At the Chicago History Museum gift shop I had purchased a Dover Press edition of Carl Sandberg’s book Chicago Poems (first published in 1916) and a unique souvenir shot glass with a metal medallion attached to one of its four squared sides. The woman behind the counter (beautiful, Nordic/Swedish, friendly) had begun to put them into a paper sack after carefully wrapping a generous layer of packing tissue around the glass, but I waved off the sack. “I’m a tree hugger,” I explained, and she graciously handed me the wrapped shot glass which I put into my front right jacket pocket, and the book which I had put into my inside left jacket pocket. I knew I’d be reading it on the train, and it was time to boogaloo back through Lincoln Park and onto Union Station. From my previous foray into the Windy City Wilds, I had learned to travel light and to return to the train station early. I didn’t want to be the 196th of 200 people boarding the southbound #305. The timing was perfect. We arrived at 4:15 for the 5:15 departure, and there was an unexpected bonus.
En route to the bonus, a near panic as I entered the ground floor waiting area and stuck my hand inside my jacket to retrieve the ticket I had put into my shirt pocket. It was not there! I knew that’s where it would be, and the prospect of trying to board the train without it flashed before my eyes! I groped, guessing that if it hadn’t fallen out the bottom of my jacket, it might still be close to my shirt . . . . and I was right. I found it. Chances are that if I had n0t worn my vest to Chi’ from Spring’ that ticket would be blowing over the hinterland between the History Museum and Union Station. “CHEEses,” I thought to myself. “That was close!”
I arrived early in line at 4:20 with only eight or nine travelers standing or sitting on the floor. One was a late 20s fellow, sitting on the floor against a structural pillar, surrounded by about 8 pieces of luggage. He was in line for the southbound train that would depart from Gate C after mine. We talked briefly, and he asked if I’d watch his luggage for him while he went outside for a cigarette. “It’s been too long, man,” he said. “I’ve gotta have a smoke!” I wasn’t going anywhere, and I was happy to keep my place in line by his bags. He returned in about 20, a happier, satisfied man.
One thing about traveling with a guitar. I seem more inclined to talk with strangers, and strangers seem more inclined to talk with me. Hell, I could be James Taylor with a theatrical beard for a disguise. And any stranger could be an entertainment booking agent which I need badly.
About 4:45 a pubic address announcement advised all passengers planning to board the #305 who were under 18 and traveling alone and all passengers 62 or over to make a separate line at the entry portal. We would be the first to board the train. WONDERFUL! GREAT IDEA! THANK YOU AMTRAK! And so we did.
It was a breeze. This time I placed my bag and guitar in the overhead rack. At 4:50 I sat down in a window seat that would be fine for photography, even though it was getting too dark for any pictures. Ten minutes after I sat, the rest of the passengers came aboard. Again, every seat had been sold. The train began to move at precisely 5:15.
Among them were several disappointed Chicago Bears fans festooned with a variety of “officially authorized” NFL attire. From their long faces, it was obvious their team had lost to the Green Bay Packers. Passenger Dave was a Bears fan. He sat next to me for the next few hours. We said all of 10 words to each other for the duration.
It was what he didn’t say to me that moved me. Early into the trip he closed his eyes and sat quietly. When a call came in on his cell, he explained to the caller he was on his way, the Bears had lost and that he couldn’t talk now; he’d call back. Not long after, a second call came. It was obviously the person he had cut short earlier. He called her Jodie. Their 11-year marriage were coming to an end. In the course of the conversation, Dave told Jodie he considered the 11 years “wasted.” They had two kids who would stay with her. He would stay at their house until the new year for tax and accounting purposes, but he would move out in January. Several times he tried to make it clear to her that even though she had not explicitly told him she didn’t want him in her life, it was obvious to him, and he was making it clear to her it was over. He didn’t understand why she wouldn’t say it. Conversation over. Twenty minutes later, another phone call. One of the kids. No conversation about the coming separation. Soon after, another call from Jodie. Dave was concerned that she would not be there at the station to pick him up. Was he going to have to take a cab? He wanted to know. I don’t know that she agreed to be waiting. It was unsettled when he ended the call.
On the way to Chi’ they announced we would accelerate to 110 miles per hour on a stretch of newly improved track. From my window, looking at the countryside, it felt like we were going 110 mph. On the return trip at about the same place, they announced that typically we would travel at 110, but not tonight. There had been an “equipment malfunction.” No problem. I was in no rush.
In the meantime, I was getting sleepy and began to worry about missing Springfield. I went to the dining car tor a can of Coke with a glass of ice and brought it back to my seat. It gave me some energy, and I knew I’d be fine.
When the train stopped at Bloomington, several passengers exited the train, and Dave moved to sit with a friend a few rows back. I now had two seats to myself, and just to experience the view from the aisle-side I moved one to the right and brought my overhead book bag down. Then I took a self portrait.
Until I had departed the train, the trip had been terrific. It went south when I discovered there was not a single taxi waiting outside the station. This was a first for me. I roamed the lot; found not one. I even asked a few people obviously waiting for a ride if they were waiting for a cab. Three polite shrugs and shaking heads and one “No, I’m waiting for my husband who is coming to pick me up.” (lucky man) I was told by station personnel that cabs often parked by the curb on Washington at the “designated (there was a sign) cab parking place.” There was no cab, but a fellow was standing there. I asked if he was waiting for a cab, and he said yes, he had called one. I am guessing he was a first time cab caller from our station because I knew cabbies park near the entrance to the station. At that instant, I saw a Yellow Cab arrive probably 200 feet from us, close to the station entrance. I said “I see a cab right now. He’s over there,” and began walking toward it. . . .
I knew I had not called it, so my first words were “May I share this ride?” The driver asked if I can called, I said I had not and pointed to the fellow walking toward us. “It’s up to him,” the driver said. After determining that the other fellow’s destination was on the direct route to my home and that he would get out first, I took a seat behind him.
The ride was a breeze. I walked the last half block from the nearest street corner to my home. I walked through my front door and glanced at my watch. 10:01 precisely.
Live long . . . . . . . and proper.