Saturday, March 23, 2013

Train Tripping

Being trapped in a confined environment can turn an ordinary experience into a powder keg. Write about a thing that happened to you while you were using transportation: from your first school bus ride, to a train or plane, to being in the backseat of a car on a family road trip

Not a commute day goes by when there isn't something to talk, write about on the trains and / or buses. Not. One. As a lifelong user of public transportation I pretty much take it in stride that I will encounter a seat hogger, gambler, solicitor (that is to say, I'm homeless and hungry or an ex-con looking for help to get a let up) a thief (smartphones favorite target these days) a nose and / or zit picker   , a sneezer and / or wheezer, a snorer, a very loud talker, and let us not forget the folks who blast their listening pleasures beyond their inadequate ear buds, plus a few working stills like myself who just want to get to work and back home again relatively unscathed by the public transportation experience. 

Given that I work in and live very near a sprawling metropolis with a sometimes celebrated public transportation system I haven't ever worried about getting from here to there, just about what I would encounter on the journey. 

That is, until that day.  

Well, actually two days.

The first: I was a teenager, a high school senior. One of my after school activities met downtown once or twice a week. On one of these days, I was wrapping up my story (I worked for a city-wide, student newspaper) putting it to bed, trying to hurry as I wanted (needed) to get by to my neighborhood before it was too late, too dark.  

I had everything done, was saying my good-byes while putting on my coat, grabbing my bag when Hattie yelled, "hey, wait a minute!" Oh shit, Hattie talks a mile a minute for 45,000 hours. But, she's my home-girl, so I had to wait. And listen. For days. 

Not long after Hattie started talking I took note of the train I would have caught, rolled past the window. (The windows of the office the newspaper used were at eye-level to the elevated tracks). And shortly after that there was a large screech, a flash of light, and noises associated with crashing. Oh. shit. 

The train derailed at the turn that is just beyond the building we were in. Just out of our line of sight. But we heard it. I heard it. And when I went outside, I saw it. One of the cars was hanging over the side. Oh. shit. 
there were injuries but no one was killed. And while the rail services weren't out of commission for very long, it took a very long time for me to get back on the elevated trains. And longer still to be somewhat comfortable. I still don't like the turns. 

I don't think I ever thanked Hattie. So, Thank YOU Hattie. 

The second: Chicago is known as, "The Windy City" which, if you believe the lore, doesn't have anything at all to do with wind velocity in our fair city. Oh sure, Chicago is nestled on the bank of Lake Michigan and that prime real estate may explain some of the windiness, but Chicago is not significantly windier than any other city. 

Still, Chicago is privy to the weather patterns just like any other place in the world. And on one particularly windy day, I found myself trapped on an elevated train, short of the station by too many feet to even consider the posted evacuation plan. At least in my view. I could have been inches from the station platform, but there was no way I was going to (willingly) exit that train care, walk along the electrified (3rd rail only, but still) tracks, and climb a ladder to safety. 

Elevated. I don't know how many feet the tracks are elevated over the street, but enough to have buses and semis ride underneath them. Oh, hell NO! It is a marvel that I can even get ON the train, but as I say, life long user. I was using the elevated train system before I knew enough to be afraid of heights. And, I'm no so much afraid of heights as I am afraid of falling down from a great height. Or even, not so great. 

Well, I was trapped on a train because the train had been stalled by debris blown by the great and powerful windy city wind onto the tracks. The conductor ran over a plastic trash can that, once blown onto the tracks, run over by the conductor, had become lodged in such a way that the train couldn't move, which meant we couldn't move. 

The train (7 cars long) was full of 5 P.M. commuters. All anxious to get home. Mom's who needed to get kids from daycare, dad's who were trying not to miss another (insert kid event of your choice) students who were eager to get home to get started on . . . whatever. Everybody who just wanted to be DONE with the day!! 

It didn't take long (2 minutes, tops) of being stalled before folks started huffing, puffing, and WHAT THE F*CKING!! Goddamn C T to the F*CKING A!!! Folks lost their shit. I had a book to read (I almost always do) so I wasn't so. . so. . quick to flip. What concerned me more than the non-movement was the possibility that we might have to evacuate. THAT, had me sweating through my cotton briefs. 

Well, we didn't have to evacuate. We were stalled and stranded on that train for about twenty minutes. It was an odd experience, seeing the meltdown of so many people. Even after it was known WHY the train wasn't moving (for that had been the biggest gripe--the why) folks still were . . losing their shit. Stupid wind. Stupid plastic trash can. Stupid conductor. . . ding. ding. ding. All manner of abuse and vitriol was heaped upon the conductor who probably couldn't avoid running over the plastic trash can. 

Probably. He was shaken enough by the events of the evening that he had to be taken away by paramedics. The last five minutes of stalled time was waiting for his replacement to take us all to our respective stops.  

I bring several things away from that day, but the one thing that sticks with me the most: the train stalled and was stranded a mere 3 stations from my destination. 

Like being delayed, by Hattie, so close, so close. 





  1. Oh boy. Thank you Hattie!

    It's interesting how upset people get by not being able to do whatever it is they want/need to do. As a reader, I'm also shrugging my shoulders and digging deeper in to my reading material. As someone afraid of heights, I HEAR YOU! I don't like the idea of having to do anything that involved height.

    Interesting train stories!(And I've been on that transit a couple of times!)

  2. Indeed. I think about that close call once a year or so.

    I've never quite understood why folks are more prepared for stalls or delays of any kind, in any place. Bank, grocery, other venues where there are lines? Odd.

    Anyhoo... thank you.

  3. You would think that I would have been able to get past the earbud thing, but I couldn't. Because I am an offender. With earbuds. I LOVE to listen to my music loud, louder, loudest. Once, I was riding up in a crowded elevator at my work place and listening to Nine Inch Nails' song "Closer." (Just to give you an idea...the refrain is "I want to fuck you like an animal.") I didn't know that everyone on the elevator must have been able to hear me until I got off and a gentleman leaned over and said, "I had no idea you were such a dirty girl! You look sooo refined! But..Wow...Nine Inch Nails?" I have never listened to my ipod in an elevator again.....

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  6. The moral of this story is: always carry a book.



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