#236: From ‘L’

October 30th, 2013

There are few things pleasant about public transit and the new inward-facing CTA trains managed to eliminate them all.

For those not familiar with the Chicago ‘L’ trains, the new cars on the Pink, Red and Green lines are proof positive to me that some low-level city billing clerk is now able to buy two boats and Portugal.

Unlike the regular ‘L’ cars, which have rows of two seats each, half facing forward, half facing backward, the new cars lined the walls with seats that faced in. No longer can you gaze out the window at this strange, beautiful city.

Now you lurch along the Red Line’s curves and constructions zones, getting queasy with your only view the faces of people getting queasy watching you.

The view also killed any sense of privacy you and a co-rider might have. It’s OK to coo and smooch with your beau when the only witnesses are in front of you, in back of you or facing the other direction, but that private deep conversation with a work friend about what you hope the doctor’s tests say get a little stymied when you’re wedged between a plump mom commuting between jobs and a skeletal hipster wearing little boys pants.

Now you know you’re lodged in a tube with strangers. Your eyes are aimed at them, your ears can’t hear anything but them and nothing is left to distract from the smell of jam-packed humans in a tube.

Those facts, coupled with a particularly smelly fellow rider, help explain why I got off the Red Line three miles north of my destination and was now sipping a McDonald’s Sprite I bought to calm my stomach.

It’s always hard to tell how much to complain about mediocre things. My stomach-calming walk involved a stroll past the theater where John Dillinger was shot. I thought about all the blood-soaked streets this city nurtures. More every day.

I thought about all the things worse than gang violence – the causes of this devouring. I thought about poverty and gaps in education. I thought about social justice, power, money, all the new blood the city would cull from trading off poor people’s lands for new Targets and Whole Foods.

My queasy stomach seemed a small cost by comparison.

Then I remembered it’s possible to have a cold and cancer at the same time.

So no, Chicago, I’m not going to let you off the hook for the little because of the big. I’m not going to let your bloody streets take away from your corruption. Who did benefit from these awful new cars? Why did you sell off the CTA to Ventra? Who did short pour the concrete? Bribe the health inspector? Screw over the city on parking meters? And for the love of god, stop screwing with the TIFs.

Things get worse when people stop caring. I’m as powerless as anyone else in this ransomed town, but I can at least keep doing that.

I hope the city clerk’s boats and Portugal were worth it.

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