The red line is an underground blood vessel that cuts through the eye of Chicago, the loop, and out through Clark/Lake, State/Lake, north toward Wrigleyville, where the fire escapes are wooden and counterintuitive.
Down in a tunnel we wait for the steel cars to blow a draft of cool air from outside, for the doors to open and the crowds to pile in/pile out, for the next wait of sliding doors (are closing, please do not block the exit) of changing locations faster than feet could travel and anyway we’ve had to walk already and would like as little movement as possible, 2.25 for the ride and it’s going our direction-
but it’s not like those cross-country trains with the mountain backdrop or vast, empty, arid desert expanse devoid of water and life, window seat and a lolling chug of tires putting you to sleep, wind flying softly against the pane.
The red line, the city lines, they bump and shuffle their crowd around. I have to keep a tight grip on the bar and a powerful stance and avoid the punk ass kids and let my weight shift, and try not to make eyes at the beautiful women or try to make eyes at the beautiful women all the way to the land of the Cubs fans.
A black woman with large arms pressed against her sides sways and snaps her fingers singing Jesus came and touched her and she was saved.
She sings so loud her voice reaches both ends of the tunnel clearly. She stretches for a different note and winds it down the register. A group of young black men sing or shout along, a yeah or a note,
and I’m watching an Asian couple with a teenage daughter standing just behind the yellow line, staring down at the tracks in silence and the daughter looks around and I can tell from the way her forehead shines that she’s sweating and come to think of it, her parents’ necks look like they could be dripping as well
and I quickly become astounded at how many people in this tunnel are wearing long pants.
It’s hotter in the tunnel than outdoors, but even outside I wouldn’t think of wearing anything but shorts, summer in Chicago, I’d chafe myself red, the jeans would whittle my legs into toothpicks if they’re not already toothpicks.
We’ve been waiting for at least ten minutes now and the singing woman finishes a song and stops to introduce herself. From a distance, I see her head swivel and search for eyes on her, but no one seems to be looking besides me and when she’s finished with her introduction she continues right on to the next song, a song of praise in a desperate time,
and I can see the Asians are getting desperate now.
They shuffle their feet. They wipe their foreheads. They have an unheard conversation in a huddle and turn to exit the station, a waste of 5.75 and I can tell the father has second thoughts because he pauses and looks back as he approaches the escalator.
Will the train never come? and When it does, do I really want to stand worried and huddled in this crowd for a slow, bumpy ride, uphill, pausing for the doors to close? I could take easily take a cab. And watching him make the final step onto the escalator, I think he’s right, a cab without American strangers sounds lovely but even then you’ve got the cabbie and a big tip to avoid pissing him off-
not that I think this fine looking Asian man is afraid of a cabbie, but why upset a driver who you know has a long day and could very well make the roads even more treacherous with his reckless, angry swerving, cutting off pedestrians and laying on the horn?
You can’t escape the strangers even in your own car, so I don’t mind the CTA for a big slash under the eye of this city, alive as the people that make it up.
Besides, I’m a sucker for strangers.
I love to slip a simple joke in a quiet crowd and smile and peer around hoping to meet an eye
because who do I really know? and why should I treat anyone differently than them?
I love a brief understanding, so I talk about Lollapalooza as the train starts to move, and I think about the headliners on the sign above the window, a brick wall scrolling past: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Sabbath, The Black Keys, Jack White. Four colors we all can relate to.
“Are you going to Lolla at all, Andrew?”
“Oh? You don’t want to see Black Sabbath?”
A chuckle and the joke dies, a match in the wind. Beaming, I find a pair of nearly clear eyes, wide, but not smiling. She hadn’t heard the joke and I probably should not have been looking at her, either way.
We ascend above the cars into sunlight and the views are now rooftop patios, Budweiser signs, company titles and streets crowded with walkers, bikers, drivers of all kinds.
The cluster inside the train has thinned to a few standing passengers. I was able to take a seat next to a girl who looked my age and peer too closely over her shoulder out at the city in the evening, avenues in shadows, sunlight pouring across the numbered streets like endless streams of golden paint, slowly turning to red, to purple and fading blue over the blacktop.
I try to picture my mother in this seat, would she revel in the view as I do?
Or dream of cozy car and faithful engine, of life separate and comfortable, family and friends, convenience and no chance of catastrophe- no robberies, no break-ins, no murders, no battery, no gun violence whatsoever- but the occasional death and funeral and tears for me and mine and those close to them and I;
but you can’t avoid the strangers, and I know I would be quick to cry for the death of any man or woman in my vicinity, this city or any,
in hopes a single tear could wet the earth and help something spring from it with life and love.
But I compare it to the flood I’d raise for my mother if she died, and I laugh myself off of that subject because life will go on, and why should I allow myself to think about that before it happens?
I catch a man’s smile on the sidewalk and I nod at him, hoping he will briefly understand.