We’ve all heard the statement, “It felt like being in a can of sardines.” Those sardines seem to be packed mighty tight, and one doesn’t think that humans can actually be in a can like sardines, but I can attest to an experience that was very close to being a sardine in a can. 

In 1999, my sister asked if I wanted to join her and six friends who were planning a road trip to New York City. I pounced on the opportunity. My husband and I had discussed places we would like to visit, and New York City was on his “no way” list. 

With a departure date during the last week of June, plans were made to arrive in Washington, D.C. for the Fourth of July. We would end the day watching the fireworks at the Washington Monument. I was thrilled to have this opportunity. Although I had been to Washington, D.C. many times, I had never seen the fireworks on Independence Day. 

On July 3rd we stayed in Virginia and on the 4th, we drove to the last subway stop, parked our cars and rode the subway into D.C. Once there, we took a bus tour of the city. The temperature during the day was 105 degrees which made us thankful that one of the ladies had discovered a boat ride on the Potomac River that would stop in the middle of the river where we could watch the fireworks. The excursion included a shrimp buffet dinner with cold drinks.

Late in the afternoon, we walked to the boat docks and located the place to board the small boat. The boat deck was covered with a canopy and had tables and chairs for our use. The shrimp buffet was spread on tables just behind the captain’s quarters. The small vessel made its way to the middle of the Potomac and dropped anchor in a place with a view of the Washington Monument. We enjoyed the food and drinks while watching the fireworks in all their glory. 

At the end of the fireworks, the boat made its way back to the dock and everyone disembarked. The eight in our party trudged back to the subway entrance. We stopped at a crowd of people on the sidewalk. “This is the entrance to the subway,” my sister said.  

The rest of us had our doubts, but we located the identifying subway sign and pushed through the crowd to the steps to the subway. More people rushed down the steps and gathered along the edge of the platform. 

Although the subway trains were running every two minutes to get the throngs of people out of D.C., four trains left before we could board one. Subway doors would not close if something blocked them, so as the people crowded into each car, those inside the car had to pull on the ones who blocked the door to get their bottoms out of the doorway. The subway did not pull away from the station until the doors closed. It took two or three tries before the doors closed completely and the subway departed.  

When we were finally able to board a subway car, we encountered the same problems as the earlier trains. In addition, those who were standing could not reach the poles to hold on for security. We didn’t need to worry about falling, though; we were like sardines in a can and couldn’t move.  

The man standing behind me was shorter than I. His stomach was against my buttocks. When he laughed, I could feel his stomach moving up and down, but there was no room for me to turn around or move away. We were crammed into the subway car so tightly that no one said anything except to make small talk while hoping that someone would get off at each stop. 

No one exited our car until the next-to-the-last stop. We were sardines in a can for what seemed like an eternity and were jubilant when the subway made its last stop and we were able to climb out of our sardine can. I can now say that I know what it is like to be a sardine in a can, and it is an experience that I hope to never have again.  

Julia Nation
Author: Julia NationEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Julia Nation grew up in the Humble area and taught for more than 30 years. Email comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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