The Commuter Chronicles: Back to School

Commuter ChroniclesBy Claudia DeCarlo

Last month was back-to-school time in Maryland – that time of year when excited parents fill Facebook with pictures of their kids getting on the school bus, full of fresh new enthusiasm for what this year’s journey will bring. 

#FirstDayJitters #soproud. 

Once they arrive at school, the newer students will timidly explore their unfamiliar surroundings, while returning students experience the first day of the new year with a cool confidence that inspires awe and envy. 

There was a day last month when it was back to school on the MARC train too. On this particular day, I was privy to a distinctly noteworthy exchange between an experienced rider and one just starting out—a heartwarming twist on the classic freshman-senior relationship.

An unfamiliar woman stepped onto the train. I overheard her say she had just moved to Baltimore and was going to begin her regular daily commute to DC. 

A MARC Train Freshman.

An older gentleman, a veteran of the commuter way of life – an upperclassman – was sitting next to her. She asked how many stops it would take to get to Washington. He responded with the knowledge and authority of a seasoned commuter.

But the education didn’t stop there. He patiently reviewed the lessons of MARC Train 101: schedules, weekday vs. weekend, websites, notifications of delays, relationships among MARC and WMATA and AMTRAK. He then progressed to MARC Train 201:   pros and cons of Penn vs. Camden lines, and alternatives to parking at Penn Station.  They even discussed potential places to live that could shorten her commute.

How nice to know that all freshman-senior exchanges are not like John Hughes coming-of-age movies! I was reminded of my own first day on the train, and wished I had had a kind upperclassman put down his headphones to answer my endless list of questions.

As the woman passed me and stepped off the train, I watched her hesitate ever so slightly to scan the scene before her with a hopeful smile before she walked into the station. And, like so many others in Maryland that day, I was tempted to snap a picture and post it to Facebook with a caption that read: #FirstDayJitters #commuterchronicles.