Two Days on the Chicago ‘L’

The enduring image of a group of faceless strangers has an everlasting impact from the platform of a railway station. The night was covered in lights as they all awaited their destination- just bodies, like ants marching with a journey’s end in mind. The train comes from the distance; they don’t remember getting on the “L” and they don’t remember getting off. To be honest, most don’t even know where they were headed, but the ride itself is implanted in their very being.

There is a kitschy dimension to the cultural experience of humanities intrigue to the very notion of public transportation and the enchanted mystery of the nameless stranger beside us. Transportation organisms cultivate deep roots among the world’s societies and frequently come to define them, entering the worlds of metaphor and even schematic framing of reality. Our means of travel often earn affection and wonder among commuters into the journey of the people we create as characters in our world. The parallel reality of knowing you aren’t alone in an aluminum shell of seats full of outsiders.

The echoing sound of the train is known so well it’s almost unheard as it becomes a part of the everyday routine of the mundane. Yet, as it passes through, it still has the capacity to ignite excitement and eagerness causing you to take another breath, pause and soak in the elements. The harmonious musicians playing on the subway platforms evoke a magical quality


that resonates with melancholy in your imaginations. You are led to the beast mode of transportation by vibrant subway colors and tiles, and inner beauty lies in the fact that it is controlled by someone other than us. This powerful guiding force symbolizes full trust as it aligns with our lack of control of the helm. In a curious way, it’s almost a peaceful and serene way of letting go and letting someone else take us to our destination.

The world of strangers, seemingly riding along together; the heads down staring at the cell phone, the homeless shadow looking for money, the society who want to be anonymous staring out the window, the conversation over a few beers in the corner, the ladies with the shopping bags, the parent clutching the hands of their little ones, the business suit watching the clock, the photographer trying to capture the perfect photo, the sports fanatic chasing the game, and all souls that are the face of the “L”. As we sit back and watch individuals unfold, we hone in on the element of enchanted mystery as we transform these characters in to our literal minds and describe their journeys in our thoughts and wonders.

Through the scratched windows, we see the intricate beauty of the sky-lined brick buildings and tree-lined streets of the city. This vantage point of the elevated track reminds us why so many chase this city. Global icons like the Willis Tower are pivotal points of reference as it attracts culture from all over the world. Trump Tower challenges the established Skyscrapers with its ninety-two story glass tower on the Chicago River which runs through the center of the city, known as the Chicago Loop. Chinatown is a staple of history as a distinctive tourist attraction in Chicago with its’ colorful gate decorated with a Chinese inscription declaring “The world is for all”. When the doors of the “L” open to Wrigley field it breeds the love of the game with the iconic marquee letting you know you are home.

These focal landmarks, along with countless others, allow for such exceptional and gratifying details on one’s commute. When the train stops at the platform and the line dissolves, you are still layered with the beauty of the buildings that seamlessly blend the dream world with reality. There is exquisiteness and splendor surrounding the “L”, especially when in the presence of the monotony of traffic jams on the soulless expressway. There is commitment to the moment when your ride ends as the story of the “L” continues and lives on in a world full of wonder with faceless strangers; all you need to do is listen and look for it. -Erika Johnson

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