Time Travel by Train

I  love taking trains when traveling but am not a regular on Chicago Transit mostly because I have a bike and a car. I only use it when going to neighborhoods that even a Parking Goddess is powerless. Usually the bike is the best solution but the past two days,  I had to carry things that would not fit in my bike bag and would wrench my shoulders in a backpack. The first day, I left late for an appointment and was anxious and impatient on the journey. The train was moving very sloooooowwwwww. I kept thinking how much faster I could have traveled by bike.  There were only a few others sitting in my train car and one of them was a girl with the most annoyingly loud voice, with piercing nasal pitch.  After 5 minutes of that I moved to the opposite end of the car and broke out the iPod which soothed my mood a bit. Eventually I got to my destination, took care of business and returned home without experiencing anything memorable except irritation.  It was one of those days where a bump in the road turned into hamster wheel hell. I was unconsciously working against myself, my mind grinding it’s gears relentlessly. I was a rusting tin woman without an oil can.

But then, day two was a completely different story.  The journey started with a CTA employee that recognized me and said hello with the biggest most sincere and charming smile. He was nice to me the day before but I was too crabby to appreciate it. I like to think he was one of those angels in disguise. A fairy god father who conked me over the head with his invisible wand. I ran up the stairs just as the train arrived and boarded without missing a beat.

I’ve always thought the tourist who only rides the train is missing out on all that is beautiful and interesting about Chicago. I saw it as a back alley view, dirty, dingy and boring. This day I perceived it with different eyes. As the train snaked it’s way south, I noticed details both small and large. Faded vintage advertisements painted on sides of brick buildings. Fabulous terra cotta adornments.  A glimpse of the decomposing Uptown theater waiting for it’s $70,000,000 rescue. The Aragon Brawlroom, still going with it’s painted starry night sky and  the worst acoustics in town. The back porches of apartments, making the best of their rumbling locale with beautiful cascades of flowering plants. Graceland cemetery, a grand lush and historical place that makes death look almost inviting. Next stop, Wrigley field, home of the Cubs and their many drunk and disorderly fans. Lots of childhood memories of going to games with my dad swirl around the train car. There’s the Belmont stop with it’s ghosts of dance clubs past and present: The Quiet Knight, Tuts, Avalon, Berlin, the Vic.  Plenty more to see before the train makes it’s descent to the underworld.

So there I was, heart bursting with pride, affection and wonder. This is my town. I could feel the vibrations of the past and all those who rode this train before me. The good, the bad and the sad. Tourists from all over the world. Homeless folks looking for a place to sleep. Working class stiffs making their way to the factory. Musicians carrying violins and cellos going to Symphony Hall. Sexual deviants exposing themselves to young girls. My mother riding to her secretary office job in the 1940’s. A young me, going to school at the Art Institute. People in love, mourning, troubled and care free.  From ghetto blasters and walkmans to iPods and and finally the legion of people sucked into the world inside their phones. Yes. This was quite the atmospheric and spiritual commute!

How can the same journey be so different from one day to the next?  I say it’s all about living awake and in the moment. There’s a line from the movie Joe Verses The Volcano. “My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake, and they live in a state of constant, total amazement.” This may be exaggeration but I do think about this notion when I manage to break out of my own zombie trance. Traveling is never a problem but it’s the day to day grind that get’s me. The goal should be to make each day a journey to discovery whether it be in Paris, Peoria or on a slow train in Chicago.

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7 Responses to “Time Travel by Train”


  1. 1 Inga August 31, 2012 at 2:07 am

    Again, your stories paint pictures that stir emotions inside.

  2. 2 Tori August 31, 2012 at 4:08 am

    I almost cried reading this post, thinking about my daily journey on the train this summer and how much I would give just to do it again. Your writing is amazing, Felice.

  3. 3 Olga August 31, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    I LOVE this post!!!

    • 4 Arch Stanton September 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm

      Great oberservations. Thanks for reminding me not to sleep walk through life. Next time you take the train south may I suggest transfering to the Brown line at Fullerton. Riding the elevated through Old Town reminds me of The Exit, the Bizarre, Bizarre, O’Rourke’s. Plus you get great river views as you enter the Loop. I also like when you glance into an office window and see someone’s cubicle decorated with balloons. Not to mention al the cool architectural details you see on the old buildings.

  4. 6 Alan Stuart March 2, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    Great story. Thanks for the postcard you sent where you mention this post. Makes we want to travel to Chicago just to ride the train. 🙂

  5. 7 theunmetfriend March 2, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    Thanks for reading Alan and if you ever come to Chicago maybe I’ll ride the train with you 🙂


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