Riding Along

January 27, 2012
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I sit on the bench staring at the cold, iron tracks below. A few people rise from the grooves of the escalator and walk up the platform, occasionally looking behind for any trace of headlights. I stare quietly down at my shoes, waiting to hear that familiar grumbling of wheels on tracks. It starts out as a soft smooth sound, but as the train approaches nearer and nearer, the sound coarsens into hard, destructive metal-on-metal roars. I stand up and stop with my toes right behind the blue line. The train sails past me, sending my hair in all directions. As it comes to a steady halt, I head to the doors nearest me and step into the car. I check to see if my usual spot is open, and when it is, I sit down comfortably, legs folded, purse in lap. “Damen is next. Doors open on the right at Damen”. So it begins.
There’s something I love about taking the train. Aside from the occasional jam-packed cars, riding the train is in its own way…relaxing to me. The rickety sound of the wheels comforts my ears and the sway of the train gently rocks me back and forth. The opening and closing of doors is like a mellow beat, sounding at every stop. The echo of the wheels leaves an eerie trail behind as the train surges through dark tunnels underground. All the noises form a steady kind of meloday, a melody I can hear simply by thinking about it.
And I get to see so many things. The 9 AM work crowd in suits carrying nicely-kept briefcases, the foreign tourists pulling out Chicago maps from their backpacks, the mothers and their young children going to visit the museums, the huddle of teenagers that crowd the train doors as they continue their giggly gossip, the tired construction worker resting in his corner of the car– I see them all. Outside the train, there’s even more. O’ Shaughnessy’s Bar at Damen. The Potbelly’s ad at Paulina. Wish Field at Fullerton. The river and Wacker Drive on the way to Merchandise Mart. The familiarity of these sights and locations is always soothing and reliable. The entire city lies before me and all I have to do is sit back and watch.
There I am in my seat, watching the people and the world go by. The best part of just sitting there on the train? The feeling of anonymity. I don’t have to pretend to be something else, I don’t need to look a certain way, I don’t even need to have a real purpose. I can just sit there and think about whatever I want, or be whoever I want to be. Because no one in that train knows me, and I don’t know anyone in that train. It works beautifully like that.
The moment I walk into the car, I’ve become part of a system. A moving system that holds people from all backgrounds and transports them to wherever their destinations are. Although every person on that train has a different destination, they have been shuffled together in this one, long system for the ride. Being on that train, I have become part of this urban shuffle that is Chicago. A sense of belonging and pride slowly sinks in as the train continues rolling along to the next stop. The same automatic voice announces, “Western is next. Doors open on the right at Western.” I smile the faintest smile.





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