By Claudia DeCarlo
Today, I uncovered an interesting phenomenon on the 5:08 pm train from Union Station in DC to Baltimore’s Penn Station: the Whiskey Clutch.
The train was packed. Suits, briefcases, laptops, jackets, coats, backpacks, iPhones, iPads, books (electronic ones), more books (real ones). Executives, babies, students, grandparents, tourists, sitting, standing, sleeping. The train, with its people and devices and bags, was like a city street littered with paper after a ticker-tape parade.
I barely made the 5:08; my last valiant leap onto the train earned me the gold medal in commuting. Vaulting the large platform gap onto the steel train car steps must be exactly what an Olympic runner feels clearing that final hurdle, I thought. Except I was wearing heels, to boot. (Just saying.)
Trying to catch my breath, I strode down the aisle, dodging this bag and that. No one cared that I just won my heat and made the train, but I strutted on anyway.
An empty seat was nowhere in sight, and when the train started moving, I feared the worst. I might actually have to stand all the way to the next stop.
That’s when I spotted the empty seat amidst a quad of four, facing each other two by two. Three men sat in three of the seats, with their bags and coats piled on the fourth.
Still reeling from my recent exertions, I approached them and asked if I could sit with them.
I counted one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand. Then, in a sudden flurry of activity, all three jumped up to clear the fourth seat. It was as if no one had ever asked to sit with them before.
I took my hard-earned seat, and no one spoke for a few minutes. A curly-haired guy with gold cuff links spoke first. What he said was inconsequential. What followed, however, was not. Suddenly, the trio began to banter back and forth like an episode of the Gilmore Girls.
“The market closed up one point,” said Curly, phone in hand.
“Do you have any questions for the mayoral candidates?” asked Pink Tie Guy sitting next to him, phone in hand. “I am posting questions now.”
The third guy took a call from someone and spoke far more loudly than necessary to the person on other end. And then, without skipping a beat, while looking and laughing at a video that Pink Tie Guy was showing him, Curly put his phone down, pulled out a thermos and red solo cups, and poured a shot of whiskey into each.
I was shocked. The train conductor was approaching and they didn’t put it away. The smell of liquor was pretty strong. They urged me to have some and I declined sheepishly. The train master seemed intent on checking their tickets but not their cups. They did not offer. He did not ask. Was this the MARC version of don’t ask don’t tell?
I discovered that the Whiskey Clutch has been commuting this way for over three years. They have a shot every Friday night on their way home. Sometimes on Thursdays too. They don’t work together; they don’t live together. Connected only by their commute, these guys talk about everything.
At first I found them annoying, but soon they grew on me. Even Loud Cell Phone Talker grew on me when I realized he was talking to his adult son who had recently been married; mom and dad missed them a lot and couldn’t wait to see them.
I felt privileged to be visitor to their clutch. They didn’t ask me to join, and I wouldn’t have even if they had. But there is some comfort in knowing that day in and day out, these and other clutches bring people together to make a stressful commute a little less so, which is why this initial installment of the Commuter Chronicles is dedicated to them.