I wish I could have seen our expressions as we faced the commanding station manager in Washington, D.C.’s hectic Metro system. He knew the city’s subway system inside and out. We were painfully out of place, like giraffes juggling bowling balls at the ballet.
We were D.C. newbies, having landed in the city after a perilous, ice-packed drive to Omaha, and a turbulent flight from Eppley Airfield featuring a busted toilet.
Hello, D.C., we’re grateful to have made it here alive.
Four of us faced a cast of roughly 700,000 souls spread over 64 miles of unfamiliar, history-packed turf. We were there to run a Rock‘n’Roll Half Marathon and take in some sights — cheerful Nebraska grandmas on an epic, big-city adventure.
The Washington Metro system was our fastest/cheapest mode of travel, so we charged indomitably into the tunnels of the fifth busiest rapid-transit system in North America.
The only thing missing was a bugle.
Reality hit hard. There were fare cards to fill via mysterious blinking money machines. There were knee-chomping gates, and maps covered with colorful worm-routes twisting through every city quadrant. There were stations to access, and escalators carrying legions of speeding people to multi-floored platforms.
Stand single-file to your right on those escalators. Walk to your left. Doing otherwise risks losing a limb.
There were whooshing strings of rapid-fire train cars either packed to the gills, or eerily empty of hurried commuters.
We did fine until we attempted a complicated destination, which is where the commanding station manager entered the scene.
“Take the blue line four stops to this station,” he explained rapidly while jabbing our tattered map. “Ride the escalator down to the lower platform. Be on the side that goes the right direction. Take the yellow line two stops and you’re there. Or you can go this way if you prefer …”
Personally speaking, he may as well have been explaining time travel to a parakeet, and my brain conjured images of our flummoxed expressions.
“Sir,” I wanted to say, “I can drive my town end-to-end in seven minutes flat.”
Somebody snickered, and everyone burst into a chorus of belly-shaking guffaws.
He simplified our route — the compassionate man — and off we went. We joked that Metro station managers throughout the city were probably on the lookout for us the rest of the trip.
“Watch for the Nebraska Four,” their emails might say. “They laugh hard, ask limitless questions and get lost a lot. They aren’t fans of fare machines, either.”
Before long we felt like locals, conquering the Metro with steely-eyed confidence. We really should have brought a bugle.
We toured the Capitol Building and White House, soaking up tales of intrigue and grandeur. We ogled mummies at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. We took a moonlight bus tour through astounding sites like the Lincoln and Marine Corps War/Iwo Jima Memorials.
We stood on the spot where Martin Luther King revealed his dream.
We shuddered through the Holocaust Museum, and stood in silent fascination during the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We took in Chinatown, and souvenir shopped while protesters marched in the street outside.
There were security checks from stern-faced police, and long walks by architectural wonders. There were smartly dressed students and raggedy folks, and languages from parts unknown.
We saw trench-coated men we joked were spies.
We ran the half marathon, too, past all those monuments and up a lung-busting, curse-inducing hill. A mile bedecked with waving American flags and signposts honoring fallen military heroes gave special pause.
The trip home featured another busted plane, so we de-boarded one and re-boarded another. Thank goodness the toilet worked.
It was a priceless trip spent with remarkable friends in an unforgettable place. I can’t wait to see where we land next.