Monday, March 24

Riding the Metra rails: an observation in motion

It's spring break in the Chicagoland area. The train is an unusal mix of passengers. Not the usual employee commute but kids of all ages, including a lot of teens. The younger children with their families are quiet; shushed to good behavior by their vigilant parents. Some of the older kids are napping, their hoodies pulled up and over their heads. Some of the kids sitting alone are wearing earbuds and speaking loudly on the phone (take out the buds and turn down the music.)

In my car there is a particularly loud group of teens in the back. They are laughing. A lot. Which is good. I'd rather they laugh than swear. There is an older woman sitting towards the front who has been trying to read her paper. She keeps looking back towards the kids and gives them that disapproving look. If they've seen her, they've ignored her. I suspect they haven't seen her. She keeps shaking her head and muttering to herself. At one point she put her fingers in her ears but soon gave that up as it made it hard to read her paper.

I love riding the train. Not just because of that mournful sound of the train horn nor the sway of the train on the tracks, but the people. The train is one of my favorite places for people watching.

The older couple with the one-way tickets. Heading back to the city after a visit with family? They are a bit non-plussed to find the late morning train so crowded but an alert individual moves to share a seat with a stranger so the couple can sit together.

There is a weird anonymity about the train, but also a weird proximity because individuals are so often required to sit next to a complete stranger. The one already in the seat scoots over toward the window to try to allow sufficient space, huddling belongings close to the chest before trying to situate it on the floor and still have room for legs and feet, possibly balancing a cup of coffee.

There are those who take their seats, adjust their earbuds or headphones and are soon fast asleep, head lolling to one side, mouth agap, snorts of deep sleep punctuating their breathing.

Far too many folks don't look out the windows. Granted in the Chicagoland area towards the end of March after a particularly cold and snowy winter there is not a lot to see if one is look for a particular sort of scenery. But there is always something to observe, and often what we don't really expect to see because we're not really looking for it. Like the well-dressed woman pacing the platform who is probably going for a job interview or some sort of important meeting. The man wearing comfortable shoes, an expensive watch, and a well-worn backpack whose story is indeterminate but fascinating to try to weave. The art work that some might call graffiti on surfaces along the route. The changes in housing. Even in March, a few remnants of Christmas decorations--and I can only imagine the shouted conversations each weekend about putting away the damned Christmas lights. The snow plows not yet parked in the far corners of a heavy equipment lot because a spring snow or two is threatened. Thin layers of ice on covers of above ground pools. Cleverly concealed water towers or furnaces atop buildings. The remnants or beginnings of rooftop gardens. Orange-garbed workes on break? Or maybe it's their job to stand against the big container filled with bags of something. Hard to know. Sparse-looking naked trees, brown and grey yet undaunted. So much going on in those trees just now before the burst of buds that signals spring is really here.

The older woman who was giving long looks to the kids has just stood up to put on her coat and scarf. As she did, she looked towards the back of the train, frowning. The kids were effervescently unaware. With a loud "Tsk!" that could have been directed to anyone or anything about anything, she sat down. Poor thing. I hope she has a better day.

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