Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I rode the ‘L’ today. It’s been awhile. For those of you reading this who are outside the Chicago area the ‘L’ is The Windy City’s elevated railway, linking neighborhoods to each other and to downtown. It’s part of the mass transit system in Chicago.

For a number of years a branch of the ‘L’ was directly across from my home in Evanston. It linked the Howard St. stop with one in suburban Skokie. Now, living in the western burbs, the nearest ‘L’ stop is several miles from my home.

Today, an acquaintance and I got on the ‘L’ in East Garfield Park heading in for a lunch and meeting in downtown Chicago. It brought back memories.

My first ‘L’ ride came within days of moving to the Chicago area. I walked a few blocks from my home to Howard Street, bought a ticket, and headed south for a meeting near Cabrini Green. I knew nothing about the system. And if it weren’t for the willingness of complete strangers to help the ‘man from Nevada’ navigate the system I might still be on board that original train.

Every trip to Wrigley Field was on the ‘L’. I have favorite memories of taking my kids to games. The ‘L’ would pick up more and more people as we headed south towards Clark and Addison. And when we arrived there was nary a soul left on board except, perhaps, only an occasional Sox fan who had wandered north looking for the promised land. When I went to grad school at Loyola University I’d take the train whenever the weather didn’t favor biking. It was a short trip through deliciously diverse neighborhoods.

I was reminded today why I think everyone should ride the ‘L’ whenever they get the chance. It’s a great equalizer. Crammed onto trains are both wealthy and poor, scam artists, and opportunists. There are executives, factory workers, waitresses, cooks and students all trying to get some place as fast and as cheaply as they can. You see the well dressed and the disheveled squeezed together in seats or holding onto the same pole when no seats are to be had. It’s white and black and brown and yellow all sharing the same place, heading in the same direction. If you’re a fan of segregation the ‘L’ is not within your comfort zone.

Riding the ‘L’ makes me feel a little bit more alive. Riding through Chicago neighborhoods gives me an up close and personal look at this broad shouldered city. Watching who gets off and on at various stops helps you to understand the makeup of the various neighborhoods. It’s a point of view you don’t get from the crowded freeways.

I know people who won’t ride the ‘L’. “ Too noisy”, they’ll say. “Too crowded.” Others lament. Some even say it’s “too unsafe”. For many, it takes them out of their comfort zone. They’d have to rub shoulders with people they’ve tried to avoid. I think they’re missing out.

‘Twas a good day. Rediscovering the ‘L’ and in the process rediscovering the richness of the diversity of Chicago. Then, I had a nice lunch and a productive meeting with two people I’m growing to admire and hope will become friends. To top it all off there was a chance encounter with someone I ‘justice journeyed’ with two years ago. All in all, quite nice.

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