transportation and winter

After coming back from Iowa’s open spaces, a study on transportation is more than appropriate. Moments after I touched down, I was in a car – a vehicle completely controlled by the driver, who could direct it at whatever speed and in whatever course she so desired. The context was familiar, but I had never wondered at the concept until I was dependent on public transportation for two months. The philosophy of jumping behind the wheel has all sorts of implied power wound up in its gears.

My experiences with transportation in the city have been mostly good. I say ‘mostly’ because I did write not too long ago about the almost-pick pocket at an el station.

The entire system of public transportation forces a kind of community you may not find passing people on the yellow dotted line, each in their own steel cages along a highway. Two things are especially interesting to me about this community 1. It is forced and 2. people appear to grasp for invisible cages to separate certain circles from other certain circles.

Actually, if I was interested in a third thing, it would be the fluidity with which it moves – all parts acting in a sort of disjointed, symbolic symphony of how life is lived together. You have the homeless woman in the back corner of the bus, clutching three bags and looking out the window every three seconds. You’ve also got the young businessman, checking his watch after adjusting the black leather briefcase slung around his back. You’ve got women professionals who sit or stand, sporting tennis shoes at the feet of tailored J. Crew pants or TJ Maxx bargains. You’ve also got the tourist, carrying at least three shopping bags, smiling to take in the newness of riding a Chicago city bus and occasionally checking the map tucked into their purse. You’ve got other regulars – students, workers, and roamers.

But, since I’m interested in the first two, I guess I’ll say something about that. There’s no way around public transportation. Everyone simply can’t own a car because it’s expensive and impractical. So, a mix of people find themselves in community for a period of time. There is sort of a public transportation face one puts on and it’s especially helpful with a personal music player. Once your personal world is established, not many people dare to knock on your door or open theirs. While many commonalities can be found and friendships forged if one is uber-persistent, the community that meets every morning, noon, and evening struggles against what the environment encourages: relationships.

That said, there are many exceptions. There is Chris… and George… and the Italian lady… and the 747 bus driver who takes the 3:17 route to Forest Park CTA (we’re good friends, but you know when it becomes awkward to ask someone’s name because you know each other?) Yep… there’s more, too. These people are open to the natural community these moving machines create.

I have only taken a taxi once. My grandpa was pretty concerned about me schlepping my baggage from Midway airport to the Orange Line, transferring to the Red Line, and walking about 4 blocks home. He said it would make him feel better if I took a cab. So, I did. It was pretty nice to watch everything at street level inside the safety and quiet. I had big ideas about making friends, which quickly vanished when my driver put in one of those cell phones you stick in your ear. The language (Arabic maybe?) was beautiful, but no friendship formed (it can’t happen all the time, right?). I actually did try to take a cab last night again. I was super, super, super tired after closing at Sullivan’s and I waited and waited for the Red Line and finally lost patience. I flagged a cab and told him where I needed to go. He thought for a moment and started driving. Passing the street we should have turned on, he said, “I’m going to go ahead because I don’t want to cross traffic to turn.” Thinking back, his concern was valid, but for the first time I assumed the negative – he wanted to drive around and bring up the bill.

So, I walked and I’m glad I did.

This is a lot on transportation. Too much? I don’t know. I’m just glad it’s Saturday and I’m taking deep breaths.

I remember winter. I guess I usually forget around fall. So wrapped up in the warm drinks, football games, and warmer clothes that I forget that winter wears an icy grin and blows a frigid breeze. I forget that leaving means putting on layers and always carrying chapstick. I forget that I have to put Kleenex in every bag and make sure I switch my gloves when I switch coats. I forget that having my ears covered is more than a fashion statement, but an effort to fend off frostbite.

I remember winter. Once I get past the shock, the season is alive with good, good things.