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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bureaucrat Olympics

One day last week, Jim, a co-worker of mine, came back to my desk wearing a big grin and said, “Bruck, you would have been proud! Last night I got to the Crystal City Metro station at 5:09 and made the 5:12 train!” Actually, he didn’t say Bruck; he called me some different name that I’m still trying to figure out.

Jim went on to detail this adventure, which I’ll share with you after a bit of background:

Jim and I work in the same office and live in the same general neck of the woods, so we follow the same route to work. This entails riding a commuter train to a subway station, and then taking the subway the rest of the way to our building. He and I board the commuter train at different stations and often get on at different times, but aside from that, our commuting paths are identical. It’s a fairly stress-free commute, except for the approximately 1/2 mile walk between the commuter train station and the subway platform.

The shortest route between the commuter train and the subway takes Jim, me, and thousands of fellow passengers through the “Crystal City Shops,” which is basically an indoor shopping arcade. It’s full of quaint little stores (Mad About Bears, Puppet Palace) plus some practical ones (Radio Shack, CVS), and some restaurants and fast food places including the ubiquitous Starbucks. So after every commuter train expels its riders, a thundering herd of briefcase- and backpack-wielding bureaucrats storms through the Crystal City Shops, past the kitschy, catchy stores and restaurants, on its way to the bowels of government and free enterprise. Pamplona’s got nothing on us!

In the other direction, in the afternoon, it’s more of a steady stream of rushing, stumbling bureaucrats, as the subways drop off smaller numbers of passengers at the Crystal City station on a more frequent basis, and only a portion of each load is destined to the commuter train. Generally these commuters are more relaxed as well, and only get worked up if they’re in danger of being late for their afternoon train home. I’ve been in that situation a number of times myself; my “best time” so far is about 5 minutes. Normally it takes 8 to 10 minutes, but a few minutes can be shaved off when needed. Personally I find it distasteful to run while wearing a coat and tie, but will accede if compelled.

A short walk shouldn’t be stressful; in fact it should be an invigorating, relaxing experience, but for several reasons, this one is not. For one thing, there are shoppers and other non-commuters in the mall. They have every right to be there of course, but they do present a hazard in that they have entirely different reasons for being there, and they neither share nor support ours. Another stress-inducer is the commuters themselves - often one person’s concept of sprightliness diverges from another’s, which itself is fine, but the slower ones frequently coagulate and block those of us who wish to move faster. A third stress-inducer is the route itself. It includes crossing a busy street, then once inside the arcade, there are numerous right angle turns, changes in elevation, and bottlenecks.

Seasoned VOB readers may be old enough to remember the OJ Simpson (still combing the golf courses of southern California in search of the real killer) advertisements that show him running through an airport, hurdling rows of chairs, etc., to get from one end of it to the other. I can’t remember what they were advertising, but it was a rather striking ad. I was reminded of it by Jim’s story of making the trip from the subway to the commuter train station in 3 minutes.

Jim went on, “I got to the Crystal City metro at 5:09 and thought, ‘should I go for it, or just accept the fact that I’m late, waste 40 minutes at the Hamburger Hamlet, and get on the next train?’ I thought, no, I’m going for it! So I pretty much sprinted up the stairs and through the mall, and when I got to the entrance, I could see the train at the station, but my heart sank when I saw that I still had to cross Crystal Drive, and the traffic was moving.

“I was thinking, ‘(expletive deleted), foiled!’ But in an instant, something in me said no, I’ve made it this far, I’m not going to waste it! So I rushed out into the street, stopped traffic, and ran across. Horns were honking and people were yelling at me, but I just waved and kept going. I ran to the platform and jumped into the train just as the fat conductor was hoisting himself up the stairs and turning around to close the doors.”

I’ve often thought, why not invent olympic sports based on practical situations, rather than carry on the usual contrived, anachronistic ones like throwing a javelin (we have guns now) or pole-vaulting (I usually just take the escalator)? I’m thinking of things like a young mother getting through a crowded food court with a tray of chicken fingers and lemonade, pushing a stroller and corraling a 2-year-old while carrying on a cell phone conversation. Parallel parking school buses would be fun to watch. I’d take that over ice dancing any day.

So I’m thinking, getting through a crowded shopping center without knocking over any of the meandering shoppers or shuffling gawkers would at least be a good exhibition sport in the 2008 games. But then I’m thinking, wait a minute, with people like Jim around, why would I invent a sport where the best I can personally hope for is silver?


  • At 4:00 PM, Blogger denmar said…

    Wow, where is a cell phone camara when you need one...


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