Why I Miss Chicago: Tales from the “L” train

The January day was unusually warm, and the sun shone brightly as I hurried to the Diversey train stop. I smiled to myself, enjoying this fast-paced march, a strut that has been dormant since my move to the much smaller, must slower-paced Minneapolis. But in Chicago, everyone walks like the sidewalk is a race track. Some might say this is the opposite of how we should go through life, that it means we’re not taking time to enjoy things. On the contrary, I think it’s characteristic of people with a sense of urgency towards life. The sidewalk doesn’t need to be gazed upon, it seeps into us through the soles of our shoes; the buildings don’t need to be noticed, we feel them, like a protective lover, holding us close; the cars don’t need to be observed, we hear them reverberate musically through the street. And our next stop feels important. And our next stop feels exciting. So we want to get there—sooner than later.

The wooden planks and rustic tracks make the L platform appear to be, in any light, an ideal backdrop for an epic romance. It is certain that every train station in Chicago has been the home to the beginnings and endings of great love stories.

And once you’re inside the silver boxcar, the real magic of the city begins. Unlike Minneapolis where you ride the bus with people from your neighborhood (which, for me, means I ride the bus with white college student hipsters), in Chicago, you ride with everyone from all over the city. That’s not to say that Chicago isn’t segregated–it is—but the train runs from the far north to the far south, so our transit ride is a multi-neighborhood experience. I prefer this, because eavesdropping is far more interesting. (There are only so many times I can stand to hear the same conversation about grad school en route to class).

Today I had the pleasure of sharing my train ride with two elderly folks, I’m guessing no younger than 75. The first, a white man, with a little old man hat, white hair peeking out on either side, and glasses. He was adorned in all tan: tan Members Only jacket, tan slacks (he most certainly called them ‘slacks’), and the aforementioned hat, also tan. His traveling companion was striking. Lovely salt and pepper hair piled atop her head in big, whipped cream-like curls. She wore all black: black coat, black pants, and big bold black sunglasses. Her lips, however, were stained with a vibrant magenta.

My ears were engaged in the middle of what appeared to be the sharing of a “list of likes.” The gentleman was naming entrees, and the woman interrupted, “You want to get into food that you like? Well, I like ice cream. Pecan ice cream, and…oh my! Rocky Road! You know, with the nuts, and the caramel…I suppose I’ve always been drawn to the ice cream with nuts.”

“Maybe we’ll have to get some ice cream today,” the man smiled, which made the woman blush.

“Is that what we’re doing?” she asked. He shrugged, still smiling.

A stop before mine, the man stood up. He looked at the woman to follow.

“This one? What’s here?”

“We’ll get off here because it’s one I’ve never done.”

“That’s fun!” the woman sounded excited, and they disappeared outside the doors.

[end scene].

“I found the safest place to keep all our tenderness, keep all those bad ideas, keep all our hope. It’s here in the smallest bones, the feet and the inner ear. It’s such an enormous thing to walk and to listen.

Chicago, you complete me.

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