The Occidentalist at the DC Metro

By Imran Garda

So tonight, as I was on the way back home from work on Metro’s orange line, a pointless, minor punch-up broke out between two stupid chaps in one of the train carriages. The driver stopped the train and kept the doors closed at the Rosslyn stop, for about 10 minutes, until the police arrived. People were, expectedly and noticeably annoyed. Once the police arrived and sorted it out, the doors opened, some got off, some got on, we continued our journey. Then I got home in the dark, cold winter’s night…

If America was in the Middle-East or Africa or Asia, this is how the incident may have been described by a journalist:

Even train journeys in the troubled country are filled with tension. As we arrived at the Rosslyn stop, where just a few steps away, above ground, stands the military leviathan Lockheed-Martin, a scuffle between two men in one of the train carriages. Hardly a month after the religious festival of Christmas, the possibility of slipping back into sectarian violence was the last thing that the people here wanted or needed, but it was difficult to say if religion played a part in the fracas. Rumours that both men were protestants, young and disillusioned in this country where unemployment sits at almost double digits. Both were known to have recently walked past the Occupy movement’s tents at McPherson Square.

The train driver immediately summoned Obama’s police. They arrived swiftly, at a Stalinist pace with Orwellian faces – and swooped upon the men, who were apprehended. Who knows if they’ll be seen again? Whether they might end up in the infamous “Guantanamo Bay” prison that has marked the past two regimes? The nervousness was apparent in the faces of my fellow train passengers, who refused to make eye-contact with each other, or me. The pain of two wars and an economy in free-fall has taken much from these people, but not their spirit. Underneath the grimaces lay a steely determination to change America, with many hoping that when they go to the polls in November, their vote will be expressed freely, counted fairly.

I reached my stop, and made my way up the steps at the station, watching a homeless man, reeking of urine, sitting casually on a broken escalator, asking passers-by for a quarter, even a dime. Sometimes humanity escapes this place. Nobody looked at him. The station today, looked more run-down than ever, like an abused child calling out to the outsider asking for help after years of neglect.

I walked into the cold, and noticed that so soon after sunset, people were scurrying home. These streets may not be as safe as they used to be. An eerie tension, an awkward calm, an unofficial curfew seems to be imposed on this part of the capital. I crossed the road hurriedly, a locally manufactured car, called Dodge, appropriately, almost ran me off the road. On its bumper, a sticker: Bush/Cheney 2004. It’s clear that the people here want change – even if it means turning to the past, to chart their future.

In the distance an ambulance wailed, it might be a long night for medical workers here. I held my coat closer to me to avert the chill, hastening my footsteps to my apartment.

 

About the author

Born in Johannesburg, Imran Garda has over a decade of experience as a journalist, writer and TV personality. He currently lives in Washington, DC and hosts The Stream on Al Jazeera.

 

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