Metro Face: The Beginning of a Case Study

I have a favorite coffee shop now. It is just my second time returning here, but I know that we belong together. It is one of those simple matches like peanut butter and jelly. Its walls are each a different bright color and are then layered with vibrant oil paintings from local artists. The menu is hand written on a board and has every cozy drink one could ever desire. The drinks are often served in large mason jars by the delightfully friendly staff who you can tell are all the results of hippie roots meeting urban chic. Tables are plentiful and the Wi-Fi is abundant. A combination of current hits and classic melodies muddle the background noise. And to top it all off, the hours of operation reach deep into the night. My stay here is more of an embrace than anything else — the physical locale of a Tibetan singing bowl’s ring.

It has gotten cold here. It just happened one day, all of a sudden. I went from never leaving the house with any fabric to cover my legs or arms to needing to pull on my boots and wrap my torso somewhere within the layers of a scarf. I don’t mind it so much, as the chill to me is a reminder of how alive we are. On the one-year anniversary of my trip to Greece, I pulled over on Highway 199 and submerged myself in the snowmelt of the Smith River. It was so cold that I became short of breath, my body immediately responding in an effort to stabilize my vitals. I did not stay in the water for long, but when I emerged, I felt wonderfully alive, rejuvenated. (As a side note: I don’t recommend everyone go try this unless they are in a safe area of the river and very aware of their surroundings.) It is easy to glide through the heat, to slowly move through its heavy presence, but to face the cold is to face something calling for action, asking you to dance your way through the memories that only a chilly night can evoke.

Washington DC Metro

Tonight, I left the heated subterranean world of the metro system to get to this coffee shop, and as I began to walk, the air stung my face with its chill. The heels of my boots tapped determinedly upon the sidewalk as I gazed distantly ahead, quickly descending into the reality of the cold. The breeze picked up and blew my hair across my eyes and my hand fought to push it back. I stood and waited at the traffic light and there was no noise in my mind, but just those dancing sensory memories that only the cold can beckon. I thought of the winter I visited New York after returning from Israel. The combination of the city lights, the independent travel, and the harsh cold brought me to such a pensive, yet peaceful state of existence. And so as I walked the night-lit D.C. streets this evening, I let myself return to that place, that memory, and I felt calm.

My metro rides are becoming a time for me to flex my abilities as a social scientist. Currently, I’m studying what I have labeled as, “Metro Face.” It is an interesting phenomenon where, upon entering a metro car, the majority of people lose their usual identity and instead embody their metro identity — or Metro Face. Metro Face is most often characterized by an expressionless, consistent gaze forward and down toward some absent object. It is surrounded by an ambiance of mild irritation and melancholic boredom.

Although Metro Face has many common characteristics from patron to patron, each metro rider also has aspects of his or her own Metro Face that are unique to them. The other day while waiting at a crosswalk, I eavesdropped on the conversation of two businessmen wearing nearly identical suits. Their banter involved a close inspection of each other’s outfits in a desperate attempt to find their own identities within their identical suits. Similar to the desire of these two men to be individuals amongst a common crowd, metro riders subconsciously seek to obtain a Metro Face that is uniquely their own. It is the subtle nuances that count — a slightly deeper furrow to the brow, an occasional shift of glance to a new mythical object, a head rested steadfastly upon a metro window.

Sprinkled amongst these faces are the occasional “head all the way back, thoroughly asleep guy” or the “I think I can still squeeze 30 seconds of service more out of my cell phone to finish this call lady.” Scattered people succumbing to Metro Face hold books or newspapers, while others choose to ignore the world around them by placing earbuds in their ears, regardless of whether or not their mp3 device is actually functioning.

Rarely, but every few train rides, you are lucky enough to find one of the “Others.” The Others, for whatever reason, betray the accepted norms of Metro Face patients. They do things such as smile, look around at those nearby them, say hello to strangers, and generally carry an aura of excitement and joy. They are the ones who actually sparked my interest in the Metro Face phenomenon. What is going on within these individuals that makes them able to ward off the contagious effects of Metro Face? What type of adventure rests beneath their surface to ignite such a fervor of contentment upon their exterior? And going off of this, what is going on with all of the Metro Face-affected? What is everyone’s story? Do they really wish to avoid the world around them or is their Metro Face a silent plea for someone to engage them, for someone to connect with them?

Tonight, as I left the metro station to begin my walk to the coffee shop through the shivery fall air, I could feel a shift within my own being. I began to wonder if this shift had any physical characteristics associated with it. Although on some days I prefer to consciously practice my Metro Face, did I actually suffer from Metro Face when I wasn’t aware of it? Suddenly, I wanted desperately to know each of the people of the metro outside of the train walls, outside of the metro tunnels, and into the crisp, outside air. Perhaps their real-world faces held all of the answers. To everything. Perhaps the current air temperature could heighten the contrast between Metro Face and real-world face to a noticeable degree that would finally bring conclusive evidence to my study. How did not being in the metro affect a case of Metro Face? Did it matter, or are most people generally caught in this adventure-lacking state of mind?

There may never be a socially acceptable way for me to go about finding the answers I seek on Metro Face. However, as the temperature continues to drop, repeatedly encouraging me to be aware and active within my own living being, perhaps I can become mindful enough to do a self-study, to begin the etching of what could be a very important discovery for human existence and human delight.


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