Two ticket takers on the Metra stood in the divot where the stairs lead down to the still-closed outer door. They had been talking for about 10 minutes about a co-worker who died two years before retirement.
One was older, fatter, black and patient. The other was younger, taller, wiry and white. The younger one looked around with fight in his eyes, as if every person, ticket, metal wall and announcement voice was making him angrier.
They were leaning back on the partition walls, facing each other.
“What would you do if you didn’t have to do anything?” the older one asked.
“Like if I didn’t have to work?” the younger one responded.
“Yeah. Would you quit?”
“Quit working for the railroads?”
“Yeah,” the older man said.
The younger man paused for a moment, eyeing skeptically for the catch.
“Fuck yeah,” he said.
The older man didn’t quite sigh, but his body slumped a bit before they turned to the now-opening Metra door.
“Well there you have it then,” he said as the train opened onto Bucktown.
A few days later, a man in a bar in Edgewater was talking to other bearded men about using a medal to get a table at a restaurant.
He was young, with a reddish beard that went down to his chest. Trucker cap and flannel although he had likely never been on a rig in his 20-odd years. He was just that style of young, as affected in his way as any product-lathered sharpster.
“’What’s the medal for?’ she asked. And I said, ‘I work for a brewery that just won a silver medal for-’”
Here my own conversation picked up and I couldn’t hear the bearded man’s brag.
“And 20 minutes later, she said, ‘Come right this way, sir,’” he continued, to much laughing and back-slapping among the young bearded men.
And along Armitage a bus driver reads a newspaper at red lights. At Western, a weary liquor store owner lets homeless men get out of the cold for longer than he probably should. A woman rides the Purple Line through Rogers Park wearing a baseball cap for the Evanston Jimmy John’s.
It’s the City That Works, still is. Coldly, relentlessly, unforgivingly works. Some find happiness and restaurant tables working for a brewery. Some are old too young, begging with angry eyes to get out of the railroads.
Some just work, their jobs neither good nor bad, just a place they put on temporarily for a few hours and a few bucks at a time, like a Jimmy John’s hat.
Read about a few people who truly love what they do: