As someone who “lives the transit life” — I’m one of those daily Baltimore-to-Washington commuters — I offer a few truths I’ve learned, for better or worse, riding the MARC train’s Penn Line.
If you’re a regular, you already have your own. If you’re a newbie, you’ll have some soon enough.
- If you don’t sit in the Quiet Car, bring headphones. They are indispensable if your seatmate wants to strike up a conversation (and you don’t), or if Cell Phone Man won’t hang up.
- Memorize the train numbers, not just the departure times. A true Marc rider should be able to rattle off the difference between the 415 and the 517, and the 436 and the 538.
- You may not think you care to know what “catenary wires” are, or what they do, but you soon will. Catenary wires are your friends.
- Murphy’s Law: When you are running late, your evening train will board from the “Far North” end of the track. Or Track L.
- There are kind conductors. I accidentally ran my monthly pass through the washing machine recently. There were only bits of it left. Since there was only one day left in the riding month, I collected them in a plastic baggie and showed them to the conductor, hoping he would not make me purchase the full-fare roundtrip (would have set me back $14). He looked at the baggie quizically and said, ‘What is this, CSI?’ He let me ride.
- If you think your commute is bad, remember the people sitting in traffic on the Capital Beltway. I’ve done that too; it’s worse.
- If you live in Baltimore like I do, and think your commute is long, remember the people from Perryville.
The MARC train moral: You will have good days. You will have bad days. Certainly, you will have commuting stories to tell (good luck finding willing listeners). Public transit is some of the best people-watching around.
A parting quote, care of the British novelist G.K. Chesterton: "The only way of catching a train I ever discovered is to miss the train before."