My friend and host Peter Pero moved through the traffic from Jane Addams’ Hull-House to a parking lot almost across the street from Union Station like A.J. Foyt on his way to his third win at the Indianapolis 500! We were extremely lucky. He carried something and I carried something up to the vista captured in the picture above. He directed me to the distant doors in the middle of the vista, we shook hands and the most gruelling part of the weekend trek began.
On another day and time, sans luggage packed with books and a guitar, I would pause to photograph much more of the station than I’m sharing here, and I’m sure that’s okay with most readers because this has been a heck of a long series of postings.
The walk to, and beyond the doors pictured below and the descent via escalator to the train boarding area beneath the streets of Chicago was a “walk in the park.” I knew I was on the verge of running late despite Peter’s free-wheeling acumen. I would be in one continuous motion except for stops of a few seconds to take the picture that follows this sentence . . . . . . l. until I arrived at the line of passengers waiting to board the train south on track 16. Yes, if you know “Chattanooga Choo Choo” as I do, it would have been more poetic to say “track 29,” but I’m running an honest blog here.
The large lighted boards showing the stati and track numbers of departing trains helped. Just the same, I asked who I would soon come to know as the future in-laws of a younger man with his girlfriend (their daughter) who had come to say goodbye as he returned to college in Bloomington-Normal. Conversation came easily. Glancing at the form-fitting hard-shell case clutched as though ’twere a bottle of single-malt Wild Turkey (which I could have used, but not until I was seated on the train), he said, “So do you play guitar?”
“Yes, I do,” I said. “I played last night at Lincoln Restaurant in the city. Do YOU play?”
“A little,” he said.
“If we find empty seats close to each other, maybe I can hear you play, and vice versa,” I said
As he nodded in the affirmative, the conductor examining his ticket began explaining he’d have to go have his ticket “checked at that counter over there” — or words to that effect. Soooooooooooooo, he embraced and lightly kissed his fiancée (No time for passion. Heyafterall, her parents and I were watching, and besides, they’d see each other again come Easter break), he semi-sprinted to that counter over there (or words to that effect), and I didn’t see him again.
My real challenge came after the conductor examined my ticket and instructed me to proceed to my car. It became a schlep of epic proportion. As I walked with a few other passengers (at first) down the outside of what appeared to be an endless train, my camera strap, hanging from my neck for many of the past 24 hours, began to really “grate” on me. Nearly every car with an open door had a conductor who examined my ticket and motioned me on down the line. When the fourth or fifth conductor, seeing my physical distress with all my gear and my obvious anxiety told me there was no need to rush, I continued to walk at a forced, brisk clip. I didn’t believe the conductors. I was not going to slow down until I had planted my luggage and guitar where ever the heck they wanted it deposited and sat down in an empty. . . . .frikking. . . . SEAT! Toward the end, I didn’t even raise my eyes higher than door level of the next car. I didn’t want to see the end of the train because I knew it would only disappoint me, being so frippin’ (not as bad as frikking, and I like the alteration here) far away. . . . . .Finally I reached the right car, was directed to deposit guitar and luggage on a shelf in a lower-level baggage area, and find a seat. This I did gladly and continued up the narrow stairway.
The car was pretty full already, and I realized this was not the time for caring a rat’s behind where the heck I sat. Still, I was carrying a camera, and I was hoping for a window seat. . . . . I got lucky. It was the last time I would get lucky until I exited the train. I saw a young woman, 24 maybe, sitting next to the aisle on her right with an empty window seat on her left. I was too tired to turn on my “convivial spigot” so I settled for “tired cool guy with a beard.” My guitar was not in sight. “Is this seat taken?” I asked, pointing to the empty beside her. When she said “No,” I replied, “May I sit here?” and she said “Yes.”
Okay, so I must concede her “Yes” was the zenith of my luck on the trip and also the end of it. She rose and stepped into the aisle to let me sit down and re-seated herself. Across the aisle and one row back were four of her friends, all young women and all apparently returning home from the weekend in Chicago. During the next 20 minutes as the train remained still, more newly boarded passed by, looking for empty seats. The car conductor instructed a woman a few rows forward to stow her coat in the carry-on shelf above to clear another seat. Over the public address system, a voice informed us the train was completely sold out. There was not an unaccounted for seat from stem to stern. WOW! During an occasional lull in the trans-aisle banter, in conversation that could not have been more strained on her part if you had forced it through an oil filter, I learned she was a dancer that had performed with her associates at a Chicago event, and that they were all returning to Springfield. My tone of voice in these three- to seven-word blurts of tempered curiosity (me) and condescension (her) set the tone for the waiting 200 miles of motion southbound. We would not say a word to each other by the time we were halfway to Joliet.
After the trip I decided she was not condescending; she was indifferent.
I was okay with that. I had my window seat but nothing to read. The book I had purchased at the Chicago bookstore — Charles Bukowski’s Post Office was in my bag downstairs, I remembered, and I was not about to leave my seat.
The first 60 miles or so were okay. Taking pictures was now my reason to live. My eye were focused to the left, to the outside, alert 100 percent of the time on opportunities for good pictures. This got a little “old” after a while. Friends of the dancers visited from their assigned seats forward and aft. Happy talk, young woman talk. My mind wandered. I had no pen and paper, and that was okay too. The light was starting to fade, and I was in no mood to wax poetic. The most exciting part of the journey south, which occurred soon after I took the picture above, was when I stood up to take off my brown leather jacket. It stayed safely under my legs until I arose to exit the train.
What touched me most from the view as we rolled out of the metro area — a view I had seen the previous day, but not so well since I was not in a window seat the day before — was the depressing wasteland: acres of truck trailers, hundreds of them probably not fit for the road, rusting away, junkyards, abandoned industrial areas. rubble and debris, broken limbs. backsides of abandoned warehouses with rotting equipment . . . . a clickety-clack litany of woe.
Then not far from the last vestige of metro rot, a distant quarry or something that looked like it.
I took several pictures of the panorama, and the picture above was the only one that came out at least as “passable.”
The gray became blue and soon after. . . . the first wind farm I had ever seen.
I had missed this view of Pontiac station on the way into Chicago, even though I was facing the east horizon both times, sitting on the right side of the aisle going up and the left side of the aisle coming down. A little later I glimpsed Atlanta, Illinois, a small village near McLean, south of Bloomington. I had visited Atlanta, and played guitar and sung two or three Memorial Days and recited poetry in its beautiful octagon Carnegie library and written about its restored old-time grain elevator and murals on the walls of some of the buildings. As I had journeyed north the day before I even saw the red grain elevator. Going south, I glimpsed that wonderful Carnegie library. I knew a train went through the town, but I never realized it was an Amtrak train. What memories and friends I shared in that village, so many long and distant years ago!
The weather began turning serious-bad south of Atlanta. I could just about smell Springfield even though we hadn’t passed Lincoln, 30 miles north of home. Even though the train was still north of Lincoln I was frippin HOME. This was my turf which I had known since I drove a 1966 Ford 2+2 Mustang up to Illinois State University to spend time with my paramour Sylvia Lytle. At this stage, I can name names. For all I know she was departed from this orb by the time she was 23. Who they HEY cares?
The fatigue of the journey gave way to the thrill of seeing MY TOWN from the train, seeing familiar buildings and intersections as I could not remember seeing them, even though I have Amtrakd to Chicago four times. I was simply never so absorbed in observing as I was this day with my seatmate. And you know something? I don’t blame her a bit. What the heck does a 20-something say to a 60-something? More power to her and her happy compatriots. Bless them all, every vibrant vivacious one. As she rose to exit first in the aisle, I did thank her for the window seat, and she said I was welcome.
I almost fell out of the exit door. The camera and luggage were shoulder-strapped round my heck, and the guitar seemed as big as a pair of snow skis. I caught my balance on that goofy, miniscule (for MY feet) boarding step and I returned to terra firma in standing mode swiftly strode through the station and into a cab with a friendly driver. The gear rode in back.
Less than 10 minutes later, I was home. I deposited my gear by the front door and returned to the street to take the picture below. Once inside, I doffed my leather jacket and reached into an inside pocket to investigate the source of the lump I had felt since donning the thing as we arrived in Springfield. Out came the Charles Bukowski novel Post Office which had been in arm’s reach for the entire trip home. I’ll write more about the novel later here at Hon’ & Qui’.
The trip had been the most fun as I’ve had since I was 63, almost a year to the day before the trip just described, when I visited Urbana, Ohio to read and recite poetry and do a little picking and grinning. I’ve written about that trip here at Honey and Quinine.
Thanks again to Peter and Byung Pero, the College of Complexes and the fine citizens of Chicago for allowing me the privilege of sharing so much of your wonderful, toddlin’ town!
Live long . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and proper.