Sunday, November 11, 2012

Welcome Back to the Windy City, Georgia! Love, the CTA.

Hello dear readers! I am now back in the Windy City and today could not be a more appropriate day to finally update my blog from my beloved city because we are currently under a wind advisory. Winds are ranging between 30 - 35 mph with occasional gusts blasting between 45 - 50 mph! I attempted to ride my bike along Lake Shore Drive today (despite the hurricane-esque winds it is sunny and in the upper 60s today -- summer!), but was literally knocked down by the wind just a few blocks from my apartment. Every way I tried to bike was somehow against the wind and I felt ridiculous peddling with all my might, barely keeping enough speed to stay upright, and with my helmet repeatedly blown from my head and hanging by my neck. Needless to say, I am now safe and snug inside a Starbucks and have no plans to venture out until I have to.

I am back in Chicago to complete yet another unpaid internship at the United Theatre Company. I am working with their Development department as the Gala Apprentice and will basically be in charge of the whole operation (especially since my supervisor's last day was Friday...there are currently no paid employees in the Development department, but instead three volunteer apprentices). I am also still working Heartbeat Theatre and (drum roll) I now have a PAID position with them! That's right, I spelled that correctly: P-A-I-D. As in the opposite of "unpaid". What is this? you say. Paid for something other than hotel work? I know. It baffled me, too, but since I just deposited my first paycheck from Heartbeat then it must be real! I am their shuttle driver. Baby steps, dear readers. Baby steps.

My first few shifts as a Heartbeat Theatre shuttle driver have been uneventful. I have met some very happy patrons and was even surprised to receive a tip at one point! My third shift ended with me staying an hour later due to a birthday party Heartbeat was hosting. As soon as I deposited my last few "shuttlees" at our parking lot I headed to the El stop so that I could make it home in time to cook dinner and then drive right back to Heartbeat for a trivia night at a local bar. The hosts of the birthday party gave us all their leftover pizza and since I wanted to postpone grocery shopping as long as humanly possibly I took one box.

The moment I entered the train stop a CTA personnel held up her hand and said, "All trains are stopped. A car derailed at Granville. There will be a shuttle service set up momentarily." This must have just happened because I had heard a train go by five minutes previous. I crossed the street with everyone else and waited at a bus stop since the shuttle would probably take another half hour.

 I now live in the city of Chicago as opposed to Evanston so getting home in a timely manner was not much of a concern. I board Bus 155 and headed south. While I was on the bus a slightly eccentric homeless man sat across from and began making jokes about the pizza box in my hands. He seemed to just be having fun so I responded a tiny bit, but in general I do not like to bring unnecessary attention to myself in public so I was happy when my transfer stop arrived. I left the bus and immediately boarded the 151 that was to drop me a block from my apartment. After about five minutes I realized the bus was heading in the wrong direction. I got off, crossed the street and waited for the southbound 151. When the 151 never arrived I embarked the 36 bus instead, which got me within at least five blocks of my apartment.

The moment I boarded the 36 bus I was met with a cheery, "The cheese pizza!" There he was: Crazy Homeless Man.

"You didn't eat the pizza yet??" he said, grinning from ear and patting the seat next to him. I laughed and muttered 'no', pretending not to see him gesturing for me to sit by him. I took a seat in the middle of the bus and hunkered down for what was possibly going to be a long ride.

It only took a few more pick-ups for the bus to become completely packed. Six of the northside redline stops were shutdown due to the derailment so everyone was forced to commute by bus Crazy Homeless Man regaled everyone by singing the CTA bus rules at every stop: "Back, back, back of the bus. Move back, back, to the back of the bus so that everyone can get on! Back, back, back of the bus." Every now and then he would loudly proclaim something else about being nice to everyone and being gracious to our bus driver, but mostly he sang his 'Back of the Bus' song.

At one point a man in a wheelchair boarded the bus. Crazy Homeless took it upon himself to part the Red Sea of people and flatten the handicapped seats against the wall. When the man in the wheelchair disembarked, Crazy Homeless once again went above and beyond, even escorting people off the bus to make way and then making sure they got back on before any new passengers tried to seize the opportunity to grab what few open spaces there were. The woman next to me asked how to get to Diversey now that she couldn't use the train system. This was her first time in Chicago so I pulled up a map on my phone to give her a visual.

"Back, back, back of the bus. Move back, back, to the back of the bus!"

As we once again let on more people than the bus seemed capable of holding a young man in a tye-dye hoodie leaned over to a business woman in her thirties and said, "I heard what you said about me and that was uncalled for." I think Tye-Dye was hoping to make his statement and then righteously move to the back of the bus, but Business Woman would not allow him the last word. She spun around and snapped, "YOU deserved exactly what I said. You so worried about losing your seat on the bus that you didn't even MOVE for that man."

"I didn't know he was in a wheelchair!"

"Don't give me excuses, you rude-ass."

Tye-Dye attempted to stop his journey to the back of the bus so that he could defend his honour, but other passengers continued to move him away from Business Woman. The two continued to gripe at each other until we got to the next stop. A woman with two small children boarded the bus and stood in front of Crazy Homeless. One of the children was eating a banana and Crazy Homeless decided to sing a song about that. I could tell that some of the older passengers were getting annoyed with his singing at this point, but the mother didn't seem to mind and the kids were humoured by the song so everyone let him be.

However, one bus rider had apparently had enough of Crazy Homeless's eccentricities. "You need to shut your mouth!" an angry voice called from the back of the bus. Crazy Homeless did not and instead started singing slightly louder. The bus stopped and Angry Man pushed his way to the front of the bus. Just by looking at his face you could tell that he was PISSED. He bent down so that his face was just inches away from Crazy Homeless's face.

"I want you," he said very slowly, "to shut yo fuckin' mouth."

"I don't want to shut my mouth," Crazy Homeless responded, still smiling at the child with the banana.

"What you say to me?" Angry Man asked.

"I don't want to shut my mouth." Then Crazy Homeless began singing the banana song again.

"Say that again," Angry Man said. "Say that to me one more time."

"Kumbayah, y'all," an old man resembling Stevie Wonder said from his corner directly behind the banana-eating child. "Kumbayah!"

"I want you to shut yo fuckin' mouth," Angry said once again.

Another man standing near Angry raised his hand as if to block Angry from head-butting Crazy Homeless. "Man," he said, "let's cool it. There are children on the bus."

Not paying the peacekeepers any attention, Angry began reaching into his jacket. "Say that to me one more time," he said. "Tell me you won't shut yo mouth one more time."

To set the scene: Crazy Homeless was sitting at a window seat, facing forward. The row of seats in front of him were sideways seats that were turned towards the middle of the bus. Angry was standing, holding onto a support bar. A woman sat in between Crazy Homeless and Angry. In the sideways seats were the two children, an older woman, and Kumbayah. The mother of the two children and Cool It Man stood beside Angry. As Angry reached into his jacket the mother of the two children scrambled to push her kids out of the way. Cool It Man continued to repeat that Angry needed to settle down because there were kids and the woman literally sitting in the middle of the confrontation shielded her head beneath her hands. Others on the bus began pipping up for Angry to chill out and the entire sardine-packed crowded jostled Angry around until he lost his balance and had to once again use both hands to keep himself upright.

Angry started a stream of profanity and threats at Crazy Homeless again, prompting people to stand up for Crazy Homeless. After all, he was not hurting anyone. He was not being rude, demanding, or even all that unstable. He was simply a very happy man, who liked to sing and make friends and on this particular evening he just wanted to sing a song about a banana to a child.

"Is this normal?" the woman next to me asked.

"I'm more used to the train," I said, "but the good thing is that there's a bus driver on here so things can't get too bad."

The yelling from Angry towards Crazy Homeless and the protests from the other passengers escalated until the whole bus seemed to roar. Angry began to reach into his jacket once again until the noise was silenced by one boisterous shout: "CAN WE PLEASE REMOVE THE MAN, WHO DIDN'T EVEN PAY, FROM THE BUS? HE IS CAUSING A DISTURBANCE!"

The bus went silent. Angry stood up slowly and turned towards the back of the bus. A hipster looking girl of about my age stared back defiantly. "That's right," she said, "I said it."

"What did you say to me?" he asked.

"You got on the bus without paying and now you're just being rude. You need to get off."

"What are you a-ccusing me of?" Angry began pushing through the crowd to get to the girl. However, given the reputation he had already built for himself he was met with much more resistance than when he shoved his way to the front of the bus. The bus driver was obviously tired of all the animosity on her bus and finally decided to participate in the action. "Sir!" she yelled.

"When we stopped to let the man in the wheelchair off," Hipster Girl responded, "you got on without paying."

"YOU didn't pay neither, bitch!"

She laughed. "Oh, real classy," said the bravest girl I've ever known. "I had already been on the bus and got off to let him off. You just got on with the rest of us then without paying."

"Sir!" the bus driver yelled again, pulling the bus over at what did not look like a designated stop.

"Bitch, I --" the rest of Angry's words were drowned out as once again the entire bus rose up against him, telling him to simmer down, and the bus driver laid on the horn.

"GET OFF OF MY BUS!" the driver screamed. The bus went silent as everyone turned towards the front as two cops boarded. The bus driver had been honking to get their attention. Without any other words, Angry let himself be escorted off the bus by the officers. You could almost feel the sigh of relief pass through the bus as we finally got back on the road.

Mercifully, we finally got to my stop and the now irksome pizza box to myself as I squeezed my way off the bus. Everyone smiled and gave knowing nods to one another as if to say, "We survived!'

I made it home in time to put the pizza box in the fridge and then head right back to the bus stop. As I waited, a girl weighted down by Target bags stood next to me. She cocked her head as an unfamiliar bus number drove past. "A train derailed," I explained, "they're using certain bus lines as shuttles because the redline is down from Wilson to Howard (the northern most half of the redline)."

"Wow," she said, "that has got to be fucking people up."

"Good god you have no idea."

Thanks for the grand welcome back to the city, CTA! I missed you, too.

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