I love riding around town on the L. I can get almost everywhere I want to go,
and while public transit may sometimes take longer than driving, there are the added benefits of not having to fight traffic or find parking, and it’s also a fun way to sight-see. When the train is above ground in the Loop, you get an unparalleled view of the Merchandise Mart and the Chicago River, close-up views of interesting looking offices, The Art Institute, and, if you’re fast, a view of Lake Michigan between the buildings.
People-watching is the bonus, wild-card element of riding the train. I like seeing the different kinds of coats, boots, and hats; backpacks and messenger bags in cool color combinations; whether they read from their phone or a tablet; people who are traveling alone, or with friends, or kids. On weekends there are Bears fans headed to or from the game. Also groups of tourists – either from out of town or the suburbs. Often a group trying to read the CTA system map, and chattering about what they’re going to do when they get to a) Wrigley Field, b) the St. Patrick’s Day parade, or c) the packet pickup station for the marathon. Some people ask others in the car for directions, and I like to help them if I can.
During rush hour, it’s standing-room-only, people packed in together like sardines. Grasping the poles and straps, we all sway and lurch with the movements of the car. I try to stand with my feet apart, knees bent, and I lean into the forward motion of the train. I keep my hand on a pole, but when it’s really crowded, I may have to depend on my balance. You get attuned to the train’s movements. The jerk of acceleration when the train leaves the platform, the slight slowing when the train goes into a curve, the deceleration approaching the station. Slower, slower, you think you’re stopped and then, wham! the conductor pulls the brake and everyone in the car shudders forward a bit as the train comes to a full stop. People jostle around as some leave and others get on. Then we start again.
I’m a chlorine baby. I grew up in a neighborhood pool with occasional visits to lakes, and first saw the ocean when I was 17. While I’ve never liked swimming in salt water, and the gritty, sandy aftermath of a beach visit, I loved the constant motion of the waves and the tides. Maybe that’s another reason why I like the train. That regular bobbing, back and forth, almost hypnotic. Balanced there in the car, I’m surfing through Chicago.