Tourist Confusion (Part II)

Two days ago, my tourist loves and hates collided when a kind, middle-aged, foreign man who barely spoke any English, asked me if this train “goes to Roosaleen”. I said, “I’m sorry??” as the doors were about to close.  I had to get on that train, too! He repeated his question. I said, “Rosslyn! Yes! Yes, this train goes to Rosslyn!!”
Then I sat down and pulled out my Kindle and started reading, feeling really good about myself for offering correct information despite feeling flustered.

Then I looked up. The loud speaker said we were on the blue line.

I thought we were on the orange line. The blue line and the orange line both actually go to Rosslyn, but in that moment of panic I forgot that they did.

I realized I was on the wrong train.

In that moment, I thought he was on the wrong train, but he was actually on the right train. I thought about not telling him because there is nothing I hate more than drawing attention to myself in public places.

Then I thought that would make me a horrid person.

So I put my Kindle away, got up, tried to remain calm, and walked over to the man with two very large suitcases, and said, “Actually, sir, we are on the blue train. You will need to be on the orange line to get to Rosslyn.” Little did we both know at the time that I should have just stayed seated and kept my mouth shut.

He smiled and said “thank you, thank you.” And I realized he had no idea what I was saying.

I said, slowly, (because people can understand any language if it is spoken slowly and clearly. ???)“When we stop, I will show you.” Then he nodded and smiled.  And while I was standing there trying to figure out how I could get him to understand me, a light bulb visibly turned on in his head and he reached his hand into his pocket and held out a crumpled dollar bill toward me. I am sure my face was one of shock as I shook my head and waved my hand and said, “oh no, no. That’s okay.” In my country, this is not necessary.
I stood there confused. He sat there perplexed, I am sure, but still looked pleasant. Then the lady sitting nearby tried to be helpful by offering her own set of directions. But she was wrong. More wrong than I. And I told her that I thought I was wrong, but I was right, and that the man was just trying to get to Rosslyn. All three of us were confused, and I was the instigator.
Then I gave the man the “okay” symbol and a smile, to assure him lest he feared I had no idea what I was talking about. Because, yeah, I’ll admit it, I was the most confusing person on the Metro right now. Then I felt like an idiot and hoped that the “okay” sign was not the equivalent of the middle finger in his country. And since when do I give the “okay” sign anyway??
When the train stopped at Rosslyn, I awkwardly followed the man out because I, the seasoned local, had to get on the correct train…

Tourist Confusion (Part I)

I really don’t mind helping tourists out. In fact, when they ask me for directions I feel flattered because they know I am a local. Or maybe they just get that vibe because I am alone. I have never been to a city where more tourists travel in large packs.
I have a special fondness for foreign tourists, however. One, because I have been in their shoes. I know what it feels like to be alone in a country where you don’t speak the language, and you are trying to use public transportation. There is nothing more terrifying. Also, I like foreign tourists for selfish reasons: they make me feel really smart because they ask the easiest questions and then thank me profusely for all my trouble.
One time, while giving a tour of the Capitol building (it is part of the hazing process for first-time Hill-staffers, but I loved it while it lasted) to a group of people from England, one lady asked me when Benjamin Franklin was president. See? That kind of stuff. It makes you feel good inside.
There is one type of situation involving tourists asking me questions that I hate, however. It is when I am waiting for the Metro to arrive, and everyone around me is quiet. Then, as soon as the train doors open (and they stay open for approximately 20 seconds), some tourist branches from his tourist pack, jumps in front of me, and asks me frantically, “Is thjdot sgsofoe going to sogkigfwe??”
“I’m sorry??” I say as I start to become as nervous as he.
“Is this train going to China Town???”
“No….yes! Yes, it is….I think so!”
I know the Metro system inside and out. But I know nothing about the Metro system when I have 3 seconds to visualize it, and determine whether or not this train line is going in the direction of China Town. Before this man appeared out of thin air to pick me as his tour guide, I was sitting there quietly knowing exactly where I needed to go. I’m sorry I do not have every possible train route ready to go at a moment’s notice. I consider this a great fault of mine.
I am pretty sure I have given some false information to tourists in these moments. But I am usually getting on a different train, will never see them again, and I just tell myself that they need an adventure anyway.
Next up: My most recent encounter with a foreign tourist.

Platform 9 and 3/4

Because I am feeling a little sentimental, a little thoughtful, and a little homesick, I am re-posting this from a former blog of mine. I wrote it in February, 2010–five months after I had moved to DC.
 
This picture, however, is recent. Union Station during Christmastime is my favorite. I cannot help but gawk at the giant wreaths when I walk under them and into the old, historic train station.
 
 
***
Union Station is the place from which I emerged on September 19, 2009 after a series of walking a few feet, sitting,walking again, and sitting some more. I had visited Washington DC a total of seven times before buying my one way ticket last year, and in my mind, I have two very distinct sets of images for the times I visited and the time I came to stay. It’s amazing how different things look when you know that what you once casually observed will be a part of your everday life. Like going into a stranger’s house after you have just purchased it.
 
Walking behind my parents as a twelve-year-old, passively accepting whatever was next on our agenda, my siblings and I were at our leisure to observe and comment on our surroundings. I remember walking down a street lined with rowhouses and saying aloud to my family, “Someday I want to live in one of these houses.” We stopped to take pictures outside of Union Station. I had a 35mm Nikon and when it was loaded with black and white film, I felt pretty cool. Everything was a photo opportunity. Everything was memorable.
 
Six years later I was still taking pictures, this time with a digital camera and photo enhancing software on my computer. And instead of following my parents around the city, I was with other collegians simply excited to be apart of the excitement. We took a tour of the White House and had breakfast at a nearby cafe. I remember saying to my friends, “When I graduate, I want to move to DC and write. I am sure I could write a best-selling novel here.” The future seemed so distant, I felt safe saying anything.
 
Four years later I stepped off the train from Baltimore alone. I had my camera, but it was buried in my purse amongst gum wrappers, my passport, and other travel documents. I had two suitcases and no permanent housing lined up. I was in a train station so familiar and I could envision my parents and four sun-burned kids tagging along behind without a care in the world. Hours ago I was in my yellow room with a view toward the rising Oklahoma sun and trees for as far as I could see. For the price of two hundred dollars I had been transported to a world of marble, where the people passing by do not acknowledge your presence.
 
Like the wardrobe doors that lead to Narnia, Platform 9 and 3/4 that leads to Hogwarts, or the looking glass in Alice’s room, Union Station sucked me in and spit me out into a world that was not unfamiliar, but suddenly seemed so unlike the place I had visited so many times before. Like a fading dream, the memories of my yellow room began to slip away, becoming fuzzy as the images around me came into focus. Stepping out of the glass doors and seeing the Capitol blaring in the sun across the street, it suddenly hit me that I was not a tourist this time. I was staring at my new office building. I was clinging to the handles of the containers that held the entire contents of my new room, wherever that would be. I wasn’t concerned with taking pictures because I knew I would have plenty of time to do that in the days and months to come. There was no longer any rush. The wardrobe doors were far behind and firmly shut.
 
I am writing this entry in a rowhouse just like the ones I dreamed of on those family vacations. Visiting the White House is old news. I sit in coffee shops here quite frequently and I walk past Union Station every day. I have yet to write that best-selling novel.
 
DC is looking less and less like that stranger’s house I loved to visit. I am starting to see the cracks in the floor and hear the creak in the front door. I’ve signed the papers, I am officically invested, and even despite the flaws that were previously camoflauged by blissful detachment, there is something wonderfully endearing about commitment. For all it’s worth, I am apart of the culture now and I have the opportunity to embrace it, live in it, and learn from it. There is no way I could have fully known what I was getting myself into when I stepped through the wardrobe, but it is the unknown that is always the most enticing. And the steps toward knowing are neverending and thus, always an adventure.
 
***

Christmas Cheer

5 Reasons I am ready for this work week to be over:
 
1) I can wrap presents whilst sliding around in my socks to Pandora Christmas (Amy Grant holiday station…duh)
2) I will be baking like craaazy. And taste-testing. And I am excited about both of those things.
3) I can pretend I am 5 years old, and that work does not exist.
4) I can pretend that the government does not exist (my Christmas wish).
5) I will be so close to figuring out what Eric is giving me for Christmas!!!!! And I get to give him fun things, too. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!