When I first rode the DC subway and its system of massive escalators, I was still excited about the city. Riding the Metro was another in a long line of new experiences, like sending out resumes, going to interviews, dressing up in my one suit, and paying my own bills. I noticed everything: the lumbering movements of the train, the curious silence, the curt, anxious riders, sunlight and tunnel-dark, newspapers and morning breath.

I got out at the Dupont Circle stop and began my ascent out of the tunnel. I stood near the bottom of the escalator, staring up at the hundreds of yards of dark tunnel and moving steps rising up before me. This, I thought, was the biggest escalator I had ever seen – disproportionately, absurdly big, the kind of comic-book big you only read or hear about.

I stepped and was moving, traveling up with machine efficiency and straining my eyes toward the dim promise of streetlight glowing near the top.

About a quarter of the way up, with a sharp excuse me and a businesslike shove to the right, I was initiated into rush hour. I grabbed my backpack and wheeled around, but saw only the busy bottom of a walker huffing up the stairs like a piston.

I remember that I laughed then at the commuter and his self-important hurry. It was a superior laugh, haughty and young and a little too loud, the kind of laugh you aim. Nobody stopped, and nobody seemed to notice.

I was a stander then. Now I'm a walker.