#419: Accommodating Passengers

December 31st, 2014

A ratty man with a ratty, chest-level wisp of a beard reminisced with a well-dressed acquaintance about a laundromat in Southport “where you could drink beer and have a burger.”

“It’s gone now, I think,” the well-dressed one responded.

The trick is not making it sound like you’ll miss it more than you really will.

Dec. 30, 2014, was the last day of a contract job that took me north each weekday morn to Evanston. That meant mornings standing on the Metra platform at Clybourn in a huddle of commuters glaring south waiting to the train to round the bend.

It’s a commute, and not a particularly romantic one.

There were some touching moments — when a conductor during the polar vortex yelled for everyone to look at a bunny he saw, the chats and smiles between trainmen and their regular riders — but in general it would be disingenuous to say I’ll miss my morning rides north.

But I will miss the platform, where familiar strangers stand each day among gravel and grass-cracked concrete. I’ll miss watching the stream of cars and trucks down the highway to the west and the backlit city skyline to the east.

I’ll miss how the birds would swoop among the billboards and Ozinga cement silos.

Then the train would come round the bend and I wouldn’t miss how everyone would brace themselves to get aboard. I wouldn’t miss the exposure or the wind or the time I chewed out a stoner with a bike for accidentally hitting an Indian woman on the head with his bike on the train steps because he didn’t wait until all the non-bike people were aboard like he was supposed to.

I saw the stoner at a show a few weeks later. We didn’t talk.

I’ll miss the morning sun to my right as the train piles north through the city.

Sitting across the way from me on the upper level, the men were reminiscing about Thermoses now, the big old ones with the handle.

“So when’s your show?” the ratty one asked. “A week from this Friday?”

The well-dressed one mumbled assent.

“It’s at an opening for a gallery?” the ratty one asked.

I’ll miss pulling into Ravenswood where several friends catch the train, a craps shoot as to whether I’ll get my own reminiscences with well-dressed friends.

Musicians! They were musicians, I realized when the well-dressed one talked about a show a mutual friend did with a Welsh choir.

(They passed the hat and raised $400 for the Welshmen, who promptly spent it back at the bar.)

But it’s just a damn commute, and I’m sure my new route downtown by Blue Line will give me as many touching, odd human moments. I can’t claim I’ll miss it. Can’t claim I won’t. But some things end and there’s only one thing to say.

“See ya,” the man with the wispy beard said the train pulled into his friend’s station.

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You are currently reading #419: Accommodating Passengers by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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