Monday, March 5, 2012

The Chicago "L" Trains: Friend or Foe? :)

Waiting on a train in Elkhart today (what else is new?), my thoughts wandered back to my college years when I lived in downtown Chicago.

The "L."

What a love-hate relationship I had with this form of public transportation in Chicago.  I was awed by it because it seemed almost a living being at times, with pulse, breath . . . and attitude.  I never saw any indication of a driver, though surely there was one.  It seemed to go by its own will, acquiescing to stop at the designated places with a barely discernible air of tolerance.  "OK. Here I am.  I will open my doors for a moment, and if you're quick enough to enter before they close, I'll get you to your destination this time around.  If not, you'll have to try again later."  It was a challenge I perceived, whether or not it was actually there.

I'm not even going to start in about some of the "weird" (scary) people hanging around on the trains and at the stations.   Actually, there are scary and/or eccentric people all over Chicago.  I was narrowly missed more than once while walking, as "the driver" swerved passed me on his merry way to somewhere.  Who's "the driver," you may ask.  I don't know if he's still around, but back then, he buzzed around Downtown (on foot) steering his imaginary steering wheel and "honking" at you if you were in his way.

Anyway, back to the L.  I did have some love for it, for a more practical reason.  It got me to the too-far-away-to-walk places I needed to go!

Photo credit here
I remember having to ride from Downtown to the end of the Howard line every Sunday.  I played the piano (so to speak) for a zany (but heart-felt) church service at a decrepit little nursing home (another story for another day lol) within walking distance of the Howard station.  It seemed like a long L ride, though I don't remember now how long it actually was.  The most vivid mental picture frozen in time is that of sitting by the window on those quiet Sunday mornings, rickety-racking past windows of people's homes, so close that, if I could have reached out my train window, I would have been able to high-five any window-sitters in those homes.  It was kinda surreal.

One time, two of my friends and I boarded a train and took off for Pacific Garden Mission.  One of these friends, in her work at the mission, had met a prostitute who wanted to change her ways. 
At least that's what she had said the night before.  I don't recall precisely why we were going--probably just to offer encouragement and support to a hurting soul.  I don't know what the area surrounding PGM is like now, but back in the later 1980s, it was a scary place to walk through!  In daylight, walking from the L station to the mission was uncomfortable (the whole stepping over passed-out men on the sidewalk thing was new to me), and taking a stroll with the young lady and witnessing her subtle-but-not-so-subtle drug deal in our presence was scandalous to our young, naive minds.

The worst part, though, was when we walked, in the dark, back to the L station to return to our dorm, only to find out the trains had stopped running for the day.  Talk about naive!  Try looking at a schedule to make sure you have a ride home! Duh!  But, no.  We had simply assumed that line ran around the clock, I guess.  This was well before the cell phone era, and, though I remember making some calls from a pay phone, there was no one with a car available to pick us up.

The trek back seemed eternal.  We tried not to talk too much about how we were going to be murdered and never heard from again.  We prayed.  We sang.  We laughed (nervously).  We talked badly about the guys who hadn't been able to pick us up (not reasonable, I know, but we were a little out of our minds)--anything to get our minds off leering eyes and smelly alleys.

We made it safely. :)

The L could be fun, too, like when a group of friends took it to somewhere fun, or just rode around looking at the city lights at night. We didn't care about time or scary people.  We were young, lighthearted and together, and that's all that mattered.

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