I’ve noticed rush hour across different cities and when you notice rush hour, you acquire a pretty good perception of population size.
New York City;
I’m holding a pole in the subway. Connor holds the same pole facing me. Another woman holds the pole in between our hands and stands sideways, facing the doors to the car. A man stands behind me and Connor and Connor gets bothered, he’s pretty close, so I turn sideways and a woman leaves her seat because of a man that smells, so I sit down. And a woman leaves her seat to give it up to a woman that’s pregnant next to me. And a man is reading a book across the way and the little girl with her backpack on next to him tries to read whatever it is that’s on his page. An older businessman takes my spot on the pole and a woman in a green, suede dress, a man with a lazy eye, and a little boy with this man are all sitting against the back wall of the train. A guy next to me is holding a microphone with a camera, oh wait… that’s Connor. A girl “reading” a book, a homeless man singing and preaching for money, walking up and down the train car and everyone acting like he doesn’t exist, a woman that missed the door closing, her face an inch away and her purse falling halfway down her arm, and the car starts moving, a couple holding each others thighs and hands, and there’s me, lost in my own thoughts thinking of tapas for dinner. And there’s her, lost in her novel. There’s creaks and whispers and I carefully watch a man touch his nose and then his shirt and then his nose again and then the seat and his nose and his nose and his book and he stands up and his body jolts from the train stopping and he stands up and walks to the door, fumbles a bit, finally grabbing a tissue from his pocket and he used the tissue to hold onto the pole as the train finally stopped. He used the tissue to hold onto the pole. He used THE TISSUE to hold onto the pole. And I smell this man sleeping a day away, four seats down in dirty jeans and a hat with multiple holes and it smells like muck and street water. Speaking of, a man walks in with wet shoes and there becomes black water traced all the way to the pole he stands at, all over the floor. And I’m looking at Connor, not saying much because when you say one thing, you know everyone without headphones can hear what you’re saying and they want to hear what you’re saying, so three stops later, we get off and people are everywhere. There’s groups of women in dresses and men in suits and college students, families, people that just got back or are going to a game, a bar, families and their kids. It’s Penn Station, and I could write an entire series of different people waiting in line for the bathrooms. The bathrooms have water spilling over the floors and working women that smell of dead cigarette butts giving us stale air and businessmen are eating four dollar pizza while waiting in line. Then out comes Connors stepdad around the corner with a slice himself and it’s now a slice of home. I find myself sitting on the train with a vanilla coolatta from dunkin in one hand and a slice of pepperoni in the other and Connor, the same.
A train on a brick path, stops a few inches away from the curb. It’s attached to a line in town like a trolley. The line traces the town around each corner and stops every so often. We go uphill and downhill but never under or above. Tickets are five dollars for the weekend. I count my sacajawea coins to fifteen dollars because that’s the only money the ticket machines spit out at you. Handfuls of gold. It’s Hannah, me, a dad, his son, a mom, and her daughter, a couple students, and a couple. There’s a few different ethnicities around and only a few people. The entire train car is silver and blue and the poles are yellow but god forbid someone has to hold a pole at all. Everything is spotless and the windows reach from the ceiling to the floor. We cross a river and I’m in my seat and Hannah is a few seats behind me —Open spaces— We cross the river and enter into town and we’re on a bridge and it’s daylight and you can see everything. You can see the university, the farmers market, the roads to get into town, the gondola, let alone the sky. I’m thinking in silence and I’m sitting alone and I don’t have to worry about anything but myself. There’s actually music playing lightly in the background and the trains making turns like buses do in the city. When there are two cars connected and the bus or train bends like a slinky going around a turn. And once we cross over the bridge I stand up in the open space to stretch my legs and fifteen minutes into the train ride we arrive at the first street stop. Street stop because I’m amazed at the design of the train going through the neighborhoods of the city. An accident would be hard to come across because it is attached to a wire and has a specific route for each train. The stops are so close to the sidewalk and the sidewalk is brick and the stops have glass roofs so in case it’s raining you just walk straight from the glass roof to the metal ceiling of the train. The train stops and no one fumbles or falls or jolts. We walk out and there’s green on the streets and I can smell flowers and when I walked in front of the next building I could smell food trucks from the side street and then I could smell flowers again.
Raised above ground, raised above the merchandise mart, kimball, diversey, lake & state, adams, and wherever else, we rise above. Off the ground and enough people are getting on and off at stops and we sway right to left and left to right and trains fall off and stay on track. Trains stop and they wait and they stop for a while, sometimes up to a half hour and we get on. Businessmen are always on these trains and who am I to say they’re men-men when they are only a couple years older than me and know less than the area of the outskirts than I know for myself. Students are following each car from Depaul to Columbia to the Art Institute to Roosevelt to UIC and University of Chicago to Loyola and students have backpacks. And backpacks get in your way and girls with backpacks on, their hair strangles over the necks of their seats, through the handles of their packs. Homeless men are spread across four seats even, taking a ride from eight am until they feel like it’s a good time to collect money, rush hour. I can talk to Hannah but I don’t want to worry about talking too loud again or standing the wrong way on a pole. The noises are so loud and we’re above ground but there is a little space to actually leave and catch the next ride. People sit and stand as close to the doors as possible and stare at eachother because the el is so small. We bounce around but at least we can move.
I was looking straight forward, looking at the window that blocks the front seats to the doorway and a boy my age kept peering at me from behind the metal wall to the glass “window” and I tried to tell Hannah but I couldn’t talk loudly or he’d hear me. So I typed it out on my phone and the minute he saw her looking at him too he stopped and got off at the next stop. He was peering at me and I could feel him trying to look harder at me like nothing else. And no matter how hard he looked I knew he would never know me because as soon as those doors would open he would vanish, evaporate, like all people do during rush hour.
It’s these inner city trains that range and the Metra is like sitting in a private room compared to these subway trains.
And people try and make up new routes but that’s just not comfortable.
And you get stuck in one place sometimes or you can keep going in circles.
Sometimes these trains take you back to your home in Upper East side Manhattan and some take you to Kedzie in Chicago but these people all travel the same line.
Some take you to the outside of Nordstrom’s because she’s sitting on the edge of the sidewalk.
They’ll take you back to Geneva.
I’ve made it to Stumptown and PSU and Penn station and Takerta and farmers markets and Diversy to Lake View and to an actual lake.
And it’s during rush hour when you feel so trapped and in your head and you take notice on these things around you and you never know if you actually can or will make it to these places you need to be.
You want to be.
In Portland I feel like we’re all separated and amongst ourselves.
In New York I feel forced into one, one huge box of heavy things.
In Chicago I feel more than one with because I know Chicago like I know my home.
We’re all busy peering at each other without relevance and notice and sometimes there is relevance and sometimes we do take notice but with how many faces I see in a day, I think about the random faces that show up in my dreams on random nights and I think about rush hour and how many times I’ve peered at someone and asked who they are.