Aug. 8, 2007

I know barely enough Spanish to order a plate of carne asada, and unlike Europe, Venezuela is not a country that makes allowances for American ignorance. Fortunately Ellen is fluent and makes enormous allowances for my ignorance, so we got by just fine. I'm not much of a talker anyhow.

At the end of the week I would return to Chicago while Ellen stayed behind. My return would entail a 12-hour overnight bus trip from the remote city of Mérida to Caracas, from where I would take the Metro to a second bus, which would in turn deliver me to the airport.

Ellen was concerned about my ability to find my way, but I was not. I'd already made the necessary legs at least once. Besides, all week it was I who had kept us from ever getting lost. All I needed to do was be able to buy my ticket in Caracas. "Uno para aeropuerto, por favore." We spent a few minutes rehearsing.

"What could possibly go wrong?" I boasted. "Nothing!"

Ellen trembled.

A surly teenager in a sparkly pink halter took my bus ticket in Mérida and told Ellen that I would be sitting in seat 15A. (Because we'd bought the ticket at an agency, this somehow meant I did not get a ticket receipt.) I kissed Ellen good-bye and boarded.

And found a gangling 10-year-old girl in 15A, a window seat. I looked at her. I looked at the seat number. I looked at her. Seat number. Her. Seat number. She giggled and bounced in the seat with a copy of what appeared to be the Venezuelan equivalent of Tiger Beat.

I tried to communicate that I owned that seat, but I wasn't sure how to say "15."

"Cinco, cinco, cinco, ah," I said.

"¡Oh!" she said. "¡Cinco!" And she pointed up the bus toward Row 5.

"No. ¿Cinco dieci? ¿Dieci cinco?" I may have been sputtering Italian here.

Two female relatives in the seat ahead of her turned around to see about the commotion. The seemed to be asking to see my ticket. "Non habla espanol," I said, and helplessly pointed out the bus to indicate where my ticket was.

I gave up. The bus was still fairly empty, so I settled in across the aisle. One of the women asked where I was going. "¿Caracas? ¿Valencia? ¿Caracas?" "¡Caracas!" She smiled and turned around.

Eventually someone came and wanted my seat, so I left the bus to find the girl in the pink halter.

"Excuse me," I said, "could you please tell me what seat I'm supposed to be in?"

Except I said it in Spanish. Clear, unequivocal Spanish.

"¿Dónde yo?"

She shot an angry, puzzled look. So I spoke louder. Maybe she was hard of hearing.

"¡Dónde yo! ¡Dónde yo!"

She wrote "15A" on her clipboard.

I pointed into the bus. "¡La niña! ¡La niña! ¡La niña!"

This somehow made her even angrier, probably because it meant she'd have to leave her station, board the bus and come sort it out.

Sure enough, the girl had been in the wrong seat. She moved to the aisle seat, 15B, freeing up 15A for me.

I sensed the girl had wanted the window seat and offered to swap. I pointed at my seat: "¿Preferado?" She declined, and she declined again when I offered some of my Cocosette candy bar as a peace offering.

A few minutes later the bus driver turned the lights off and the salsa music on. At 8:30 p.m. it was too dark to read and too loud to sleep ... and I obviously had no conversation partners.

This is not yet, by the way, the part of the story that answers the question of what could possibly go wrong.

At 5 a.m. the bus pulled into a small terminal. The driver stood at the head of the aisle and said something quick. We'd stopped for snacks and restrooms on the way to Mérida, so I figured that was what this was, or maybe we were dropping off passengers in Valencia. I pulled my hat down and tried to go back to sleep over the music, which had been playing all night.

That's when one of the women shook my shoulder. "¿Caracas?" She stabbed a finger toward the front of the bus.

And this! This is what could have possibly gone wrong: A transfer! I had no idea. Ellen had no idea. But thank God I'd established a rapport with this family, because they had an idea, and if it weren't for them I'd still be trying to make my way to Caracas.

The rest of the journey passed without incident. I had three hours to wander the city. I bought some cachapas for Nikki and stumbled upon a triathlon, then successfully made it to the airport, where I heard the most English I'd heard all week: Three hours of American tourists whining about how slow and long the lines were. Ignorance had been such bliss. ¡Ay carumba!

Photo taken: Aug. 4, 2007


March 18, 2006

Three recent moments:



My teammates and I stand in a long security line at the airport. We're cranky because A) we've had nothing to eat but trail mix and Clif bars for the past six hours B) we just endured a harrowing rigmarole with United customer service and C) we're in a long security line at the airport.

Suddenly, a woman shrieks. She's about 30 feet behind us.

Woman (shrieking): Oh my god! You're Richard Simmons!

Man (shrieking): I know!

Woman: Oh my god!

Man (shrieking): Where are you going!

Woman: Chicago!

Man (shrieking): So am I! I'm going to lead a workout on the plane!

At which point we turn with glares that say, "The hell you are, little man."

And we are no longer jealous of the people in first class.



I like to use my keys as a poor-man's utility knife. They open not only doors and bicycle locks but also boxes, packages and bananas.

Yes, bananas. I don't like the way the tops get mushed when I open them with my hands. Plus, feeble cyclist that I am, I lack the upper-body strength to peel them unassisted. So whenever I have a banana I reach for my keys and use one to perforate the stem.

I don't often eat bananas or need my keys at work, so naturally when I have one this week I leave my keys on my desk. I realize this when I am about a block from home. I curse my banana-eating ways.

Fortunately, Bob has a spare set and is at home. Even more fortunate, when I get to his place he is in the middle of mixing Manhattans. He serves me one in a small jelly jar and we catch up. It is my first one. Not bad, but I'm not sure it's a drink special enough to have an island named after it.

When I get home a second time I realize I have a second problem. Because of burglaries in the neighborhood, the locks on our outside gate have been changed, and Bob's set doesn't have the new key. It's 11 p.m. Nobody's lights are on. My only option is to scale the gate and leap into the back patio. As I'm balancing on wrought-iron spikes, I realize that in my black coat and black watch cap I am a burglar from central casting. All I'm missing is a eye mask and a pillowcase of baubles.

If this were a better story, the police would be hailed and would arrest me for breaking into my own building, but this is not a better story, and my gymnastics go unnoticed.



A 4-year-old boy and his mother roll toy trains across the bus seats on the 147. The boy has a cold and coughs. His mother reaches around and pats him on the back. He reaches around and pats her back in return, as if he feels bad that she feels bad that he feels bad. It is sympathy squared.


Feb. 20, 2006

Union Station.

Photo taken: Feb. 11, 2006


Feb. 15, 2006

Union Station, where I catch the Van Galder bus whenever I visit family in Madison.

Did I ever tell you about the time I got kicked off a Greyhound bus?

This was in 2002. I was headed to Wisconsin to celebrate my grandmother's 80th birthday. The plan was to take a bus early Saturday morning to Milwaukee, where a cousin would pick me up and drive me to the party.

I've always taken pride in my patience and even keel, but there were a few extenuating details to irritate my temperament on this morning. I'd worked the late shift the night before, so it was on 4 hours sleep that I left my apartment around 6:30 a.m. to go downtown. A few weeks earlier I had broken my wrist and was still in a cast, making it difficult to get around with my bags. And the Greyhound bus terminal? A Zen garden it's not, what with all the winos and the children and the screaming and the Funyuns wrappers, and neither is it a pleasant place to sit waiting to board a bus that is 45 minutes late.

When we finally board I'm worried about my cousin Peggy and whether she'll still be waiting for me in Milwaukee. This is the era before cell phones -- read as, more than five weeks ago -- so I have no way to reach her.

The bus is packed. It's another 10 minutes before the bus driver boards. Instead of apologizing for the delay and getting on his way, he stands at the front of the aisle and in a mournful dirge reads the rules.

"There will be no eating on this bus."

Mournful pause.

"There will be no loud talking or radio playing on this bus."

Mournful pause.

"You'll see that I'm standing on a yellow line."

Mournful pause.

"There will be no crossing of the yellow line."

He's like "Cool Hand Luke"'s Carr on valium, detailing the infractions that will result in a night in the box, and just like Cool Hand Luke, I'm exasperated. I throw up my arms -- one broken, one whole -- and moan, "Can we go already?"

The driver pauses again. Mournfully. He stares me down. In the tone of a junior high disciplinarean he asks a question that, as the clown in many a junior high class, I knew well growing up: "Is there something you'd like to share with the rest of us?"

I immediately realize I'm in trouble and that any further dissent is just going to delay us more. "No, no. I'm sorry, sir. Please go on."

And that's when I got kicked off the Greyhound bus. I was in disbelief and continued to apologize, hoping to suck up enough to change his mind. When he motioned for the three Somali security guards it became clear he wasn't bluffing. Together the guards were as intimidating as a coat rack, but I left peacefully, making a big show of struggling with my cast so that the driver could feel guilty about doing this to a cripple.

I'd just started dating a gal and thought about calling to borrow her car, but I didn't want her to think I was the kind of maniac who gets kicked off public buses, so I rented one instead. I got to the party in time and told Grandma and cousin Peggy that I'd overslept.

I've never taken Greyhound since, and the worst to happen on a Van Galder bus has been a corny joke from the folksy, sing-song driver.

Photo taken: Feb. 11, 2006


Dec. 25, 2005

At 4 a.m. the El cuts through the Christmas fog. Its windows are dotted with condensation. I'm in the last car, the one I know to be the most convenient for my stop. Normally such a car would be mostly clubgoers and restaurant workers, but not on a holiday. This morning it's 100 percent crazy -- 95 percent if you don't count me.

Across from me a man flicks a lighter behind cupped hands. He wears clean clothes and has a computer bag. I'm about to give the white man's eyeroll of disapproval when I see in the window's reflection that it is not a cigarette but a crack pipe he is trying to conceal.

(It so happens that after all my time in Chicago, this is the first drug paraphernalia I've ever seen firsthand. Either the city's indeed not as wicked or brutal as it used to be or I'm not getting out enough.)

A schizophrenic sits in the corner. She has prim glasses and an explosion of frizzy black hair. She's a regular, as far as Red Line irregulars go. The first time I ever saw her I figured her for a professor lecturing into a hands-free device -- until I realized there was no phone. As always, her misanthropic rant this morning is animated, enunciated and profane.

Near her a man shadow-boxes with the rear window. His dreadlocks bounce with every juke and with every jive.

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

This is the last such commute I'll make. In January I change floors and go to a day shift. After seven years working nights, suddenly I'll be able to say yes to midweek social invitations. I'll be able to make plans for a Sunday two months away. Come summer I'll enjoy the decadence of leaving work while it's still light out. The tradeoff is this: When on earth am I going to train? No longer will I be able to sleep in and still ride to Wisconsin and back before my shift. To get my rides in I'll have to start getting up at 6, maybe 5.

From one crazy train to another.

Photo taken: Dec. 23, 2004


Nov. 21, 2005

Three recent moments:



I keep a spare CTA card and $20 in a Ziploc bag that I take when I'm cycling. When I can't find my wallet I use this baggie to go downtown to see if maybe, just maybe I have left it on my desk.

The wallet's not there, so I return home on the train, resigned to having lost it. I'm feeling sorry for myself and calculating the expenses and hassles I'll have to bear. They are not many, relative to the grand scheme of things, but still I'm not in the mood for the deaf panhandler who walks up the aisle, and neither is the mentally retarded man in front of me who angrily points to the "No panhandling" sign.

Likewise, I'm not in the mood for the sick boy across the aisle who is throwing up into his grandmother's lap, but there's no "No vomiting on Grandma" sign for me to angrily point to.



A few hours later there's a message from Visa's fraud-prevention department. I call and talk to a woman who says it was suspicious that my debit card was used to buy gas on the South Side that morning.

That's right: Buying gas is so out of character for me that it sets off klaxons at Visa. As if there were ever doubt, I think this cements my all-important bike cred.

"How did you know I hate cars?" I ask.

I'm strangely relieved to know that my wallet is now stolen and not just hiding under laundry -- if ever I am blessed enough to have a say in the matter, I'd choose to be the shlemazel over the shlemiel -- but it is somewhat alarming how well Visa knows my patterns. Will I get similar calls if I start buying low-fat milk instead of skim or start buying clothes anywhere other than Sears? If I attempt to buy dinner for two, will it go through?



My roommate's wallet is on the dining room table. I look at it with the nostalgia of a pensioner. "I remember when I had a wallet ..."


Sept. 19, 2005

Three recent moments:



"Addison stop, Addison stop, home of the 2006 World Series, doors open on your left."



A woman is Rollerblading down the lake. She's attractive, but she's not wearing a helmet and she's talking on a cell phone, two qualities that strike me as evolutional disadvantages, like the supermodel whose narrow hips couldn't possible bear a healthy child. It suggests a variation on one of Sandy's favorite jokes:

Q: What's the hardest part about Rollerblading?

A: Telling your parents you're evolutionarily disadvantageous.



It's three months and a week before Christmas and I have already seen my first holiday display, and already a treacly version of "Frosty the Snowman" has made me want to jump in the river. Thank you, Marshall Field's.


Sept. 13, 2005

Four recent moments:



"... but then working for Marvel would mean living in New York City."


"Did you just say 'Gotham'?"


"Gotham is DC."

"Oh. Of course."



A fat woman in flowing, fat-woman clothes gets off the Clark bus at Bryn Mawr. She's shaped like a pear -- an overripe pear that's been dropped once or twice. From behind thick, ugly glasses she squints at the noon sun. Teeth are missing. On her left arm is a constellation of sores, but also a large homemade tattoo: "LOVE."



I gather that one sign you have a gambling problem is when your poker playing makes you late for other, more important responsibilities. Is it a problem, then, when your poker playing makes you late for other, more important poker games?



"As soon as I could once again remember the lyrics to 'El Paso,' that's when I knew I was sober enough to get out of bed."


July 24, 2005

Three recent moments:



It's 97 and not yet noon. I'm reading and drinking coffee on the patio. Neighbors file past and tell me how mad I am to be outside.

"A few more degrees," I tell them, "and I might have to install the air conditioner."

A third-floor neighbor, who says he's looking forward to January as much as I spent January looking forward to today, puts some vegetables on the grill. He asks me to monitor it while he makes a salad upstairs. It needs to be around 450.

"450! Now there's a temperature I can abide!"



On the Clark Street sidewalk, near the shuttered taquiera and the bank that was once a dollar store, there's an empty box of edible underwear. Beneath a hundred footprints the model on the box resembles a 1980s Chippendale. He looks up with a thumb tugging ever so slightly on his shorts.

I wonder how the box got there. Did it get thrown from an apartment window? Did someone buy it just for a snack? And did it belong to the same litterbug as the nearby Ding Dong wrapper?



A girl enters the train at Wilson. She's 13 if she's a day and 80 pounds if she's an ounce. She wears a flowered sundress and carries a Dominick's bag of belongings. A large plastic daisy adorns each flip-flop. She's with a much older, slighly thuggish man in a dew rag.

This is a terrible thing to think and a worse thing to admit, but it speaks to how segregated my city remains: There is something suspicious about a white girl, prepubescent but already world-weary, in the company of a black man.

After two stops she does the most unexpectedly polite thing I have ever seen on a CTA train: She steps onto the gangway between cars to smoke a cigarette. The man is indifferent, but I check back every few minutes to make sure a jolt hasn't cast her down into the abyss.


June 8, 2005

Four recent moments:



On the train a young woman is reading "He's Just Not That Into You." She pulls a pen from her purse and underlines a passage about why the titular he should absolutely not be called or e-mailed, no matter how tempting. She writes a check mark in the margin.

Something tells me she's having a rocky week.



A jet ski enters the lake from Diversey Harbor. He is going too fast to avoid being obnoxiously loud and loathsome. He also is going too fast to avoid getting tangled in the line a fisherman has just cast into the waterway. "The catch of the day!" I yell from the bike path and give a thumbs-up.



A fire truck arrives at the El station the same time I do. As its crew walks through the station, two young women at the fare machines leer over their shoulders and ask to be hosed down. Casually and jovially the firefighters make their way up the motionless escalator, at the top of which is the biohazard that they have come to clean up: a small pool of blood.

It's not messy enough for a shooting -- not that I would know -- so I presume it was a stabbing, but I can't find any information to say one way or another.



On the return trip, four college girls board at Addison. It's an hour after the game and they are dressed in Cub red and blue. A redhead among them has two Band-aids in an "X" above her left eye. One of her friends peels back the bandage to inspect the wound and confirms that, yes, she's going to want to go to the hospital to get this checked out.

The tears begin. She blubbers about how she's not crying because she's hurt but because she's ruined the night for everyone and she can't believe she has to go to the hospital and who will pay for that? Insurance? Really? All of it?

As I wonder whether she was hit with a foul ball she makes a tearful, incoherent call to her mother. The friend who has been rubbing her back and saying kind things takes the phone and translates: "Hello, Mrs. M--. This is Molly's friend Laura. Molly was at a club and somehow she fell and hit her head and she has a small cut above her eye, but it's really not that bad. It's really not as serious as she thinks. She's going to be fine."

It's hard to tell whether this is the whole story or if there was more mischief involved than Molly would want her mother to know about.

The two other friends are behind me and are getting impatient. One whispers to the other, "I want to fucking slap her so she'll stop crying."


March 23, 2005

Two recent moments:



I'm riding home from a trip up the North Branch Trail. Three large, snow-white feather dusters float across the road about 20 yards ahead. They belong to three bounding deer.

In the woods to my right are a dozen more deer, and their tails are also in full plumage. They look like ghosts wandering through the trees. I stop and watch with a woman walking her dog. She says she thinks saw a coyote, so this must be how deer express their sense of danger, much in the way our species might knock knees and urinate.



There's a young boy and his young mother in the seat ahead of me. The boy turns around and looks at me.

"Can I see your game?"

"My what?"

"Your game!"

"Oh, this. It's a radio." I show him my iPod and give him one of the earbuds. It's playing Portishead, which I assume isn't his thing. I scramble to think of something from my library an urban 4-year-old might like. "'Hey Ya!'" I think. "Everyone loves 'Hey Ya!'"

But by the time I find "Hey Ya!" his mother has yelled at him to turn around, which he does, leaving the earbud dangling on the seat.

He starts to cry, and I realize that the iPod wasn't even on. I'd paused it so I could eavesdrop on three gangbangers who were comparing experiences in Cook County Jail. (Memorable quote: "You don't even realize how much you stink until you get outside, and then it's like, 'Fuuuuuck!'")


March 9, 2005

Three recent moments:



I'm a reserve striker for Arsenel. We have a safe lead so the coach puts me in with five minutes to go. When the keeper bobbles a cross, I leap high into the air and tap it in for the first goal of my career. It's such a glorious goal that after I wake up I lie in bed for several minutes to replay it over and over.

My dreams need a TiVo.



A teenager enters from the end of the car. An older man wearing several layers of clothing stands and blocks his way. He opens the outer coat to reveal what I take to be a badge. His partner sits the boy down and gives him a cursory patdown. I can't hear but I can follow his lips: "You can read the sign, can't you?" (The sign says, "Do not board between cars.")

The three of them get off at Sheridan. The partner tugs discreetly at the boy's shirt -- not enough so that the boy will notice, but enough so that he can be grabbed easily if he were to bolt -- and once they are on the platform frisks him more thoroughly. During the frisking the boy rolls his head and makes a face at the people watching from the departing train.



Later in the day, three girls enter my train. I know I'm getting old when I peg them as high school students and they turn out to be from Northwestern.

I know I'm getting really old when the Aragon show they have just seen is a band, The Used, that I've never heard of.

I know I'm getting really, really old when they tell the three boys hitting on them -- three boys from Decatur who are staying in a hotel downtown but are mistakenly on a northbound train -- that Decatur is "ghetto fab" and I have no idea whether this is a compliment or not.

It's all just so Andy Rooney. I feel like my ear hair has grown a centimeter since these girls entered my train.


Feb. 28, 2005

For four years Sandy and I have volunteered at the Inspiration Cafe, an organization that provides meals, job training and other important services for those in need in Uptown. The Cafe's major fundraiser is an annual art auction, a gala sale of dozens of juried pieces donated by local artists.

It was at last year's auction that I bought my very first piece of art, an abstract painting of an El platform at sunrise. What's funny is that earlier that day I had helped hang the art and came very close to hanging it upside down. Such is abstract art.

Later, during the silent auction, an older gentleman was looking at it and asked for my help in seeing the El. "I just don't see it," he said. I studied it and suggested where the platform was. A few more moments and I could make out the El speeding by. The more I looked at it the more I liked it. It reminded me of countless Thursday mornings bicycling down Broadway, parallEl, to cook breakfast at the Cafe.

"Well, I just don't see it," he said, "but I like it." He put in a bid at $55. Once he left, I put in a bid at $60 and later increased it to $85 in order to win.

This year's auction is March 18. This weekend Sandy and I photographed all the art to be auctioned. Sandy will put the pictures online. There are a lot of great pieces this year, some of which I'll surely bid on. Perhaps I'll make my second art purchase, though you are encouraged to try to stop me.

Photo taken: Feb. 26, 2005


Feb. 26, 2005

If you spend much time downtown late at night, you will eventually fall for the stranded teen scam. It's like the Spanish prisoner scam, in that a fool and his money are parted, but much less ambitious and not nearly as intricate. I fall for it about once a year.

Usually it's a boy. He flags you down and gives you a convincing sob story about how he was here visiting his girlfriend but now he's $10 short for the train back to Indiana and he's embarrassed to ask but can't you just help him out? And because you are caught off guard and because you are a generous person you give him a few bucks and never expect to see it again.

Tonight it's an older guy, maybe 40. It is just after midnight underneath the AMA Building. He's wearing a construction outfit and a hard hat and is talking frantically on a hands-free cell phone. He's smoking. His hands are dirty.

Once he has my attention he ends the call and explains his situation.

His family owns a construction company, he says. I recognize the name, not just from its signs around town but from reports of its close and thus questionable ties to the mayor. They're doing the demolition of the Sun-Times building. Tonight somebody broke into the site and stole some equipment. He was in the middle of a beer and a sandwich when he got the call and had to come down to deal with it.

Then his truck broke down and AAA isn't covering the tow truck that came to fix it. He has $220 but is $50 short and of course he left his wallet at home. If he can't pay, his truck is going to get hauled to a pound at 60th and State. There are gangs there, he says. He is frantic, but shoves in my face a towing receipt that seems to support his story.

So what the hell. I get ready to give him $50. While I dig around for some paper he keeps talking. Mentions his trust fund, the $58 an hour he earns as a crane operator. Points to a nearby skyscraper he worked on. He's not some bum, I'm to understand. He asks me where I work, says he knows some of the union guys there. I say I just do computer stuff.

I write down my address for him and write down his. He lives in New Lenox, which I gather is a suburb. (I don't leave the city much.) I give him the money. His hands are full so he sticks his cigarette in his mouth in order to shake my hand. His grip is strong and calloused. We hug.

We walk through the plaza. He says how thankful he is and how angry he is "at, I'm sorry, that black guy. The tow truck guy. I'm not prejudiced, but jeez."

At the stairs to the Red Line I give him my hand again and tell him to take care. He shakes but looks at me in disbelief. "You're taking the train home?" he asks, as if we were at the shore of Lake Michigan and I'd said I was going to be swimming home.

He looks down the stairs and sees two black guys talking at the bottom. StreetWise vendors. "You're going to go down there? Alone?" He says he's going to walk me down. I try to beg off. I do this all the time, I say. It's the city. I live here. He's even more frazzled than before but he insists.

We walk past the StreetWise guys. One asks him for his cigarette. "Y'now you can't smoke on the train," he says.

"Well, I'm not riding the train," my new friend says with a nervous growl. He looks like a man who could make a bear cry uncle, but the CTA has cowed him.

At the turnstiles he asks if I really do this every night. Does stuff like that happen all the time? "Hey, it's the city," I say, all the while thinking: "Stuff like what? Stuff like black people living in Chicago? Stuff like StreetWise vendors wishing they had a cigarette? Yes, I imagine it happens almost every night."

I thank him for the escort and shake his hand yet again. A few seconds later he yells after me.

"Hey, guy," he says, "are you married?"


"You seeing anyone?"

Yeah, I guess I am. What, does he want to set me up with his trust-fund sister?

"Well, my dad is going to see that you take her out to a real nice place. I mean it."

I insist that I don't expect anything more than my $50, but he means it. Me, I've already written it all off as a karma deposit. Then he thrusts his grimey paw through an iron grate and I shake it one last time and wish him luck.


Feb. 14, 2005

At the Grand stop on the Red Line.

I was not aware CTA stations had men's washrooms. Nor Ejector Rooms within them. Nor valves that I should turn on in case of fire.

I'm trying to imagine what the Ejector Room is like. I'm thinking it's an escape pod that CTA employees can climb into during emergencies, like the one R2-D2 and C-3PO use to escape from the Imperial boarding party. Perhaps the Ejector Room blasts the pod thousands of feet into the air, high enough for a parachute to be activated, allowing the CTA employees to float down to the safety of Lake Michigan. And of course there is a valve, a valve to be turned on in the last moment before ejection, a valve that releases millions of gallons of water into the subway bowels to put out any fires.

Note to self: Get condo board's permission to build an Ejector Room.

Photo taken: Feb. 11, 2005


Feb. 3, 2005

Three recent moments:



I am shopping for a wedding card. I know I am in Andersonville because at least a quarter of the selection has a same-sex theme. I know I am holding the world's worst wedding card when I pick one up that says "May you have a blessed marriage ..." on the front and "... and many more!" on the inside. Perhaps there was a mix-up at the card factory, and somewhere out there there's a birthday card whose inside reads, "... and for God's sake may it be your last one."



A student from my alma mater calls to ask for a contribution. First she wears me down by asking about my job and cajoling me into reminiscing about my college days. I'm too preoccupied with the eggs I am frying to remember much. After about 10 minutes I am so fatigued that I almost beg to give $20 so I can hang up and have my lunch. Finally she makes her pitch. "Today we're suggesting that alumni give $250." I laugh out loud, but she handles it with I've-been-calling-journalism-majors-all-week-I'm-used-to-the-guffaws aplomb. We split the difference at $30. I had, after all, just an hour earlier found $10 on the ground at the groceria when I was buying my eggs.



I'm on the Red Line to Evanston. Two elderly riders are communicating in sign language. I turn down my iPod to eavesdrop.


Jan. 11, 2005

Three recent moments:



A conductor makes an announcement at the Belmont stop: "To the young lady who just boarded the train. I think you dropped your glove. It's tan." Passengers burst into applause. This conductor has saved the day as surely as if he'd leaned over to scoop a child from the tracks.



A man discreetly palms a paper towel when he leaves the men's room. I exit behind him, and he uses this towel to open and hold each door for me. (Maybe he just saw "The Aviator.")



In her haste to get to a red light, a woman honks behind me and nearly runs me into a snowbank. I catch up to her at the intersection. She has rolled down her window. We have a spirited discussion about cyclist rights and publicly owned streets.

There is yelling. There is swearing.

There is a toddler sleeping in the back seat.

"What an example you are for your child!"

"It's not my child!"

"And thank God for that!"