A lumpy older man with perfect network hair and a dirty yellow raincoat over a dirtier bike racing jersey wandered by. The bike jersey had a zipper down the front and a picture of Gumby. Gumby bulged.
I watched the man poke around the platform. I watched chatting old guys leaning against a newspaper recycling box and texting young ones lean against the stair railing. I watched the screaming cars’ headlights shoot down the highway, an endless daisy chain of light and stress in both directions.
And I watched as one by one, the expected times for the trains back home switched from numbers to the word “Delayed.”
I had gone to this train station at midnight to, well, be at a train station at midnight. It’s a song by The Jam.
But where Paul Weller’s surprisingly grim (if you listen to they lyrics) station was a London Underground “Tube” stop, Paul Dailing’s midnight train destination was an open-air “L” stop strung between the east- and west-bound lanes of Interstate 90.
To kill time between the train that let me off at the Jefferson Park stop and the now-delayed one the beta test train tracker had promised would take me home 18 minutes later, I had toured the darkened streets of Jefferson Park.
A guy in a Blackhawks shirt tried to order from a McDonald’s drive-up. Two young lovers chatting under a tree across from a Masonic temple. Twenty feet from them, an old workman on break sipped coffee. There was a surprisingly lively hip bar where youngsters chatted and flirted over microbrews and a surprisingly lively old man bar where 60-somethings who could still hand you your ass shot the shit over shots.
I wandered rows of darkened storefronts, past a statue of a photographer outside a photography studio, under an upholstery sign from the ’50s where the S and T in the middle of the word had been replaced since then with slightly off-font versions.
Soon I wandered back to catch my train. I wandered back past the man in the CTA rain gear power washing the floors as a worker in a sweatshirt and cap wiped it clean with a push broom squeegee.
In the glassed-in walkway over the screaming cars of I-90, a yellow-vested worker I had seen earlier wiping clean the new Ventra machines had moved on to wipe down the pop machine.
My phone got to midnight 30 seconds before my watch did. I allowed myself a little twirl under the Sauron eye of the CTA security camera. I had made it. I had made an arbitrary and pointless goal and I accomplished it.
It was a new place. A new time. A new experience. And that’s enough for me sometimes.
For that brief odd moment of bulging Gumby shirts and howling cars, I was exactly where I wanted to be.