Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Passengers from Hell

The Chicago Transit Authority.

Say what you will about our CTA, but we do have an effective system that has served us well for over a century.

Yes, there are funding issues, the system could benefit from an expansion and upgrade, but we Chicagoans are pretty fortunate when it comes to mass transit.

Just ask anyone living in Houston or Los Angeles.

Those of us who ride our beloved EL trains have all had this experience at one time or another: We’re riding merrily along with our nose in a book, minding our own business and we encounter The Passenger from Hell.

You know who I’m talking about: The passenger who loudly announces his sad plight to the entire car full of riders and proceeds down the aisle expecting a hand-out; the one who plops down next to you and has obviously thwarted every opportunity to bathe since the Carter administration; and (worst of all) the one who flips out her cell phone the moment the Red Line emerges from underground so she can call everyone she knows to notify them of such earth-shattering news like (1) where she is and (2) what she’s doing.

I’ve often wished I had a means of remedying such Passenger-from-Hell-situations. I usually just suffer along being jostled about in quiet repose, but not my long-time friend, Danny.

Danny and I have ridden the EL countless times together and he is truly an inspiration in situations such as these. Danny has to be the all-time champion of dealing with Passengers from Hell.

Danny is my EL hero. A true Urban Gorilla.

Stories recounting how he has dealt with Passengers from Hell have thoroughly entertained dinner-party guests and friends of mine for years. Trust me. These stories are legendary.

For example, Danny and I were transferring from the #21 Cermak bus to the Red Line in Chinatown. As we were exiting the bus, he lightly brushed by a man who was gathering his belongings and blocking the aisle.

“Excuuuse me?!!” exclaimed the passenger, obviously annoyed at Danny’s brazen attempt to exit the bus.

Danny ignored him.

I watched the situation unfold in front of me. The man scampered off the bus behind Danny and was continuing his tirade.

“Don’t you know you’re supposed to say ‘excuse me’ when you do that?” he fumed.

Danny kept walking and stopped at the corner waiting for the light to change.

The angry passenger then came up to Danny and jabbed his shoulder with a pointy finger.

“Say, buddy, don’t you have any manners?” he bellowed. This guy was out for blood.

Danny then did the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen. He wheeled around, faced the man with a perplexed look and signed to him that he was deaf.

That guy could do nothing but just stand there, dumbfounded, with the most confused expression on his face.

Situation averted and defused, Danny turned and calmly headed toward the Red Line.

We made sure not to speak until well out of view. . . .

Passengers that solicit for money on the EL bug me to no end. First of all, we’re a captive audience and they know it. Secondly, their stories seldom vary. (They all seem to be war veterans with ghastly injuries, their houses have burned down and they were all recently robbed of everything they’ve ever owned.)

But what bothers me most of all, is that it’s illegal.

We’ve all heard the CTA guy with the mellifluous voice making the recorded announcement: “Solicitation on CTA trains is prohibited; violators will be arrested.”

Perhaps these panhandlers don’t know the meaning words like “solicitation” or “prohibited”; or, for that matter, “trains”.

Danny and I were on a crowded Red Line, heading north from downtown. Sure enough, here comes the ubiquitous solicitor announcing his tale of woe. This guy had a little variation in that he was blind and was tap-tap-tapping everyone’s feet with his white cane as he ambled down the aisle.

Danny, ever capable, took insouciant control of the situation. He stood up, whispered something into the man’s ear and helped him into a nearby seat.

“What did you tell that guy?” I queried.

“Oh, I just told him that I was Officer Henderson with the Chicago Police and that he’d be arrested if he continued.”


The best illustration of Danny’s ability to handle Passengers from Hell was during a trip on the Red Line heading south from the Howard station.

Soon after we embarked, two rather large women sat in front of us and were obviously in the middle of a loud, heated conversation.

When I say ‘loud,’ I mean that Metra passengers in Winnetka were alerted. When I say ‘heated,’ they made contestants on Jerry Springer look like cloistered nuns.

Apparently, they had “boyfriend issues” and showed no signs of letting up. As the train filled with each subsequent stop, they got louder. And louder. It was obviously going to be a long, bothersome ride all the way to State & Lake downtown.

Danny whispered to me, “Watch this. . . .”

Just as I was wondering what he was going to pull out of his bag of tricks, he suddenly obtained a neurological disorder that caused him to let out a split-second ear-piercing shriek about every fifteen seconds.

Every time he did that, the women would suddenly abandon their tirade for a bit.

They would start up and, Danny’s “Eeep!!” would quiet them down again.

It only took a couple of stops, but the obnoxious women obviously had had enough, exited at the next stop and moved to the next car.

Danny was quiet as a mouse after that, but couldn’t help displaying a little grin of satisfaction.

“You just have to be more annoying than they are,” he said after a while. “That’s the rule.”

As we approached downtown, Danny discovered a fifty-dollar bill in the seat that someone had obviously lost.

As I mentioned something about splurging on dinner that night, Danny became reflective and somber.

“You know,” he said, “I’ll bet whoever lost this probably needed it a lot more than we do.”

As I thought about it, he was probably right. We were having a good time without a care in the world that night. We were on our way to have dinner and see Wicked downtown.

It was freezing cold that night. As we walked from the subway station to the restaurant, we passed an elderly homeless woman bundled up on the sidewalk with a cup of change in front of her.

The look of astonishment and happiness on her face when Danny gave her that fifty-dollar bill was more touching and heartwarming than the entire performance of Wicked could have ever been.

That’s the thing about Danny. He can have the most acerbic wit and have you in pain from laughing so hard, but he also has a heart of gold. That’s what everyone loves about him.

Yes, our transit system can use a few changes. Yes, funding is sometimes in jeopardy and the rates get raised. And there are Passengers from Hell who are inconsiderate, obnoxious and sometimes even dangerous.

But perhaps what our transit system could use most of all are a lot more passengers like Danny. Being inundated with riders who have a witty sense of humor, but especially with a heart of gold could certainly provide our beloved CTA with the most effective renovation ever.



At 10:08 PM , Anonymous mhp :) said...

Awwww.... *smiles*

At 11:13 AM , Blogger Lorraine said...

Technically, isn't this a scoop?


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