Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

From his bed at Virginia Hospital Center, reluctant newsmaker Glenn Smith gave me his version of his widely reported mishap.

The 77-year-old homeowner on N. Trinidad St. in the Williamsburg area made local TV and online news last week after he suffered a fall in his kitchen and survived alone on the floor for five days — taking nourishment from his nearby stash of Coca-Cola.

Smith, who retired in 2009 as seismic technology specialist for Federal Highway Administration, is, of course, grateful to alert neighborhood letter carrier Yvette “E” Stevens for his rescue. Consulting with a neighbor, the mailwoman on Aug. 2 summoned police for a “welfare check” after noticing for several days that Smith’s mail was piling up and his door opened. “She’s probably the only postal person I’ve known,” Smith told me.

The emergency medical technicians who arrived and transported a weakened Smith to the hospital couldn’t allow him a drink and “got confused about my name,” he said.

Smith acknowledged that the reason he fell in his kitchen was likely that he’d “skipped a few meals.” His sole vivid memory before the fall was being on the computer at Westover library the day before.

Though the Coke detail was emphasized by the early coverage in ARLNow and local TV channels WUSA and WTTG, Smith, to be precise, also imbibed lime soda from Harris Teeter, he told me.

Smith is actually a homeboy in the neighborhood now dominated by younger newcomers with children. His parents owned a house behind his Trinidad St. brick rambler, and Smith in the 1950s attended Stewart-Tuckahoe Elementary School and then Stratford and Williamsburg junior highs. In 1960 he graduated from Washington-Lee, “the best high school in the country,” he said.

In a neighborhood of younger families, “I am the senior citizen,” Smith said, recalling that three other elderly people — younger than he — lived nearby when he retired in 2009, but they have since died. His generation is not usually included in the block parties, he said — though several neighbors, interviewed on the local news expressing shock at his near-calamity and have vowed to keep a better eye on neighbors who are at risk.

Smith has been visited in the hospital by his two daughters, both teachers in southern Virginia. He is expected to be released around Aug. 22.

The hero Stevens, a D.C. resident with 21 years at the Postal Service, told me she knows the names of all the residents to whom she delivers mail on a route she’s been working for more than a decade. She got worried because she was used to seeing Smith out mowing his lawn. “God used me as a vessel, and I was at the right place at the right time,” she said. The lesson for all is “if you see something, say something. If something looks out of place, don’t ignore it.”

Eager to regain lost ridership, Metro seems to be tolerating rule-breakers who eat or drink in the system. The rules, not posted prominently, exist to head off the costs of cleaning up after spills and resulting vermin.

But some riders (particularly tourists) ignore them, though Metro assures me it has not abandoned enforcement.

It’s common for commuters to visit a coffee shop next to their Metro shop and glide down the escalator with a full cup. My naïve query to Starbucks on whether they might remind customers of the rules went unanswered. Ironically, Dunkin’ Donuts actually offers a discount to coffee purchasers who display a Metro SmarTrip card.