Amazing how some things never change…

3 minute read

September 21, 2016, 10:04 AM

It’s always amazing how some things never change.  Back on August 25, Elyse and I were photographing trains at the MARC station in Gaithersburg.  After the train departed, I captured this photo of a flurry of people walking across the tracks before the gates went up:

People crossing the street at the Gaithersburg MARC station, August 25, 2016

Imagine my surprise when, about four days later, after Elyse posted an unrelated MARC photo on her Facebook, a friend of hers named John Floyd commented with this photo:

John Floyd's photo of Gaithersburg MARC in 1994
Photo: John Floyd II

It came about when I commented “nice elbow” on the original photo, and Elyse’s comment that people will stand right in front of you while you’re lining up a photo.  It has nothing to do with the photography, but rather, they’re not paying the least bit of attention to the foamer, and are just doing their own thing.  Floyd’s comment nailed it:

Commuters are inflexible creatures of habit. They stand in the same boarding spots every morning and try to sit in the same coaches, if not the very same seats every single day. Mind you, when they get off the train in the evening, the mission is simple: rush en masse to their cars and try to leave before everyone else clogs the traffic up!

And with that, he posted this photo from 1994 showing people crossing the tracks at Gaithersburg.  That photo just blew my mind.  I was standing a few steps forward from where Floyd was standing, 22 years later.  Talk about inflexible creatures of habit.  Exact same scene.  Some of the buildings are different, and the signals were replaced, but otherwise, it’s the same.

Let’s admit: commuting habits typically don’t change.  When I commuted into DC for six years, I took the same bus with the same people every day, and typically sat in the same seat.  Likewise, I got on the Metro, stood in the same spot to wait for it, and then always sat in the same seat there, too.  In the morning, I sat in the sixth car, which would land me right next to the escalator for the 19th Street entrance at Dupont Circle station.  Then going back towards Glenmont, I would always sit in the first car, and would typically end up in the second row of seats, which was a good place for napping after work.  And I would get annoyed if “my” spots were taken – especially when I was looking to take that nap on the way home, since the window and the back of the seat line up in the second row, therefore, it’s a good place to put your head.

And that’s what makes things like photographing commuting infrastructure and commuting scenes so interesting, because it generally doesn’t change.  The two photos above are the exact same scene, 22 years apart.  Fast forward to 2038 and take the photo again, and I’ll bet it will look the same as well, with different looking buildings and different clothing styles (or maybe not, considering that a lot of 1990s fashions are currently “in” again).