Takin' the El to Hell

When I last wrote about being glad to leave the city, I don't think I adequately conveyed my distaste for the El. There are so many bad things to say about the el, I don't think that one post would be enough to cover them all. But I'll do my best.

I ride the Brown line during both "peak periods" of the day. In the morning I have a good chance of getting a seat, because I live further north on the line. When I first started riding on the El, I was shy about taking seats. It felt weird sitting so close to strangers, especially if the the car was relatively empty. I've gotten over that. Standing on the El seems kind of romantic if you've seen people do it in movies, but having to stand around ass-to-ass with the general public while the train sits idle on the track for fifteen minutes without explanation is about as romantic as visiting a slaughterhouse in July.

I head straight for a seat when I see one; I prefer the single seats, if there are any, and if not, I try to get an outside seat in the middle of the car. If I have to stand, I go right to the middle-most part of the car. When I used to think standing was cool, I would park myself right near the doors. This seems to make sense at first, because there appears to be the most standing room near the doors. However, whatever space there is near the doors quickly disappears once more people get on, and the space near the doors starts to look like a can of human sardines. If you stand in the middle of the car, you'll still be standing close to people, but you won't be embracing them. I've often been in El cars where the people standing in the middle have a reasonable amount of elbow room--enough to read a paper or book while standing--while the people standing near the doors are entangled in a cheek-to-jowl death-embrace. One time back in my door-standing days I had to ride between stops with some dude literally embracing me: I had my back to the plexiglass divider, and he was stuck without a pole to grasp, so he resorted to grabbing the top of the plexiglass with both hands. So I spent the time with dude's arms wrapped around my head and dude's chest flush with mine. Some people might find that romantic, but I didn't at the time.

One thing I don't understand at all is when people won't take a seat when the train is full. People will be standing shoulder-to-shoulder, and someone will leave a seat, and no one standing around it will take the seat. It could be because the men standing near it feel especially chivalrous, but the women towards whom those noble impulses are directed find it insulting. I don't know, maybe they just happen to be people who really like standing--like I said, I don't understand it at all. All I know is that it is one of the most awkward situations one can encounter on the El. It simply should not happen.

When a seat opens on a train that is packed with people, for goodness sakes, somebody take the damned seat. If you don't have especially strong feelings about sitting, go ahead and make furtive half-gestures toward others if you feel like offering it to someone nearby, but if your half-gesture is rebuked, just sit down in the seat. The reason this is necessary is an elemental reason: just as nature abhors a vacuum, the el abhors empty space. When I ride the El, the unlucky people who live between the Diversey and Merchandise Mart stops have to pummel their way through the glut of people packed in the spaces near the doors, and some of them have to wait until the next train comes. If you are standing near the middle of the train car and you can see this life-or-death struggle taking place whilst a perfectly good seat is open next to you, you must be some kind of sadist, or an agoraphobe, or claustrophobe, or your knees don't bend or something. People, please, do your fellow Chicagaoans a favor, and fill that gap.

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