I'm checking out all the people around me. I learned the great art of people watching from my mother when I was young, a very useful skill when you have to wait eons for a ride at Disneyland, for example.
The other night I met up with Sarah and LNRB for dinner and a movie (tapas and The Beginners; both were very enjoyable, although I suspect the pitcher of sangria may have helped). On the way into the city, I was so excited to see a man I'd seen on another recent metro trip that I had half a mind to say hello to him. He wasn't someone who would stand out to most people, and I'm honestly a little surprised that I remembered him, but there was something about him, with his slightly squinty eyes, gray beard, and spare tire that reminded me fondly of my father. He also had a tooled belt that looked to be adorned with dragons and castles from where I was sitting, which was pretty fabulous. Besides, what are the odds of getting on the same exact car of a train as someone, at rush hour when the trains come every few minutes and there are a dozen cars on every train? I made a deal with myself that if I see him again I have to talk to him.
On my ride home the train was pretty crowded and I was forced to take a seat next to one of the homeliest men I've ever seen. He was short and overweight, with a bulbous nose, a hairy back, and several unfortunate moles. He was also sweaty and emitting a rather unpleasant odor, but I didn't have the heart to move. Sitting next to him, I couldn't help but feel like my life is pretty damn good in the great scheme of things. I get down on myself a lot, about my writing, my looks, whether or not I'm a good wife and mother, but imaging what kind of a life the man sitting next to me must have helped put things in perspective. Maybe I'm wrong - maybe this man invented some million dollar computer program and is actually surrounded by friends and adoring women. I hope so.
There was one other person who caught my eye on the metro ride home. She was a woman in her thirties, pretty in a very conventional sense, with glossy brown hair in a pony tail, a diamond cross around her neck, wearing a pink blouse, black tweed shorts, and a pair of black leather sandals. But there, clawing its way up her ankle, was a tattoo of a black panther, the kind you see on heavy metal albums from the 1980s. It was so completely out of character with the rest of her appearance that I was absolutely fascinated. I felt like I'd just gotten a glimpse of the rebellious teen she'd once been before she married an accountant and became a soccer mom. I know there's a short story in there somewhere.
That's the thing I love about people: every single one of them has a story. And you never know when one of those stories could end up in one of mine...