Monday, March 31, 2008

CTA stories: Throwdowns

For my first year in Chicago, my co-worker Darryl was in charge of getting my urban slang vocabulary up to speed. Not that he wanted the job, but as the only black employee at our advertising art studio, he was often forced into the role. There were some small rewards, like the time he laughed until he wept after I told him I thought "bootie" was another term for "foot." Yes, I thought that when KC and the Sunshine Band sang "shake your bootie, it's your duty," they were just doing a disco version of the Hokey-Pokey. In addition to getting the body parts vocab straightened out, Darryl introduced me to the term "throwdown," or, fight. Like most African American slang, the term has been appropriated by white youth culture, and now also means moshing/slam dancing. But in 1985, it meant a good old knock-down-drag-out.

I haven't seen a throwdown on CTA in more than a decade. Especially on the gentrified north side, the chance of seeing an all-out slugfest on a bus or train have dwindled to almost nothing. The last two I witnessed occurred fairly close to each other in early 90's: an all-girl melee on the North Avenue bus which left the floor littered with torn homework and hair extensions, and the Brown Line meat fight.

The latter happened on a warm day, as the southbound Ravenswood/Brown Line train made it's way out of the Armitage station. I was sitting in one of those sideways-facing seats near rear, headphones in, lost in my music. Suddenly, everyone else started bustling through the emergency exit door to the following car. I glanced to the front of the car, expecting to see a bumblebee, or even someone know, ordinary train-clearing stuff. Instead, there were two men punching and kicking the hell out of each other. I joined the line exiting the car.

By the time we pulled into the Sedgwick stop, we were all cowering in the other car while the fight continued. After a minute or two, one of the combatants pulled the emergency lever and forced the doors of his car open. He ran down the platform and toward the stairs, taking a sudden detour as a police officer bounded up and pursued him. The second guy, who had an anachronistic porn mustache, followed. A few moments later, he returned, looking wild-eyed. He stood outside our car, talking to a second cop. His neck was covered with bloody scratches, and in one hand, he held a raw steak. I'm not sure what cut, but it was a large one, maybe a Porterhouse.

After about a fifteen minute delay, the train continued on. We passed the first man, now face down on the platform and cuffed, surrounded by police. The role the steak played in the conflict is unclear.

photo by sparktography


Llalan said...

A public transit story only tangentially related: a young but large black man sauntered onto the bus I was riding home the other night, all big afro and baggy security guard uniform. The few of us also on the bus were dutifully ignoring his phone conversation; however, once comfortably seated, he got louder. At, "Listen! I got a lesbian to give me a blow job!" our ears collectively perked. Something about his decided lack of slang made his statement all the more outrageous and unbelievable. He continued in this manner, increasing in volume but becoming somewhat fixated on the size of his penis, "it's SO big!" until he strode off, bobbing his hair. I had fantasies of standing up to him, saying, in my white-kid-of-the-nineties-in-the-midwest nasal tones, "Dude. We all know ain't no one on that phone. Just put it away, bro."

The Fifty Foot Blogger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Fifty Foot Blogger said...

Pathetic...when I threatened to mace some pervert on the train once, he called me a lesbian. What is it about all these penis-crazed lesbians, eh?