Monday, November 10, 2008

CTA stories: Just some stuff

An acquaintance recently asked if I had any new CTA stories. I wish. Riding on the train in the 2000s is just another quotidian event. The Blue Line is packed like a cattle car, and my fellow commuters are mostly dull young professionals. I can tick off the mildly interesting experiences of the last year on one hand and still have some fingers left over.

On a steaming hot Saturday afternoon, I am trapped on a train stalled between Division and Damen. The air conditioning is out. Across the aisle from me are two Hasidic men wearing hats and heavy wool coats. They have luggage with them, and are probably riding all the way to O'Hare. Watching them melt distracts me from my own misery. There are tiny drops of moisture gathering on their beards. Finally, one of them asks, with a surprising Yiddish accent "So, are trains in Chicago usually not air-conditioned?"

I walk into the Logan Square station to commute to work. The ticket agent is standing in the middle of the entry, shouting "No Trains Today!" over and over. Why? I ask. She shrugs and continues her message loop. I go above ground and cross the street to wait for the Milwaukee bus with...oh about 50 other people. One man says that he heard that there's been a fire in the tunnel. (As we later discover, a train derailed and a major evacuation fiasco ensued. On the Chicago Tribune website I see a photo of my friend Annie clambering out of some grungy Capone-era emergency hatch.)

A Milwaukee bus arrives, subtly rocking back and forth with the enormous weight of too many people. For some insane reason, I fight my way on. At each stop, more people irrationally squeeze on to the bus. I can't breath. Someone's armpit is close to knocking my glasses off. I realize that I am going to throw up/faint/scream. I begin the lengthy process of fighting my way off the bus. My fellow commuters are not going down easy. Usually, people step off to allow others to leave. Riders on the Bus of the Damned are glassy-eyed, refusing to budge. "Let me out!" I shout. "I'm gonna be sick!" I am nearly ejected on to the sidewalk.

On the evening of November 4, I enter the subway station, on my way to watch the election results at a friend's house. Four men are clustered together talking excitedly: two Puerto Rican guys wearing athletic jerseys with enormous portraits of Obama printed on the front and lots of bling, an older white guy with a ponytail (they don't call it the People's Republic of Logan Square for nothing), and a young white hipster. The boys are all pumped about Obama's chances. The hipster and I discuss Nate Silver's very encouraging electoral projections on He tells me, "He (Silver) lives right here in Chicago, in Wicker Park." We both marvel at being in Chicago right now, witnesses to History. When I get off at my stop, the guys wave and wish me a good night.

That's all the recent news from Chicago, the Mild, Mild West. Next time I promise to go back 15 years or so.

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