the train, the train

July 14th, 2009 by Phil Leave a reply »

On a good morning, a person doesn’t need to sit or stand at the El platform for very long. If you’re lucky, a minute or two. On average, maybe five minutes. Sometimes, it’s ten minutes. Sometimes longer.

When it’s longer, then the people around you tend to settle in a little more. If the platform is relatively empty when you get up there, it’s more likely you’ll be waiting for a few minutes, which is enough time to, perhaps, curl your hair, or brush your teeth, or pluck your eyebrows. Not that I’ve seen those things happen on the platform. Yet.

Me? I’m the guy with the granola bar. We’ll leave it at that.

A lot of the people who come through this particular El platform can be subdivided into some rough categories. There are a lot of Latinos and Latinas; most of the people tend to be fairly young, but certainly not all; etc. And this is still Chicago, so very little seems especially odd or out of the ordinary.

This morning, when I get to the platform, it’s fairly sparse. I sit on a bench. With a granola bar. A minute or so later a guy comes my way. I’d guess he’s in his early to mid 20s, but that’s just a guess. He had long black hair, and while his skin was darker than mine, he didn’t seem Latino. He seemed more like an extra from the set of Walker, Texas Ranger, one of those episodes where Walker is one with Native American tradition. But he also looked a little like the guy from Dead Meadow, or from some other band, hard to say which. Other people might not have noticed, but I thought this guy had a very different look from most people I see at the platform, or much anywhere else for that matter. And then he sat down next to me. And, it seemed, we both patiently waited for the train, except that I had a granola bar. And orange juice.

At some point I noticed that he had a piece of bread in his hand, but also somehow against his knee or thigh or something. It looked like it was folded over, like, folded in half. And he also had a book. This wasn’t that notable.

Then he brought out the ketchup, and proceeded to squirt the ketchup on the folded piece of bread. He put the ketchup away, and I thought, okay, he’s making a sandwich on the platform? Then I noticed he had a loaf of bread in his bag. But I didn’t see anything else on the sandwich or in the sandwich. In fact, I only saw one piece of bread.

He fumbled a little with the book, which it doesn’t seem like he was reading so much as flipping through. Then he started eating the sandwich, which, best as I could tell, was still just a single folded slice of bread, with a row of ketchup on top.

The book? A People’s History of the United States.

Bear in mind that I’m in the middle of reading Ionesco. Two nights ago I read Rhinoceros. Last night I read Exit The King. And then here on the El platform is an anachronistic figure, eating a ketchup sandwich, leafing through Howard Zinn.

At some point, I just got up and walked down the platform. I would have done this anyway since I make an effort to pick the train car that will empty me out in front of the transfer tunnel staircase. But some part of me seemed to be viscerally unable to handle the scene I’d just witnessed, and then I felt almost guilty, not because of any antipathy to the ketchup sandwich, but for thinking to myself, Dude, you look like you just walked off the set of Walker, Texas Ranger.

[As a note, for all four of you actually reading this at, my apologies for the design shortcomings. Geoff and I are slowly working on it. He’s having to figure out how to take something from Drupal 5 and make it work in Drupal 6, or something.]


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