Tuesday, April 19, 2011

You Can't Get There From Here

When I woke up yesterday, the 18th of April, and I looked out the window and saw that it had snowed two inches in the early morning hours of April the 18th, and my sleep fogged brain realized that it was snowing, and it was April, I have to say I was pretty fucking pissed off. I stomped off to work and spent the day complaining about the fact that it was cold, and it was snowing, and it was April. Even so, I was relatively certain that it would be the worst morning of my week, what with the snowing and the April, and on the whole I think I took it in stride.

I spent a lot of time thinking wistfully about yesterday morning during the two and a half hour clusterfuck that served as my commute this morning.

It started out well enough. I timed the leaving of my house in a such a way that I would largely miss the rain on my 1/2 mile walk to the train, thereby allowing me to leave my umbrella at home and saving me from having to buy yet another umbrella since I almost invariably forget I have one with me and leave it on the train. A train pulled into the station in due course, and I stepped onto it and found a seat, which is always a bit of a victory. I finished the sudoku while we traveled a few stops. In between Paulina and Southport we stood on the tracks for an unusually long amount of time. I finished the crossword puzzle. The conductor told us there was some trouble with a train that had "broken" ahead of us and that we would be standing "momentarily". I still wasn't alarmed as this happens frequently and we are usually moving again inside of five minutes. Fifteen minutes later we still hadn't moved.

By now I had read the entire paper (to be fair it's the free morning paper and there's not a whole lot to it once you skip all the celebrity gossip and stories about a new bar that won't be open long enough for you to check it out). The conductor came back on to give us the exact same announcement which seemed superfluous as the situation hadn't changed and no one had gotten on or off the train since the last announcement. After another ten minutes he did make a new announcement: the broken train was fairly well fucked. It would not be going anywhere for a while and neither would we. And further to that, when we did go somewhere, it would be to the Southport stop, where we would need to get off and get onto a shuttle bus which would take us to Fullerton where we could get back on a train having bypassed several miles of track to which they had cut power. We had some time to think about our individual game plans though as we couldn't pull into Southport until the train that was already there was able to get onto the northbound tracks and out of our way. Even at this point I was remaining calm. Sometimes things break and it's nobody's fault and there's little you can do about it but soldier on. I called my office and explained the situation and that I didn't know what time I would be in. Then I remembered I had Peggle on my phone and started playing it.

Eventually we pulled into Southport, where we were told there were shuttle buses waiting for us downstairs to take us to Fullerton. Out on the street I did indeed see two buses and also a man in an orange vest with a clipboard who seemed to be directing things. Everything appeared to be under control. It fucking wasn't. There was firstly a problem of physics and the inability to condense the volume of humans that fit into eight train cars into the space of two buses. There was additionally the problem that trains were continuing to come into the station and drop off their human cargo. For me personally, there was the problem that it was 40 degrees outside and that it had started pissing down ice cold rain and I hadn't brought an umbrella. A very lovely Asian girl with an enormous Cubs umbrella offered me a space beneath it - don't ever try to tell me that Cubs fans are assholes, it simply isn't true. The first batch of buses were full up and left without us. I managed to wedge myself on to one of the second set of buses and we took off in rush hour traffic on a circumlocutory route designed to pick up, per orange vest guy, "as many people as possible" from the other three train stops between the one we were at and the one we were headed for. It was possible for us to fit exactly zero other passengers on our clown car of a bus, and we drove past the other stranded CTA customers feeling a mixture of relief and survivor's guilt.

Upon our eventual arrival at Fullerton, we filed into the station like a horde of spawning salmon and headed, logically we collectively believed, to the southbound platform in order that we might catch a southbound train. After allowing us to stand there for ten minutes in the freezing rain and wind, we were disabused of this ridiculous notion by a man on the loudspeaker who told us in a tone dripping with irritation at our stupidity that it was obvious we needed to catch a southbound train on the northbound tracks. As we headed back down the stairs to get to the other platform the woman next to me summed up the feelings of all of us by saying "I've never wanted to get to work so much in my entire life." Almost immediately after the last of us had reached the northbound platform, a brown line train pulled up to the southbound platform we had just vacated. It was followed in about two minutes time by a red line train pulling up to the southbound platform. Those of us who chose not to run back to the other side like the proverbial chicken stood there dumbfounded for the fifteen minutes it took for a train to pull up to the platform to which we had been directed.

By now I was soaked to the core and shivering, having lost my umbrella buddy in the shuffle, and I stepped on the train with no small measure of relief, pleased as punch to find a seat available and for once not caring that there was a mother holding a screaming infant in the seat just in front of me (I also ignored that she was speaking fucking French). About this time, the same announcer who had chastised us earlier began to tell us in the same exasperated tone as before that we were NOT to go to the northbound platform, that southbound trains must obviously be boarded from the southbound platform. He didn't actually finish with "you fucking idiots" but we all heard it. I was already on a train, and had been informed by the conductor that it was a southbound train to the loop, and also I was sitting and starting to dry - I was not, under any circumstances, getting up to go back where I had been in the first place. I continued to sit there for the half hour it took that train to finally close its doors and pull away towards the oasis of downtown. I finally arrived in the office around 11 a.m. at nearly the same time as the person who had flown in that morning from Boston in less time than it had taken me to commute from Lakeview.

And to think, only yesterday I had woken to the sight of beautiful, pristine, non-public transit interrupting April snow. Sigh...

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