- Deliver us, Friedman. (Photo: C-Span)
Be proud, Washington D.C. The infamous Metro station escalators, the source of so much frustration and debate in the District in recent weeks, are now officially a metaphor for New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
The writer has a voracious appetite for the metaphor, as many of you may have realized. Friedman's world, as we know, is flat. It's hot, crowded. In a Friedman speech yesterday, America was everything from a "precious jewel" ("...and we really need to get back to polishing it") to "the tentpole that holds up the world." "If you cut without a plan, watch out," Friedman told the National Governors' Association at their annual meeting yesterday morning in Utah. "You may hit an artery."
But as much as the foreign affairs columnist likes golfing in Asia and jetting with the globe's elites, he's also a fellow Washingtonian, and he feels your pain. Yes, Thomas Friedman is a Bethesda resident. He visits the Metro station there. And sure enough, he understands the agony that is the Bethesda Metro station — and specifically, its broken escalators. The example leads his new book, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, about America's failing spirit as well as the opening to his speech to the country's governors yesterday.
"What was taking this modernization so long?" Friedman asked in disbelief over Metro repairs.
The symbol of the busted Metro escalator reflected a broader American "sense of resignation," as Friedman phrased it to the politicians. He, like so many of us, was familiar with escalators that didn't work, the reality of squeezing single-file up and down the machine stairs that never moved. The Bethesda station baffled Friedman specifically due to the length of the repairs.
"The two short escalators had been under repair for six months," Friedman said yesterday morning. He compared the slow repair process to what he had observed not long ago in China, where it took "a construction group 32 weeks to build a world-class convention center from the ground up, including giant escalators in every corner, and it was taking the Washington Metro crew 24 weeks to repair two tiny escalators with 21 steps each."
Touché. That is a rather damning comparison and not likely to lift the mood of many D.C. area commuters. Friedman soon declared himself a "frustrated optimist" and said that America needs to rise up against the broader spirit of these busted escalators. He quoted from newspapers about the state of the D.C. Metro: the shrieks of the machinery, the fact that during rush hour, one commuter said they were just used to the lines — a statement that struck the Times columnist as outrageous. For him, "Average is officially over ... just being average won't cut it anymore."
Metro, of course, would point to the $150 million going into escalators over the next few years and the brand-new escalator installed at the Foggy Bottom station, the first in 15 years. That's a start, to be sure. It's a step forward. But the best and most hilarious honor might be ascendancy to the status of Thomas Friedman metaphor.
Thomas Friedman has spoken, D.C. To carry on this metaphoric spirit, I'll close by saying the ball, now, is in WMATA's court. Let's hope we can all be above average from here on out.