Steve Silverman poses for pictures on his way to the bus stall at the Silver Spring Metro. To see more of Silverman's bus tour, check out Just Up The Pike's "Purple Line" slideshow, featuring this and other explorations of the proposed transitway with local politicians and concerned residents.
Today, I joined Steve Silverman, his campaign manager, two volunteers, three guys from the Action Committee for Transit, a few Washington Post reporters (including the new Dr. Gridlock) and a cadre of photographers for a tour of the Purple Line from Langley Park to Bethesda via the Ride On 15 and Metrobus J3, two of the umpteen bus routes currrently serving that corridor. We met in a parking lot in Langley Park, surrounded by day laborers waiting to be picked up as the sun glowed a deep red above us. The first thing I thought upon seeing him for the first time was that he, like most politicians, is a lot shorter in person.
At 6:40 we followed the regulars onto a cramped Ride On bus headed towards Silver Spring. This was an actual bus - actually crowded with people who weren't all too happy to see a group of loud people with cameras join them on their morning commute. Silverman was especially chatty for this hour, which I appreciate in a politician. I peppered him with questions about the redevelopment that will occur along the Purple Line, which both he and the ACT guys discussed rather casually. "What do you say to the people who might be displaced by the redevelopment the Purple Line will cause?" I asked Silverman. "They're riding this bus right now."
Silverman responded with the standard MoCo Democrat piece about requiring affordable housing in each new development. He said this to me, not to the predominantly Latino crowd on the bus. A few minutes later, Steve tried to engage one guy in conversation, but he was more than unwilling to talk. One of the photographers was fluent in Spanish, meaning the guy might have taken him seriously - but wouldn't even give his name. What I wanted to say later on but never got a chance to was that certain immigrants are afraid to give out their information (for obvious reasons), and being accosted by a group of white people with a camera - on a bus, no less - doesn't seem too inviting.
But that's okay. There is a huge divide between these immigrant and lower-income communities - Langley Park, White Oak, Briggs Chaney - and The Rest of Montgomery County, and I gotta give Steve Silverman his due for at least trying to talk to the guy. Between he and Leggett he's the only one who's going to get these people off the bus, and that's what matters.
I asked Steve if he was familiar with the County Council Can-Can ("Steve, they made you a cockroach!") and he said no, instead suggesting that the Neighbors might have a little too much free time. "I'd be perfectly happy to discuss the issues with them," he said. (I really hope they take him up on that, by the way.)
At 7:05 the bus pulls into the Silver Spring Metro, where we were to meet a reporter from Channel 7, who missed us in Langley Park. I love the ambiance of the Silver Spring station as it, like all great urban places, forces a diverse array of people to be in contact with each other - sloppy skater kids, homeless people, rushed commuters, and politicians eager for a good photo op - or dozens of photo ops. I swear there was a camera going off with every step Steve took. We spent fifteen minutes at the entrance of the Metro as Steve shook hands with potential voters and talked to State Delegate Gareth Murray and County Council hopeful Tufail Ahmad. Silverman was also interviewed by the Channel 7 reporter, who was just a guy with a camera. Judging from that I'm guessing this will be on the evening news, but as nothing more than a minute-long piece. It just goes to show how much the TV media cares about something as un-sexy as public transit.
"What about the reporter from the Washington Hispanic?" one of the volunteers asked as Steve gets on the J3 to Bethesda. "We'll catch him at Bethesda," he responded. What? I thought. Given the predominantly-Hispanic communities the Purple Line passes through, don't you want as much press from the region's biggest Spanish-language publication as possible? Bad move, Steve.
Finally, we're on the J3, and moving a little faster than I normally do by myself. Judy Jablow, Silverman's campaign manager, tried to get him to look at his own billboard at Colesville and East-West Highway (which reads Want The Purple Line? Vote Steve Silverman . . .), but he's too busy talking to the Post reporter to notice. The cameras are still going off and our fellow passengers are all cowering, much as they were in Langley Park. I sat next to Richard Hoye from ACT, who was looking over some aerial photos of the Purple Line route provided by the campaign with a volunteer. I asked Richard if building this is as difficult as Robert Flanagan says it is. "No," he said. "This could have been built years ago." When asked about the Columbia Country Club, he said that their legal argument was "dead" and that they are now "on the defensive." If you remember, their lawsuit against using the Georgetown Branch for light rail went to the Supreme Court and lost all those years go. It was nice to hear something hopeful about the Purple Line.
I was in good spirits when the Silverman campaign hopped off the J3 in Bethesda, imbued with some skepticism about Silverman's personality (it's true: he is a bit self-possessed) but optimistic about his commitment to the Purple Line. The three women sitting across from me, who had been caught in the fray a few minutes earlier, were livid. "They were here Monday takin' pictures and I'm tired of that shit," one said. "They don't know me! I don't look good, and they're takin' pictures."
In closing: I left Langley Park at 6:40 this morning and did not arrive in Bethesda until 8:00. Discounting the twenty minutes we spent in Silver Spring, that is an hour-long commute to go six miles. This compares to my own commute from Calverton to Bethesda, which is an hour to go ten miles. Those numbers should speak for themselves.