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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Monday, January 09, 2006

Cargo Like Me

One of my favorite commute-to-work games is "Dope Fiend or Cell Fiend", in which I observe those people during my daily bus/train rides who appear to be talking to themselves, in an attempt to figure out if they're babbling away on a hands-free device or merely ranting into the air.

Actually, it's become a very challenging game.

I try to take the bus to work in the morning and I usually like to take the train home at night. I like bussing it to work because it's a slow ride in which I can spend 45 minutes or so waking up, reading a book, listening to my headphones on shuffle with the knowledge that when I first wake up, for some reason every song I hear is The Best Song In The World.

It's a good day when a newer bus lumbers around the corner to pick me up in the morning. The newer buses are warmer and also feature single-seats along the right side of the bus. This no-schmoe insurance has become a source of great comfort for me, as I always seem doomed to sit next to Cuddles McFootsie on public transportation, and I've never been one to humor chronic space invaders gladly.

This morning, alas, I had to suffer a rickety old-skool CTA bus, complete with an authentic drug-fueled full-throttle ranter who was only too happy to work the entire bus in an effort to put on a full-scale, top of the line Five-Star Cracktacular.

This is why I insist on the sense-damaging earbuds with the little soft plastic tunnel designed to burrow directly into one's ear canal. It's much more entertaining to experience someone on full-rant when you can see them acting out in front of you, but you don't actually have to listen to their performance. Let's just call it the New Mime.

At the end of my work day, I like taking the train home from work because it's fast, and the red line wastes no time speeding its passengers out of downtown Chicago's Loop district. On a good day, I'm out the door of my workplace and in the door of my apartment in a short, sweet 25 minutes.

I guess it goes without saying that my transit habits pretty much expose my feelings about downtown Chicago - I'm in no hurry to get there, but at the end of the day, it's time to get the hell outta Dodge.

But my daily migration is based on something else, to be honest. I truly believe the speed of the vessels dictate the tempers of the people riding them. In other words, I think the relative plodding action of the morning bus has a calming effect on the passengers. I think the harried staccato of the CTA trains go right to our adrenal glands.

I've felt it in the morning - taking the train to work can feel like an Olympic three blocks to the station, climb the stairs, brave the cold of the platform and queue strategically so you can be directly next to an entrance when the next train arrives...all the while battling every other cranky soul who's trying to do the same exact thing.

Meanwhile, with the bus, I stumble out of my apartment, walk a block or two down my street, and eventually the #36 yawns down Broadway and scoops me up with a minimum of incident. I can save my O.J. Simpson Avis routine for after work, when I've built up eight hours of fidgety pent-up energy and am willing to kick butt to get back to the relative serenity of my home. Heck, there have been days when I've missed the train by mere moments, and have actually chased the train down the platform to the next stop...and won! It just proves, when it comes to getting home ASAP, I have no problem becoming faster than a speeding locomotive.

Unless I'm riding with someone else, I usually don't like to sit on the train. This is mainly due to packed subway train trauma experienced in my previous life as a New Yorker. Packed peak-hour trains in Chicago are no treat. The train cars hardly provide enough room in which to breathe, and people are mean and smell bad to boot. Multiply this by about 100, and you have a New York subway train. There were days in which the train was so ruthlessly crowded, I wasn't allowed off the train at my stop because the train car was so incredibly packed that people would not - or could not - move to let me out.

Add this to a pre-existing issue with claustrophobia and you've got a Glee Club ready to explode with something less than mirth.

So, part of my Urban Training was the art of staying near an exit at all times, or at least figuring out how to get near the exit within two stops of my destination...while at the same time, not contributing to the problem of the train car's overcrowding problem. People tend to want to bottleneck at the exits of a train car, most likely for the same reason as I want to be near the doors. This, of course, makes it difficult for people to enter or exit the train. So, I make sure I'm the last person to board the train, and I make sure to step off the train when people board, so as not to be in their way. This also benefits me, as I always end up in the same spot - right next to the exit.

I've always thought of New York's subway system and Chicago's El as urban Darwinism at work. The train is not for the plodding rural lollygagger, nor is it for the suburban couch potato whose outlook is "the world is my living room". During rush hours, the train is not particularly even for people who are, as a rule, nice. It's a churlish orgy of entitlement and foul moods, and if you don't stake your ground then someone else will be more than happy to take what little personal space you have and reclaim it as their own...especially if it gets them in a seat or off the train before you.

Sounds awful, and it is. But hey - it gets you home in a flash.

And really, I shouldn't be getting all "jungle law" about the train, because I don't have *THAT* much room to complain - I'm lucky in that my work hours are modified to get me to work before the 9-to-5 transit rush, and to get me home before the daily commuter mosh pit starts to spin its fists and elbows. Even at this advantage, the train is still an obstacle course...but at the end of a typical work day, it's a nice little workout before I hit my doorstep.

And the next morning, the bus will creep down my dark, quiet street and ease me into another day.


Blogger superspaceboy said...

And of course this takes me right back. I do miss the days of the long commute, as that would be when I would read. And in Chicago, almost everything is a long commute compared to here. I can recall days of having 2 jobs ...3 hours of my day commuting.

One of my first times on the "el" was my first times at juice club "medusas" corner of Sheffield and school. Not only was it where Siouxsie played incognito concerts, but it was internationally known as the underage alternative club. Back in the days of Punkin Donuts and the REAL Alley.

I went with my friend Eric who had been before and he helped me get there as I had never driven to the north side and had no idea where I was going (or that that neighborhood would be where I grew up as an adult). We pulled under the viaduct and saw some parking and parked. My friend pointed out one of my first homeless people/wino to me...right in front of my car. YAY.

SO we go in and dance. On Sat they kick everyone out at 10:30 and let 17 over in at 11. It was drizzeling when we got there and raining by this time. We get back in line to get back in. We thought of taking a peak at the car, but the rain detered us. We were going to stay for one more hour and would see it then.

Hour and a half later we leave. We go to look for the car and can't find it. It's well lit now under the viaduct and we see a sign...something about towing. I had spent almost all of my money and I needed to find out if it got towed or stolen. I asked for a quarter from a passer by...called Lincoln towing and they said "yeah it's here". So I had to find a way home and a way to get the car back.

Eric suggested taking the EL, as it was really the only way. It's like 1 am and the 103rd street bus was definitely not running it would stop at vincennes (near Halstead). Far from my house and in a bad neighbor hood. YAY. However it did drop us off closer to Erics house.

I should back it up a bit. This is on hte eve of my 18 BD and I had a Bitday Breakfast with my grandparents the next day.

There were already crazy people out and about. And on the El at Remember this is my first time in the city or on the a very innocent 17. There were all kinds of crazy folk on the train...from one guy yelling and another girl all drunk and singing. We would meet up with her at the 95th station later, when she started singing "it's my birthday". I think I told her it was mine as well. That got unwanted attention.

Needless to say we got to my friends house, got money, got into his moms car and drove out my lost on the way back and was in bed by oh...4:30.

Lucy had a lot of explaining to do as it was my dad's car. He laughed.

I recall running into a friend there, kim who was with some other friends. We all went to the same community college. Little did I know, Later on I would become good friends with Kim's friends (not Kim). But apparently that was a bad night for everyone. They got locked out of their car in the rain.

I think Mercury was in retrograde or something.

11:12 AM, January 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I'm on the El, I play a similar game -- "Who Beat Off This Morning". It can be both titilating and repulsive.

12:14 PM, March 28, 2006  

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