Eating on The Metro: Why I’m For It



As we leave another tourist-filled, sports heavy weekend behind us here in the District I’d like to share a few thoughts I have about eating on the metro.  Throngs of people packed into tiny spaces, tourists collecting at the bottom of escalators and failing to understand that the train extends all the way along the platform-you may think that, as fed up as I already sound about PT in DC, that I’d be calling for you all to not bring your snack on the train.

On the contrary-I’m all for it.  Full disclosure here- what follows is an updated post from my personal blog that posted just about a year ago (before my Metblog rebirth).  Still, it was time to update and reintroduce the topic to a much wider audience (that’d be you). 

The reason it all came back to me now is the picture above-taken during the cherry blossom weekend rush.  Some kid spilled his smoothie (which he wasn’t drinking) over the rug.  People had to step around it.  So why am I okay with it?  Well-read on!

To read all of the signage in the Metro system, it’s clear that the main reason they don’t want people to eat and drink on the trains is the mess.  Food spills and similar messes bring bugs and rats-a problem of some “other” subway systems they don’t directly mention in their ads.  Us clean, right, proper Washingtonians don’t want that.

Well if that’s they case, why is the prohibition against eating and drinking and not food and drink.  You can bring as much food and drink on the train as you like.  You can do your grocery shopping and get home, or bring you lunch and morning coffee to work-so long as you don’t eat or drink it on the train/platform.  But if you can spill your morning coffee by drinking it, you could spill it just by holding it (or you could drop your grocery bag, or leave your lunch on the train on accident or whatever.)   So if we are really worried about attracting vermin, shouldn’t this prohibition stop all food and drink coming on the train?

Well of course the next step is to say “Ah, but there is something in the act of eating and drinking that is more likely to cause a mess.  There is the movement of liquid and the potential for crumbs…it becomes more likely to cause a mess.”

First, this doesn’t undo my point that bringing any food onto the metro creates a potential for a mess.  Second if we think about the act of eating and drinking they, by definition, require both the taking into the mouth AND the swallowing of the food or liquid.  This means that if you put something into your mouth before you get on the Metro, and don’t swallow until after you are on the train you’re okay-you’ve only completed half the act.  Similarly, and more importantly, you could put food or drink INTO your mouth, not swallow until you were done and you’d be equally clear of any charge of eating or drinking.  You could even chew or swish if you like (which is why we can have gum and, potentially, use Listerine on the train), so long as you don’t start and finish the whole act of eating or drinking within the bounds of metro.

(See what happens when a lawyer who teaches an argument class has too much commuting time?)

That’s still going to make crumbs and have a potential for making a mess, even though you’re not eating and drinking.  (By the way, if you were following the rules you wouldn’t be allowed to swallow your gum or have a cough drop on the metro.  That seems a bit lame to me.)

Lastly, I’d like to speak to the unnamed metro system with the rats, or as I like to call it, the New York Subway system.  To hear Metro tell it, New  York’s public transportation is a toilet with a third rail and the people there just go to the bathroom on the floor and throw their food to the wild vermin that are so big they have to buy a fare to get into the stations.  This is totally plays into our biggest collective insecurity in Washington-namely the “We are inferior to New York” complex some walk around with.  If you can find away to tell a DC resident they are better than people in New York, they’ll vote for you ever time and sign up for your newsletter too.

First-let’s let go of the whole need for external validation by comparing ourselves to New York.

Secondly, let’s completely compare ourselves to New York…

The truth is the New York Subway isn’t that bad.  The trains are actually pretty clean, (I think the whole “no carpeting“ helps with clean up) the platforms aren’t really that dirty and rats don’t try to sell you the newspaper. Same in Boston-the T is slow as hell, but it isn’t filthy-and they sell coffee right in the stations!  Further, if we were to suppose that New York’s metro is a bit dirtier than the DC one, could it maybe have something to do with the fact that, I dunno, they have almost 17 times as many people as we do? Okay, if we look at the comparative metro area’s of New York and DC it’s more like 3 and a half times as many people, but the DC Metro area is huge comparatively.  Looking at the population density between the two cities, New  York is packed (three times as many people per square mile).

Also-look at the tracks here, you’ll see some rats.  And bugs.  The trains are in dark underground passages-it’s where they like to live.

I say that if a city with as many people as New York can keep its system as clean as it does while allowing food and drink on the train, we can handle the responsibility here in DC.

And Metro knows we can-that’s why there are trash cans on the platforms now.  They are there because Metro and all of the riders know that the Eating and Drinking prohibition is just a brown paper bag law-Metro employees have a lot better things to do than to enforce some nonsense law regarding food and drink.  The prohibition could just as easily (and more sensibly) be against making a mess, or littering.  I’d be much more inclined to pay a $25 cleaning fee than I would a $25 fine.

You want these astronomical metro fares to go down?  Well if we could eat and drink on the metro, we could set up a few coffee and newsstands inside to defray the costs of riding the train.

Back to the picture above-didn’t matter if the kid was drinking the smoothie or not.  It was going to spill or it wasn’t.  Why bother having a rule that is completely ineffective?

So I eat on the train.  I don’t make a mess, and I throw my trash away.  If I do make a mess, I promise I’ll do something to clean it up.  You should too.  Otherwise, I don’t give a non-existent rat problem’s ass if it bothers you.

1 Comment so far

  1. Metro UPDATE: Retail on the Way!? | Washington D.C. Metblogs (pingback) on May 7th, 2009 @ 11:37 am

    […] plan they clearly got from my post a few weeks ago.  Okay-maybe we just had the same idea, but I’ll take credit for it until someone shows me […]

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