It’s only been four days since I started commuting, so it’s probably too early to really write about it in depth. It’s the first time I’ve commuted anywhere by train. My longest commute, before this, was my morning and evening drives to and from the University of Oregon from my home in Salem, Oregon. It’s a bit romantic, I admit. My notion of commuting has always been a bit “Madmen” even before the television show made air.
Gentlemen in fedoras talking business or reading the morning paper. I’m not sure where the ladies in my imaginary commuting world are. I hope it’s not misogyny. Rather, I think it’s just a narrow field of view on this one imaginary image. But I digress. The platform can be empty at first. The air is warm and strangely fragrant, with no evidence of floral fauna around accept grasses, trees and shrubs. The concrete is cool, and I like to pause to look up and down the tracks. Some evolutionary leftover from boyhood, I suppose. I deposit my $1.25 into the parking fee collectors and find a concrete post to lean against. It’s then that I notice the station is not empty. People are standing against the building, sitting on the ground or leaning against posts just as I am. But they blend in, their clothes seemingly camouflaging them against the realities of the day. An emotionless voice crackles to life over the loudspeaker: ” Your attention please. A Metra inbound train will be arriving in approximately three minutes.” People start to emerge from the shadows, staking their place on the platform that will allow them to board their preferred train cars. I don’t know this then, but I overheard a conductor explaining this phenomena. “Everbody has their own car. They even know the number of the car, How? They count ‘em. One, two, three, four. Everybody got their own train car they prefer.” I don’t have a preferred train car yet. I’ve explored a few cars now. I’ve tried the upper deck, but I was uncomfortable because it was too easy to be voyeuristic and watch what the people below we’re surfing on their iPhonesnor tablets. But sitting below with knowledge that the people above can read what I’m now writing is disconcerting. Life on the train is a mix of the expected creaking noises associated with rail travel. The windows are tinted green, which lends a quiet, somewhat depressing hue on Chicago, even on a sunny day. The gentle rocking of the train lulls many to sleep for the 45-minute ride. Others work on laptops. Anyone who is awake is bent over a smartphone. The cavernous Union Station is a massive staging point for Chicago’s commuters. They pour from the trains in the station’s underbelly, alternately walking like zombies while the line of people moves like rush-hour traffic toward the exits and scurrying to catch their bus connections to the rest of the city. It’s fun to watch feeling new and still unattached, unaffected by the commute. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel in a few years. Tim