The triple beep every CTA rider knows did its business.
“Beep beep beep. Your attention please…”
It was a medical emergency this time, one that slowed us every few dozen feet it seemed. Southbound on the Red Line, in the underground subway section where the world vanishes around you.
Luckily, we’re girded for these bits of dark. We people-watch, check our machines, read our books or just stare up at the train ads and wonder if “YOU ARE NOT ALONE” is a good thing to have on a sign reaching out to paranoid schizophrenics for a research study.
My eyes flitted around, looked at faces, ads, tried to read off the screens of others’ digital devices, when I saw the heart.
It was written, maybe finger-smeared on the subway tunnel wall. A heart like on so many grade school Valentines or carved in so many park benches by teens who don’t really manage to stay together “4EVA” but still appreciate the romance.
Written or finger-smeared next to the heart was “January 24, 1975 10:55 am.”
“Whoaaaa,” I said, making a student standing next to me and an older woman sitting down look at me like I was mad.
I pointed out the window and they agreed it was cool.
The University of Chicago student newspaper the day someone smeared a heart printed a letter where a woman predicted U of C junior and future Obama strategist David Axelrod would go into politics.
According to the Tribune that day, people were mad at an oil tariff hike, Gov. Dan Walker said his $4.5 billion plan would mean 30,000 area jobs and the craft emporium has just about everything.
WolframAlpha says it was in the high 30s at 10:55 in Chicago with 100 percent cloud cover, Larry from the Three Stooges died and the moment someone traveling down that Red Line tunnel stopped to draw a heart on the wall was 41 years, 10 months, 27 days, 20 hours, 51 minutes and 47 seconds ago.
48 seconds ago.
The ‘L’ trains run on 224.1 miles of track, but that’s counting one track in each direction, plus every place more than one track runs side by side. It amounts to about 108 route miles.
The ‘L’ runs 11 miles underground. 11 miles of tunnels and stations. 11 miles of dark corridors and hallways unexplored by all but a handful of CTA line workers.
All but them and a few people who snuck in, poked around and maybe drew a heart on the wall.
We don’t think about it a lot, or at least I don’t, but there is no world outside when the ‘L’ goes underground. It just vanishes as a concept for us, given no more thought than what’s given the walls of an elevator shaft when you’re riding up to 7.
But I’ve zoomed past that heart, what? Hundreds? Thousands of times? How many millions of trains, millions of people had passed by this bit of graffiti in the days since Larry Fine?
It’s been there, hiding in the dark this whole time, a thing we can wrap our minds around in what our brains otherwise process as a void.
Makes you think about what else we take for granted as we rush through the subway.
“What I don’t like is when we stop under the river,” the older woman sitting down near me said as we chatted about the heart on the wall. “I try not to think about that.”
Maybe we shouldn’t think too hard.