Friday, July 29, 2005

Life on the El

First off, thanks to everyone who came to the book signing Wednesday. You guys rock! Second, my apologies for being five minutes late. My in-laws (maternal side) would have drawn and quartered me for arriving five minutes late, as they always arrive everywhere en masse 30 minutes early. Thirty minutes early is "on time." To put this in perspective, my family typically runs about a day late for everything.

Anyway, I digress. I actually have a reason for being late, and not just that I misplaced my keys again. My reason is: the CTA sucks. For those you of you non-Chicagoans, the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) is our public transportation system, including elevated trains, subways and buses.

Let me paint a picture for you of the CTA. For those of you not familiar with public transportation, the "el" (elevated train) is sort of like the monorail at Disney World, if the monorail smelled like stale urine and broke down constantly.

I live in the first suburb north of Chicago, and became very familiar with the el when I was working downtown, using it every day to commute. The CTA is sort of like a craps shoot - you never know if it's going to take you 30 minutes or 30 days to get where you're going. On the train, there are a number of reasons you can be delayed - signal light malfunction, suspicious packages, person having a heart attack on the train in front of you, suicide attempt on the electric tracks, falling debris from old buildings (yes, this did happen to me) or my personal favorite: spontaneous fires breaking out on the train and/or tracks due to the age of both.

Anyway, I decided to take the CTA into Chicago because parking cost $100 an hour, or your firstborn child, whichever you can afford to part with. Needless to say, I allowed for an hour and a half for the trip that should take forty minutes, but I was late because my red line train stopped for no apparent reason on the tracks. I think the driver wanted to take a nap.

As an added bonus, my pal the Fake Blind Panhandler was on board the train. This is the guy who claims to be blind (has a stick) but his guide stick never comes into contact with anything. He also manages to deftly avoid the poles, seats and crowds of commuters without actually touching them, all while shouting "Ladies and Gentleman, I am blind. Imagine if you were blind? Please help me. This is a tough life." I have no doubt it's a tough life. I'd hate to have to work on the CTA train. Not to mention, faking blindness is probably pretty stressful, even faking it badly.

My friend, Beth, says that she wants to open a school for panhandlers. She would tell them all to use the "kill them with kindness" technique. "I would definitely give a dollar if one of them told me these pants make my butt look small," she'd say. "Wouldn't you?" I think I would.