The three teens piled on the bus, gabby boy-men with muscle T-shirts, country accents and peach-fuzz beards.
They pushed and laughed and gaped at the machinery as two found seats a row behind me and one sat with a stranger a row ahead. They held loud discussions across me about whether the Western bus hits the Brown Line, about the best route back to the dorms where they had been staying.
“Bet you Tyler’s going to talk to her,” the two behind me fake whispered about the moderately comely blonde by their friend.
He did talk to her. About directions.
They had been given $2 each to live off for the day, so decided to make and distribute sandwiches to the homeless.
“We have enough to eat,” one of the teens said.
Tyler and his two friends hailed from a mini-megachurch outside of St. Louis. They were in Chicago on a teen retreat, given a checklist of tasks to help them understand what it means to be poor.
They had spent the morning exploring the city by transit, following instructions on folded sheets of copy paper sprinkled with bus directions and Bible verses. The sandwiches they pooled their $6 to make had been handed out in a park. It was time for them to head in for the night.
And they talked.
They talked to the moderately comely woman, talked to another woman who was as lost as they were, talked to me once I butted in to let them know the Brown Line could be caught to the north or to the east.
Tyler asked about my life, my career, told me about his church and the Uptown food pantry they had partnered with. He told me he was a senior, as was one of his friends, the other a sophomore. He asked how long I’ve lived in Chicago, told me he was 17, made suggestions about the future of news, told me he wasn’t sure what he would do after graduation.
The sophomore behind me cheered me on in the game of Uno I was playing on my phone. Tyler confirmed over and over that you would be able to see the Brown Line stop from the street and that you can stop the bus by pulling the cord like he saw that other guy do.
“You can tell we’re tourists,” he said to me as the bus pulled past the gas station at Irving Park.
His friends chimed in. Chicagoans could tell they’re tourists because they check the maps, because they look for street signs, because they don’t know where anything is.
“And we talk to people,” Tyler added.
“Of course,” I said, putting on my sunglasses and smiling.