#700: If You See Something

October 17th, 2016

Long day, night ride home, semi-full Brown Line car of muddlers and murmurers chastened and exhausted by their own long days.

And an entirely empty corner.

An empty spot on a late rush hour train is not to be trusted. It’s usually a sign of a cloud of BO from a particularly unkempt street person or a wet spot that runs the line between suspiciously disturbing and disturbingly suspicious.

But I sniffed and noticed nothing. Until I looked and saw why the car had given the entire corner a wide berth.

A bag. A black messenger bag sitting underneath the seat, no one around to own it.

A suspicious package. A potential urban IED, the stereotypical example of the “If you see something, say something” mantra repeated over CTA loudspeakers over and over and over since we decided the world went mad.

I gauged my tiredness versus my likelihood that a few extra feet of space would save my life, then went over and sat right on top of the bomb.

I’m not making light of the times caution was the better part of caution, the lives and limbs that could have been saved at the Boston Marathon or other places where a person decided strangers should die.

But how do we know when we’re being foolish? What do we do when we look at the odds of an attack versus the odds of a forgetful rider and make our private decision a public one?

What do we do when others will suffer if we figured the odds wrong?

I wasn’t the only one thinking this about the little black messenger bag under my seat. Other riders eyed it, gave it a hard avoid and made conversation about it. A woman asked me if I could read the card on the side, the one with the bag owner’s info on it.

I tugged it gingerly, taking care to pull it out from beneath my seat with one finger as if that would make any difference were it a bag of nails and doom. It was heavy and clanked a bit when I pulled it a few inches forward.

I read her the number off the side. She called it and left a delightful message with the bag owner, saying she would bring it to the last stop on the line and leave it with the CTA folks there.

She did it nervously, even though she told us later she had seen the bag owner, that he was in chef’s scrubs so it was probably a bag of chef’s knives or the like.

“Oh, that’s a relief,” the woman next to her said. She had been thinking it too.

The two women chatted a bit about terrorism. I just stared out the window, wondering if I was a coward for being frightened of a bag or for preferring an uninterrupted ride to making a fuss when someone else would have been hurt.

Enjoy dirty politics and dirty martinis with me at “How to Steal an Election,” a night I’m running with Atlas Obscura and the Room 13 speakeasy a week before the election. Swill craft cocktails while I take you through decades of COMPLETELY LEGAL voter manipulation in Chicago and elsewhere. Fun, civics and the best damn Old Fashioned I’ve had in years. Tickets are going fast.

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