I’m too nervous and anal retentive, I plan my routes carefully, I even run a dry run to be certain of the timing before it matters. It’s not that I’m scared of travel, I love it. Airports are my secret home. Amtrack my hostel.
But my love for the CTA and its elevated train and bus system was hard won. Actually, they both unnerved me for a while, as much as the San Diego system did in my youth. The El was less daunting, as it had a defined path and specified route. Red line so, blue line thus. And so, little by little, the trains wormed their way into my heart. It took another few years for the bus system to do so, and even now I regard it as a backup.
Today I took the Metra for the first time. 7:13 to Schaumburg for a class. That hour meant I was up around five, attempting to eke out another thirty minutes while my SO snored and the cat fussed. As the radio despaired the end of Summer, I prepared myself for the day, even remembering my lunch for once. Then a pre-dawn walk to the train, brown to the loop, and the Metra.
The Metra’s housed at Union Station, and I know it well enough that I found my train and with only nerves got aboard. I normally sleep on the El and the bus, even Amtrack. Not so the Metra. The windows are tinted green, not the brown sunroof hue I am accustomed to, and the seats are padded.
The day passed well enough. The class will suffice to keep me out of trouble for the week. Coming home, I dozed fitfully until the announcer cheerfully declared ‘Next stop is Chicago, Union Station.’
Oh, I was awake, up in my seat, nose to the window as I strained for a view of that skyline. Then we turned a corner and I saw the Hancock building. Home. There was the world I loved. There were my gleaming towers of might, steel and stone.
I escaped the maze that is Union Station, and took a long look. That day, my views of Chicago had all been in the dim light of dawn. Now I could see, in the gasps before sundown began, everything.
Unafraid, I walked to the brown line, eschewing the bus for the walk in my city. On Randolph, I crossed the river and hummed songs about the city. Just one day apart and my soul ached for a return. I stopped to look up and the Sears tower, wondering if it fell, would my fervor for Chicago fade.
In Schaumburg, I felt the stranger. They were not my people, they were not my cabs, they were not my city school kids. This was the dread suburbia. This was ‘beautiful, crime free, Schaumburg’ (and isn’t that a title to instill comfort?). No, suburbia would never call to me.
Not like Chicago does.
I walked, watching the wonderfully wriggly ass of a pretty metrosexual as he minced up the stairs to his El train. I walked, listening to the Buffy behind me bitch to her girlfriend about how her date only wanted her boobs (I checked, they were nice boobs). I walked, inhaling the odor of rancid food, urine and diesel, and found the perfume comforting, though not appealing.
I rode the train while a Latino cursed in two languages at her landlord, a Polish woman read her paper, and people talked about the rat race that is Life in Chicago.
It felt so good. My crazy people. My transportation. My cabs.
Mine. Chicago is.