Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.
In the grind of a daily commute, announcements on Metro tend to disappear among all of the ambient noise. But when a train operator goes the extra mile, the difference can be shocking.
On days when I am running late, I occasionally don’t board my Orange Line train at New Carrollton until 7:20 a.m. When that happens, my ears are greeted by a very unusual train operator. His voice is loud, clear, and occasionally funny. He’s not actually saying funny things. It’s just a bit funny to be hearing this clear and competent voice telling us what will happen next.
Do you know who I am talking about? When he pulls into a crowded downtown station, he tells the people on the platform how many doors the entire train has, as a means of coaxing people to use all the doors. He also asks you to use all the doors, and occasionally thanks the crowd of passengers when they comply.
Maybe what’s funny is that he is trying to get people to behave like rational passengers through an audio system whose announcers usually seem to be unaware that they are addressing people at all. And often they aren’t, because they are not speaking clearly or into the microphone.
I have no idea who this guy is, but he should be paid 10% more than the other operators. What he provides is more valuable. Whether or not you value the entertainment (perhaps he distracts people who prefer to read and never pay attention to what flight attendants say either), the trains run a little bit faster and fewer people miss their stop because his announcements are clear.
One thing I’ve always found a bit out of place, however, is when he announces with a perfect French accent that the next stop is “Le Font Plaza.” Most train operators probably say that, but most operators don’t appear to have good command of public speaking anyway.
So one day last May, when his afternoon train reached the end of the line, I walked up to him when he got out of his cab. I told him how good his announcing is. I was taken aback because in person, he spoke with much less clarity and enthusiasm than what I had been hearing over the train’s audio system.
In fact, I was not really sure it was the same person, except he was clearly the man who had been driving the train. I think he mentioned he was from the state of New York and that he had taken some training on announcing.
I tried to tactfully suggest that he pronounce “L’enfant” correctly, since he is so good. He told me that I should probably take this up with the Metro office that coordinates all the train operators. That surprised me a bit, because I was expecting him to either say that he had not realized that he was pronouncing it incorrectly, or perhaps, that he does so out of habit, accidentally.
I persisted, because of course here he was in front of me. I had no intention of lobbying WMATA just to get announcers to pronounce station names correctly. I started to say, “L’enfant designed the city of Washington, so…” But he cut me off with a curt “I know who he was.” And then he told me he needed to go to the operator room and rest.
It was a bit of a letdown, and I certainly felt like I must have come off as an unreasonable pest (a feeling I often have). And of course, the next time I was on his train, he announced “Le Font Plaza,” again with his perfect French accent.
All that was last May. Then, last week, as I took a train home, I heard that voice saying “18 doors” as we pulled into Federal Triangle. And then, a moment later, I heard him announce, with a perfect French accent: “L’Enfant Plaza”.
I have no idea what led him to start pronouncing the station name correctly, or whether he always does so. Maybe he was just tired when I met him and he thought about it. Maybe someone with better interpersonal skills than mine made the same point. I have no idea.
But the man deserves a raise.
What kind of announcements do you hear from train operators (or bus drivers) on your commute? Do any stand out?