27 April 2011

Dependent on the Kindness of Strangers

Recently I ventured a bit beyond my suburban repose into the frenzied Loop via the CTA/L/Metra; ergo, the muse for this missive: “Dependent Upon the Kindness of Strangers.”

My destination was an office building located adjacent to where I would disembark about 55 minutes after boarding one of four modes of public transport. That which I learned about getting from points A to B to C to D, and subsequent reverse trip, was to be discovered by asking strangers for directions and confirmations that I was on the right track – literally!

What kindness was extended! When I asked a yellow-vested CTA worker to confirm my understanding of how to get to where I was going, the orange-vested maintenance worker chimed in and more confidently gave me train by track by bus by color simplified directions. He was better than Google Maps; and even better than CTA trip planner (I feel a customer comment card being crafted about improving user interface). Not only were his directions simple and exact, I actually relaxed a bit and took in a few sights along the way.

My first observation was that I was feeling all Cooly High’ish. (If you don’t know what I’m saying, you did not graduate high school between ’75 and ’79; and, you need to rent the movie.) The L was just like it was in the movies – in any movie shot in Chicago! What I didn’t expect to see was just how close many of the apartments are to the tracks. I can only imagine the noise level at bed time, early mornings and when newborns are needed to sleep.

While taking in the changing skyline and passenger demographic the closer I got to the Loop, I lost count of the number of stops before my first transfer. Not to fear, strangers were near! Asking the young man seated beside me, the hip chick wearing faux suede knee high boots spoke up to point out the stop map in living color over the doors. She didn’t imagine that my eyes were older than hers and that the time it would take me to ferret reading glasses from my cross-the-body messenger purse I just might miss my stop. Thank God-ness for friendly folk all around – someone, piped up, “you need to get off now and wait here for the next train.” Whew!

My next observation was that the stations and pay systems were extremely streamlined and efficient. No frills. No art installations. No harpsichordist on the platform. Just concrete steel reinforced beams and stairs. White wooden weather-proofed benches. Utilitarian signage and trash receptacles. No frills. However, not at all as dark, dank and dirty and are endless miles of NYC Subway; but still, a far cry from LA’s new (under 20 years) and expanding rail system adorned with Skittle-esque artwork, sky-scraper tinted subterranean all glass elevators, and yes, even a resident harpsichordist on the underground platform departing West from downtown.

When I arrived at my final stop, I disembarked totally disoriented. Being uncertain of North’s location, I asked a man in a hurry whether or not I was headed in the right direction. He pointed me to an elevator and sidewalk two blocks long. Feeling confident, I was at least walking distance from my destination, I took a side trip to the neighborhood Dunkin Donuts. Again, another blog for another day – those blasted Dunkin Donuts! I digress. I walked two blocks into the wrong building. Didn’t sweat it, on this cold, cold day, because the Concierge assured me I was on the right block, though wrong building. LOL. Across the street I trotted, blue awning in view, only to discover I walked into the wrong door. Thank the Goddess of Gorgeous Smiles, this really pretty black muffin with a smile like dawn sweetly advised me to hit the pavement for about 10 more yards and enter the next door. I would get lost more often if she were behind every door number one…

My final observation was that the trains are made to move folk, not tour folk. While sitting, CTA/L/Metra windows are too narrow and short – and blocked by bodies – to enjoy the scenery along the way. While standing, being tallish as am I, the windows did not provide any better view. I will take my tape measure (Love can write a blog about my penchant for taking measurements) to whey my curiosity about the dimensions of the windows and consumer comfort. Until then, I will try different seats each trip until I find a perfect daydreaming spot traveling at 79 mph skimming rooftops and satiating voyeurism (remember, bedroom windows are adjacent to the rails).

After handling my business, ‘cause that’s how I roll, I retraced my steps, comprehended the oversized LOOP Skittles map on the platform, learned which trains only ran during rush hours, and smiled at people. My way of saying thanks to humanity for being kind to me.

My gratitude must not be negated by this observation: CTA commuters are way less fashionable, actually extremely boring, compared to NYC riders who are uber fashionable and LA passengers who are tres freakish. As for me an my purplelishousness self, I smile and nod, alot, when strangers complimented my purple stuff and cascading locs. I am forever in fashion, in my own head, and in season, in the right shade of purple for the occasion! Ha!

Speaking of purple, the PURPLE Line takes me home.

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