Thursday, May 11, 2006

Rumbling on about the CTA

Quick, what's the worst CTA "L" line in the city? By worst I mean the slowest and smelliest. If you said the Red Line, I'm with you.

Since converting over to the Sox a few years ago, I've had to endure the long ride from Rogers Park down to the Southside enough times to swear that, damn it, next time I'm driving to the game, who cares about the traffic and construction and parking costs. (Actually, here's a little secret about driving to Sox games, for all the Northsiders out there: If you don't mind parking some .83 miles from the ballpark, and you get there early enough, you could park for free at one of the area Sox bars. Of course that means drinking before the game with a bunch of dudes in moustaches and black satin jackets with the names of their various farms on the backs. Then again, beers go for less than three bucks, so it's not such a bad thing.)

But this isn't about driving. It's about taking the CTA, the agency that's planning to spend a billion dollars in the next few years on new "L" cars. Hopefully these new cars will be able to go faster and will smell better than the old ones.

How slow is the Red Line? I guess I could give you some numbers. Like: It takes about an hour to get from Granville to 35th, a distance of about 13 miles. That the train goes about ten miles an hours between stops but then accelerates as it enters the station just to give people on the platform a false sense of speed. Then again, I could say this: I've never been on a train anywhere in the world that is as infuriatingly slow as the Red Line. Most cities around the world have this thing called a timetable, and each train is spaced far enough from the others so that it could actually haul along.

In China about 10 years ago, I remember taking the lone subway line in Beijing. The subway trains looked ancient, sort of like cars in Cuba. (I've never been to Cuba, but I imagine the streets of Havana bumper to bumper with cars from the 50s.) Anyway, the Chinese subway was old, but damn, did it ever go fast. And it didn't stink.

I don't know if it's because of all the homeless that ride the 24-hour line or the hapless Cubs fans who urinate everywhere, but the Red Line smells like all sorts of body fluids.

And sometimes it's not the smell of number 1. I remember once seeing a big, fat lady hike up her skirt and actually take a shit on the Granville platform. Nasty. But the next day there was a clean-up crew with a high-pressure hose spraying down the entire station.

(Hey, speaking of numbers 1 and 2, what number should vomit get? Three? How about diarrhea? One and a half?)

Oh, just look at me, rumbling on about the CTA and all sorts of unrelated things. While I'm at it, I might as well present a list about the "L".

Here are some of the ...
Things I Miss About the "L"

Ravenswood Line: I know it's still around and under construction. But what I miss is how the lines used to be identified by a name, not a color. I realize that the colors are there especially for tourists, but my biggest problem is that they're not even color-coordinated. Blue Line stops are painted red and Pink Line stops come in a rainbow of colors. Something similar I hate is when people identify CTA buses by the route number instead of the street name. How should I know if this is bus number 127 or 77. All I know is that the Clark bus runs on Clark, the Addison bus on Addison. Stupid tourists.

Windows that open: Before AC, you'd have to open up a window to get a draft of dank air from the underground tunnel. But the smell of the actual subway was definitely better than the smell of the guy next to you. I remember the train cars being super loud and super bouncy. Again, this was much more preferable than listening to the person next to you talking on the phone.

Supertransfer: Growing up, I used to spend entire Sundays exploring the city with friends, taking random buses and trains, getting off at whatever stop, and then jumping back on and heading elsewhere. This was possible with a little paper transfer that was good all day. Nowadays, it's cheaper to just drive ... or stay at home.

Conductors walking through the cars collecting fares: One of the worst decisions by the CTA was eliminating that job and forcing the drivers to open the doors and replacing the PA with a recording that mispronounces street names. The conductors were often friendly, sometimes surly, but always there to give directions or be around in case a bunch of hoodlums got on board. And lots of them had their unique way of announcing stops, sometimes singing or saying weird, random stuff. But progress means automation. The high-tech new train cars the CTA is ordering will probably even do away with the drivers.

These changes kind of stink, if you ask me. Stink as bad as the Red Line after midnight following a Cubs game. But like any Chicagoan, I'll bitch about it until someone like Conan O'Brien calls us the shitty of Chicago. Then I'll defend this stupid city to the death.


Blogger Jenska said...

Someday, that automated theme-park-style announcement system will be nostalgic to the youth of today. In fact, I've been living outside of the city of less than a year and it is already enough to make me wistful when I hear it.

I once got on a red line train that had a trail of kitty litter piles running down the middle. I saw all these empty seats, so I happily sat down, until I realized the disguised piles were actually poops.

And by the way, don't be surprised when I get me a black-satin jacket with Plonka Farms on the back.

8:36 AM  
Blogger ap said...

just as long as Santa never brings me one of those jackets ...

11:51 AM  
Blogger ap said...

but as for that automated theme-park system, another thing that bothers me about it is that they'll do the DING DONG "doors closing" three, four, maybe five times before they actually close the doors. They're just making empty, meaningless threats that everyone ignores. On other systems, when the buzzer buzzes, people jump because they know the doors are really closing

11:54 AM  

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