The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, December 01, 2003  

Brought to You by The Money Train

Writing about the tap-dancing Pentagon mouthpiece Pete Williams -- and I was, or did -- brought back a flood of memories from my 11 years in Washington. While I’m here, and while you’re here, can I just share a funny story from my days in the nation’s capital? No? The hell with you, I will anyway.

Okay, so it was fall 1992 I think and I was taking a night class in accounting, one of many such night classes in accounting, and I was waiting for the subway at about, oh, 11 o’clock at night.

A train approached the station. Everyone waiting for the subway at first moved toward the platform, anticipating embarkation, but as the train entered the station nearly everyone, everyone, in fact, but one person, moved back.

Why? Because it was the “money train.”

The money train, for those not familiar, is the term used in Washington for the train that runs through the Metro system late at night to pick up the cash collected during the course of business.

It is an armed train. A heavily armed train. In fact, when the money train arrives at a Metro station, all of its doors open and out of each car emerges at least one armed guard. Armed as in carrying what appeared to me, as one who is mostly ignorant when it comes to guns, a pretty damned good-sized rifle. So, even if you didn’t know immediately that it was the money train, the rifles normally would have served as a pretty good warning to, as they say, “Step back, fella.”

On this particular night there was at the station an especially impatient gentleman who was, it seems, entirely unfamiliar with the money train and its regular rounds, and, worse, willfully ignorant of the significance of the armed guards who emerged from each and every car when the train came to a complete stop.

This gentleman, regardless of the evidence before his very eyes, was determined to board the train. Very determined. Making his way toward the doors -- this door and then that door, aiming himself at those doors not otherwise blocked by, well, men with guns -- he was hell-bent on boarding that damned train.

“Sir, step back.”

“Sir, this is the money train.”

“Sir, please step back.”

“Step back now!”

Despite repeated warnings and some aggressive blocking, to the point of one guard having actually raised and pointed his rifle, justifiably in my opinion, this man, in an absurdly agitated state, persisted.

I’ll tell you, it was scary. The rest of us on the platform not only stood back, as was requested specifically of the seemingly mentally disturbed man, we almost cowered behind phone booths and escalators and such.

And then, in a moment that can only be described as Washingtonian, purely and in its very essence, the man screamed at the armed guards, “Let me on this train! I need to get on this train! Now! Do you know who I am?! Do you know how important I am in this town?!”

Damn, if that’s not a tension-relieving bit of unintentional hilarity, I don’t know what is. Maybe he was famous, powerful, and important, but I sure as hell didn’t recognize him. But only in Washington can the executive director of the National Chickenfeed Association or whatever think he is that important and so deserving of special treatment that he, and he alone among 50 weary and waiting travelers, should be privileged enough to get on board.

As the money train pulled out of the station, its armed guards back in position and Mr. Chickenfeed aghast and appalled, all I could think to say to this idiot was, “Look, pal, if you’re waiting for a subway train at 11 o’clock at night, let’s face it, you’re nobody.”

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