Friday, September 19, 2008

Adventures in the Subway Riding

Remember how taking the CTA was one of things I had mixed feelings about giving up when I left my job? The whole never-on-time, always-slow thing irritates me beyond belief, but you see some interesting shit. Well, I still take the CTA a little bit in my new life. This week I took it downtown twice, once to do an event at Columbia, once to the Chicago Culture Center to chant and both of those occasions reminded me of my loathing for the Blue Line. It took forever to leave the station and then the train crawled downtown, taking double the time it is supposed to take on both occasions.

But last Friday, my Blue Line experience was definitely the most interesting yet! Now, I gotta say if this had happened in a normal situation where I was alone on the train trying to get some place on time, I would have been freaking out. But as it happened, I'd met Kathy after work (and we met on the train. I'm now the queen of arranging on-train meet-ups!) and we were headed back to her neighborhood to walk her dogs and have some dinner. We were catching up. The train went underground. We still had several stops to go. Then the train comes to a stop. Yeah, not unusual. This happens often. Especially seeing as the Blue Line sucks and they tend to run a billion trains in one direction and none in the other. After work, I would always see about 5 trains go by the other way before a train went my way. Now I was going the opposite way with the ton of trains, so I figured we were stopping either because we were "waiting for signals ahead" (AKA, the train ahead of you isn't out of the station yet) or the usual working on the tracks type thing.

But then there was an announcement about a "medical emergency." Hmm, okay, maybe someone pressed the emergency button and the conductor is going back to check on them. Kathy and I begin to discuss that it would seem more logical to hurry to the next station so that the person having the medical emergency could be taken off the train and get care. But then the lights go out. The train engine dies. There is another vague announcement about the medical emergency, urging us to sit tight and not open the doors. Umm okay.

"I've never been on a train where they completely turned the power off," Kathy says.

"Yeah, me neither."

"If you weren't here, I'd be freaked out."

"Me, too. I'd feel claustrophobic and have no way to contact the outside world because my cell phone doesn't work underground."

"Mine neither." Kathy says. Only US Cellular and now Verizon phones work in the tunnels.

"But since we're together, this is a little bit fun. It's an adventure in away," I say and Kathy agrees. I'm sure the people around me who were just trying to get home from work thought we were nuts.

We make more small talk until another announcement. This time the conductor says, "Please remain in your train car. There has been a medical emergency and we need to exit the train. Please remain where you are, I will be coming to each car to help you exit the train."

Murmurs of excitement. Kathy and I might be the only ones who are actually exciting. "Oh my god, we get to walk through the tunnel!" I squeal.

"Thank god, we're in the third car so we can get off fast," Kathy adds and we both state again that we are happy we are together and this is definitely an adventure. We're also pleased that we are between La Salle and Jackson, not Clinton and La Salle, like we'd thought, which is a much longer distance between stations.

Like most things CTA, I have always had mixed feelings about actually getting trapped on a train that cannot move for some reason. I've had a reoccuring nightmare since I was a little girl about getting stuck at this abandoned station between Cicero and Austin (I later realized that I don't think it ever was a functional station, it's just a platform that's there for CTA workers) and having to swing from what were essentially monkey bars all the way to Austin because we couldn't walk or else we might touch the third rail. I think these nightmares were about A. my lack of upper arm strength and B. my fear of that electrified third rail. One time I was going downtown with my neighbors and the son dropped his glasses and the dad jumped down on the tracks to retrieve and I seriously thought I was going to watch him get fried right there.

But anyway, ever since I read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, I've been fascinated about the subway tunnels. My imagination totally runs away from me just thinking about what it is really like outside in the darkness that I'm speeding through. So I was psyched to get out of that train and walk to the station. A little freaked because I was under the impression that it was a pretty skinny ledge we'd be walking along. I'd had rebel punk friends who used to actually sneak through those tunnels either just for the thrill of it or to do graffiti, but I'd never gone along because of my third rail fear.

Fortunately it is not a ledge, it's a skinny sidewalk. In most places two people could even fit side by side. Other than that, it was as a dark and dingy as expected. There was disgusting crap dripping down from the grates you walk over on the street. It smelled like basement. I didn't see any rats, but wouldn't have been shocked if I did. It was perfect. And of course Kathy and I documented it to share with you:
Yeah, sorry you can't really see much. Except that I am way more excited than I should be about the situation. Of course, we did have the problem of figuring out how to get to Kathy's. We decided to catch a cab, but that took about 10 minutes because it was rush hour and raining and everyone wanted a cab. Once in the cab, we started texting and calling everyone to tell them of our debacle though. I asked Scott to investigate what happened and a couple hours later he texted me to let me know what I'd already basically figured out... What's the only medical emergency that would cause them to turn all the power off? Someone on the tracks. A person had been "hit" by a train two stops ahead of us. I put "hit" in quotation marks because you really don't just get hit by an L train like you would a car because you can't just walk in front of it. Most likely this person jumped. And it was probably the train or two in front of us that hit them and we would have been on that train if I hadn't been running late. So that certainly put a damper on the tunnel adventure.

But CTA amusement is limitless... On my way home, I was offered "Boomers" by a kid, marking the second time in two weeks I've been offered drugs on the train. I turned them down without admitting I had no idea what Boomers were. I texted Kathy and Scott's little sister to see if they knew. Kathy was as clueless as me. Her theory was speed, which was mine as well. But a couple hours later Scott's sis texted me back, "Dude, you just turned down shrooms!" Well, I guess it was appropriate that I invited that kid to the Irvine Welsh reading...

Anyway, so that was last weekend's adventure. Anybody else have weekend adventures or train-related adventures to share?

And don't forget to go check out my girls Civet who I featured for Women Who Rock Wednesday this week. The girls are overwhelmed with interviews and stuff right now, so I'll do an interview with them later, but I am giving out a sweet promo version (so therefore collector's item to music junkies like me!) of their new album Hell Hath No Fury, so you'll wanna leave a comment!

2 comments:

Annika said...

Oh my gosh! That's a really big adventure! When I lived in Chicago I mostly took the bus, but in New York I took the trains everywhere and I would LOVE to get to walk in the tunnels.

Khyrinthia said...

That reminds me of the time me and my friends got stuck on two rides at Disneyland and got and walk through the back where all the machinery was. It was kind of cool, except for the fact that the rides we got stuck on had really long lines so we didn't get to go back on.