In the summer of 2011, I talked one of my long-distance friends into applying for a job opening with my association in Washington, D.C. I was overjoyed when she accepted the job offer and moved from Michigan to become my co-worker and neighbor.
When I met her at our bus stop in the morning, I noticed she was carrying two small glass bowls. As a sweet “thank you” for helping her find a place to live, she told me that she got me a present for my office. Each bowl contained an adorable Beta Fish! One was red and one was blue. She gave me the blue one, and while we waited for our bus to arrive, we named them Red and Blue in honor of Dr. Seuss.
Our morning commute included four components:
I had been taking this commute for months, but this was the first time I’d attempted to do so with a baby beta fish bowl in tow.
The bus ride was no problem. We shuffled our work bags and coffee mugs around so that we could brush our metro card against the sensor with one hand and balance an open container beta fish in the other. I don’t even remember if the bus driver acknowledged this, but we sat happily with our belongings in our laps and the baby beta’s in our hands.
10 Minute bus ride = Success!
We arrived at our Pentagon stop, and filed off the bus one by one. I noticed a sign that I passed every day. I knew it said no photographs were allowed, but I hadn’t paid much attention to the rest of it. I scanned it quickly and read that neither open containers nor animals were allowed in the metro station. Keeping calm! I pointed this out to J. Knowing we were under surveillance, I held Blue close to my body as discretely as possible.
We walked along together staying toward the middle of the group and giggling at the oddity of our unlikely carry-ons. At the end of the sidewalk, the crowd diverged into two lines: Pentagon employees with badges go left, and metro commuters go right. The Pentagon employee line is guarded by two officers in camo with guns. Without making eye contact, we shifted into the metro line which tunnels down into two escalators. Almost there!
J. were making our way through the crowd as usual when one of the guards stopped us with a stern,
“Excuse me. What do you have there?”
I smiled sheepishly and lifted my tiny jar to eye-level. In unison, J. and I said,
“Fish.” “Beta fish.” and then clarified, “…for our office, we’re taking them to work.”
We waited for permission to proceed.
I was so worried that I was going to have to get back on my bus to take my fish home. I couldn’t dump the little guy. I’m pretty sure leaving Blue with the guards and picking him up at the end of the day crossed my mind briefly. I thought about the no-animals; no-open-containers sign… Surely there would be an exception for migrating office fish into a new office?
The guard smiled. SMILED. And waved us along.
Pure relief washed over me. We thanked him enthusiastically. To this day, I wonder if we were the first people to carry fish bowls past security and into the metro station. I was absolutely delighted that I was going to take my little guy to work after all!
Stop at the Pentagon: Complete!
We protected the babies and hurried down the moving escalators. We heard the familiar sound of a metro train approaching the platform. We carefully shifted Red & Blue into our left hands again so that we could scan our cards over the sensor and whiz through the turnstiles. We hopped onto the train seconds before the doors closed behind us.
We got a few odd looks while we balanced the fish bowls on the bumpy ride. We talked to each other and smiled at our little fish. No one offered us seats, but we made it through to our stop with no delays and no problems (a true miracle).
Metro right to Foggy Bottom: Check!
I thought we were in the clear, but we got off our train and emerged above ground only to find…rain. We had made it through the most worrisome parts of the trip, but we still had a ten minute walk over slick bricks. (BTW who says you can’t take a fish for a walk?!)
I don’t remember if we had umbrellas, but if we did, we must have decided it was too much to juggle because all I remember is doing my best to protect the top of that lid with my bare hand. I did the best I could, but tiny rain drops pinned and pinged on the surface of the water. Blue hid down in the bottom of his bowl and I promised I was taking him to a safer place. People must have thought we were crazy. Or maybe that we worked at the WWF next to our office?
Car horns offered angry background music while busy commuters pushed their way around us through the crosswalks. I was EXTRA careful not to slip on the brick sidewalks. My supervisor had cautioned me about this on my first day, and I could only imagine the horror of falling on my bum and watching a tiny Beta flounder around on the dirty bricks out of reach. I kept this image in the back of my mind with every step.
Ten minutes later, sure enough, we made it. I remember grinning from ear to ear when we scanned our IDs and checked into the office that morning. We must have told at least 5 co-workers about our fish before we even made it onto the elevator.
10 Minute Walk to Georgetown: Accomplished!
I’m writing about this today because I want to honor Blue and more importantly, my incredible friend who gave him to me. Isn’t it true that it’s easier to do funny, crazy things like commute with a Beta fish if you have a friend by your side the whole time? It makes me feel so much more assured. And happier. And braver. More confident. And therefore, way more likely to do something I wouldn’t do on my own. That’s what J. is to me. Together, we wandered all the way down to Georgetown Cupcakes for lunch dates. We decorated our office with Christmas lights and fake snow. We had brainstorming meetings at Starbucks. We made average things fun. And that’s what Blue symbolizes to me.
There were probably easier ways to get the fish to our office (cab?) but this trip was so memorable and so worth it. This experience reminded me that the long-term benefits often outweigh any uncomfortable initial situation.
From my experience, those things that I almost didn’t do because they were a little bit scary… they were the most worth it. I was nervous about following-up with an internship offer when I was a college Junior in 2008. If I hadn’t fought for that, I never would have met J. (and therefore Blue). I almost didn’t apply for a job in D.C. because I was afraid to live alone in a new city. If I hadn’t, I would have missed out on an incredible job opportunity that led to a million fantastic opportunities (and Blue). I almost didn’t tell Bret that I had a crush on him. CHANGED MY LIFE, PEOPLE.
You changed my life, too, Blue.
You see, when I was carrying him to my office that day, Blue was just a fish. We hadn’t exchanged long, sympathetic stares when I finished a frustrating phone call or had “Snack Time” together. (Don’t worry I washed my hands after feeding Blue and before opening my own human snack). Now, Blue is so much more than a little Beta fish. He’s an extension of me and a symbol of my happiness and courage that I left there for my friends and co-workers that I miss on the daily. Too much?
It’s a large part of what I miss about that D.C. job – the friendships I had with those co-workers. Blue has stayed in that office over a year longer than I did, and he was such a happy part of my routine. Today, he hangs out on my old desk, and I miss him every day.
I know he’s in good hands, though. Thanks for taking such great care of him, J.! I hope we get to be co-workers again one day in the not-so-distant future. And we can get two new fish for our office.
You know what I learned? Fish Ride for Free. If you don’t
ask try, you’ll never know.