Wednesday. Early evening. Possibly my favorite time of the week.
The escalator carries me up and out of the DC underground and into the windy bustle of Foggy Bottom. Every week I ride the metro from work up to the George Washington campus and eat a chilidog before heading to class. I eat a chilidog because eating gives reason for sitting, and sitting gives reason to engage in one of my favorite pastimes: people watching.
Compared to the people who live and play in my Alexandrian bubble, the women who work and walk by the GW campus are an intriguing bunch. High heels, designer purses, young, hip, intellectual. These are the women that give DC notoriety. Everyone here has a plan and walks with a purpose.
I eat my chilidog.
It’s a curious endeavor to imagine what they’re thinking about as they walk the way they do. I’m concentrating on avoiding getting ketchup on my pants, but I’m also realizing that I was wrong this morning when I determined that this specific pair of socks was clean, and now I’m paying the stiff and itchy price. Are they thinking about their socks? Are they thinking about a court case? Legislation? The next evil company they will investigate? They all look so self-assured; as if certainty in all things was a given. Are they even wearing socks?
The look of these women makes it hard to be comfortable being so unsure of yourself. I have a plan, it’s a shaky one, and I change it often. Someone watching me walk would probably notice no distinct purpose and that I let my eyes bounce from object to shiny object. What have they figured out that I haven’t?
On my metro ride home, I notice a particularly striking example sit down across the aisle from me. She has a briefcase and wears a suit. An elegant forehead makes her feel imposing even at 5’6″. She sits down, pulls out an iPod and dons a pair of ridiculously cliché white ear buds and closes her eyes.
Less than a minute later, she just starts to cry.
There are no sobs. She has a smile on her face, and the tears run down faster than she can wipe them away. I try not to stare, which I’m usually only moderately successful at.
She continues to sit, holding her briefcase, clutching her Nano and wiping the tears away as fast as she can, unable to contain the beaming smile she still wears.
I have no idea what she is thinking.
Pretending to have an idea of what goes on inside other people’s heads lets me build up a fictional image of who they are. The sharp dressed lawyer thinking about going in for the kill. The business woman contemplating the next takeover. But maybe everyone is like me, and inside what sometimes can be a stoic figure lurks those three fun little words: fear, uncertainty and doubt.
The lawyer is worried she’ll fuck up, that her case isn’t good enough and she’ll finally be exposed as the fraud she is. The business woman doesn’t care about work anymore, she just can’t stop thinking about the custody battle she’s going through to get her son back.
The outsides might sometimes look slick and unwavering, but on the inside I guess we’re all a little scared.