Ode to My Metro Commute

As you descend the escalators in a zombie-like stupor, you realize that you could make this trek with your eyes closed. Perhaps you’re sleeping now.

The crush of commuters wasn’t this bad in your dreams. In reality, the metro is insufferable between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m., lunchtime, and after work. Your heart drops every time a packed car slides into view. It’s a frenzied sprint to the cars when the train whistles through. As the doors open there’s little regard to who’s been waiting on the platform the longest, where high heels land, or in which direction pointy umbrellas are slung. Dirty looks are thrown like punches. The metro is a daily reminder of “l have elbows, too.”

And that’s just the prelude to getting on the train. Once inside, you’re smashed like sardines between an inevitably wheezy neighbor and a businessperson whose briefcase rivals a Ryanair carry-on. You try not to breathe in too deeply because, of course, the fuzzy head bobbing against your nostrils belongs to a chain smoker.

Coming back from work is easier, and you manage to grab a seat. This good luck is compensation for working at the end of the line–in formal terms, the “boonies” of the city. After all those times flattened against a door with a bazillion neighbors, there is a perverse sense of satisfaction in settling in for the long haul.

A few stops later, a new rider plants herself mid-cabin, her fists curling around the ceiling bars and her hips spread as wide apart as any yoga pose. Her body forms an X across the space you currently inhabit, signaling to other passengers that THIS THRONE IS RIGHTFULLY MINE BY SUCCESSION. You allow yourself a smug smile knowing that you’re not getting off for a good half hour. If you really want to rub it in, you’ll pull out a novel and thumb through the pages. The woman’s eyes narrow to slits as she watches you, ready to pounce at the first sign of movement.

Then, an elderly couple gets on and you give up your now-warm seat, suddenly selfless and eager to stretch your legs. (You 1, Seat Snatcher 0!!!!) You’re switching lines in two stops, anyway, and the madness will start again.

Happy commuting!

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  1. This makes me so glad I don’t have to take the metro to work anymore. Yay biking! I’ll take homicidal taxi drivers over the onslaught of commuters any day.

  2. Traveling from Plaza de España or Tribunal to Puerta del Sur this year, I was lucky enough to be going against traffic, never having much of a crowd on the way there and only picking up a lot of passengers when I was a few stops away from home. I was grateful for it every day, because I wouldn’t have survived without my morning metro chill-out time!

    • Cassandra

      Nice! I have to switch lines at a busy stop with tons of oncoming traffic–ugh! At least this year I avoid the Atocha Dash, which I used to do last year when sprinting from the metro to the train station…

  3. Interesting post! This is EXACTLY what would have been my life if I hadn’t gotten Julia to switch schools with me and if we hadn’t hounded the Ministerio for months. I love the part about the compensation for working at the end of the line. I was counting on that when picturing my potential daily commute home from the eastern end of line 4.

    I was cracking up at the rightful successor to the throne. Great (and accurate!) observation. I was definitely a shameful X-person/seat claimer for two years when I used to take the already-crowded Renfe towards Alcobendas. It even got to the point where I knew to get on one car rather than another at Sol because one tended to be full of adults who would get off at Nuevos Ministerios (leaving me a chance at their seats) while the other was usually full of college kids going all the way to the Autónoma! Oh, the tricks we learn.

    • Cassandra

      Katie, you are incredibly lucky to work so close to home! You are the envy of all mass transportation commuters, but your previous experience means you can sympathize with us 😉

      I just gleaned a a great tip from you–I’ll have to start scoping out which groups are going to mosey off the metro sooner than others. Also, I love that you admit to your shameless eXcapades; I think everyone has been guilty of that at one time or another!

      • You’re right, I AM incredibly lucky, though after multiple unlucky years, believe me, I never take it for granted! The newbies at my school complain because it’s “so far” from where they live (aka a few metro stops) and I just roll my eyes, haha. Your turn will come soon, I’m sure!

  4. MonoPop!

    Loved it! Err, not so much the actual experience of subterranean travel, but your sassy portrayal of the daily plunge into the surging current of humanity.

    It would seem to me that being seated midst the teaming throng (or thongs…ha!) has a liability. I wouldn’t want such a face-to-“face” encounter with so many privy areas. Yikes! I’d rather have a bird’s eye view…of course, my dear, you are shorter than me.

    • Cassandra

      Glad you liked my humorous take on this often-frustrating part of big-city living. Be glad that you never had to experience metro rush hour–you would have hated it!!

  5. I hate to gloat about my quiet, peaceful 30 minute commute in the privacy of my own car – not having to endure armpit smells, cigarette smoke, or overdosed perfume! I do suffer an occasional encounter the stench of roadkill skunk which isn’t too pleasant as well as the bi-annual begathon from NPR. But I am feeling quite guilty at the waste of fossil fuels just for me to get back and forth to work each day…. :/

    • Cassandra

      Ha, how lucky are YOU for getting to listen to NPR? I usually have my music playing, but it sure doesn’t drown out things like armpit smells :/

  6. Saw your blog and this article in the same morning…


    “Researchers for Hewlett-Packard convinced volunteers in England to wear electrode caps during their commutes and found that whether they were driving or taking the train, peak-hour travellers suffered worse stress than fighter pilots or riot police facing mobs of angry protesters.”

    I was blessed with a very easy commute in Madrid, but really loving my 20 min walk in Philly this year.

    • Cassandra

      Very interesting! Thanks for sharing this, Teresa. And, I’m very glad that you are able to walk to work this year instead of taking the train!

  7. This is too funny… I have a post with the exact same title waiting to be published! I worked on it this weekend, and now I’m just waiting to snap some pictures. Great minds think alike 🙂

  8. Dear Cassey,

    Bike to work 😉

    Your crazy biker friend.

  9. Ohhhh, the metro. I’ve totally got a love/hate relationship with the one here in Moscow. You’ve described the experience perfectly!

    • Cassandra

      Thanks! Love-hate is so true, depending on the wait time my feelings can change in an instant.

  10. This is what Mario probably has to endure on line 6 every morning! I am not commuting currently. But I don’t do well with packed metro cars. I start sweating! And with all the strikes last year, that couldn’t have been fun.

    • Cassandra

      Transportation strikes are the worst! Talk about packed cars… :/ Mucho ánimo to Mario on line 6!

  11. Oh, to be in a city with ONE metro line! I love being able to bike to work!

  12. Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh for real. This is such an eloquent post to describe a daily drudge. The race to the train, squeezing through the doors and wondering what the heck that odor is but being glad that hopefully you won’t find out. I take the Cercanias to work everyday so it’s not that bad, except for on strike days, I get a seat both ways!

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