I think it’s every Chicagoan’s duty, when he has friends out on vacation in warm places, to bitch about all the cold weather back home — even if it’s not actually cold. It makes the vacation feel all that much better.
So, this just happened: my Blue Line train may have been about to derail or be hit by an oncoming train. Not the way I was hoping to get home, frankly.
I’m riding on the train from O’Hare. It’s a moderately full train since the station was rather full when it pulled in. But everything’s fine, we’re moving.
We pull into Jefferson Park station.Â It is about 12:05.
Now we’re pulling out of the station. The driver comes on the PA and says: “This train will not stop at Montrose. If you want to go to Montrose, you’ll have to OOOOUUGUHHHHH!!!!!!!” and the train jerks to a halt.
And then the PA goes dead.
Well!Â No explanation as to what the hell thatÂ was. I immediately start to feel that something is wrong. But I’m in the fourth or fifth car, and I can’t see all the way to the front.
The driver does not come back on to explain it. It is obvious that something bad has happened or there would be an explanation. We’re sitting there a good five, six minutes. I stand up and gather my luggage. I start thinking, I’m going to have to evacuate mid-car.
We’re not all the way out of the station. I’m in the middle of the train, and I am still in the station, next to the platform. That seems safe. It’s not dark.
I chat with some guys from Boston. At this point it’s been a good twelve minutes or so; still no explanation. I’m texting people to say I think I’ve been in an incident.
My thesis is either that somebody jumped in front of the train, or the driver was attacked by a passenger. Either way, I don’t want to meet up with whatever caused that. I start thinking I’m going to open the doors manually and get off, because she hasn’t come back on to tell us what’s happening.
ThenÂ we hear the usualÂ beep beep beep, “This train is experiencing –” and then that message cuts out too. I’m about done with this.
Finally. The driver comes hustling through the train from front to back. I ask her what happened. She says, “The train will be moving shortly!”
She never gets back on the PA. The train then starts runningÂ backward through the station. Stops again. The doors fumble and then finally open for good.
That is when I immediately bolt, because the hell withÂ this.
I go up to the fare booth and ask what happened. The booth people, they don’t want to say. “You said you were at Montrose?” I said, “No, guys, the driver said we aren’t stopping at Montrose and then she screamed. What the heck happened?”
Here is what happened, according to them: As part of “Your New Blue,” CTA is single-tracking Blue Line in this area. That is why the Montrose station was going to be skipped: they’re working there.Â The driver ran a signal leaving the station. She screamed when either she realized her mistake or when the automatic safety system shut down the train. The booth guy said, “She screamedÂ because she’s a rookie.Â The downtown control center called her and said, ‘Did you run a signal?’ Basically, you were about to either derail the train or be put on a collision course with an oncoming train on the single track.”
That is why she came running to the other end of the train: to back us up out of the danger area.
This was obviously very scary. You don’t expect to hear a driver scream into a PA at midnight — and then not explain it. I’m thinking either it’s a heart attack, a suicide, or some crazy passenger has just attacked the driver and is coming for us. It was ridiculous for her not to come on and tell us what happened — at least eventually.
More to the point, and it goes without saying, she should not have run the signal. She should have been careful around the construction zone.
And have we not had drivers blow through signals before on Blue Line? It seems likeÂ all the incidents involve Blue Line. Remember the Ghost Train? The stories about drivers posting through Cumberland without stopping because they were asleep? And the classic O’Hare escalator crash. Thank God no one was killed. And no one was killed tonight, including me.
I really hope this didn’t happen the way it was explained to me. If we were put on a single stretch of track where we could have been hit by an oncoming train, that is a huge safety lapse. This whole episode further strengthens my resolve never to be in the first or last car of a train. It’s just not worth it.
I may follow up with CTA to find out what happened. If I do, I will post about it again.
To hasten the end of winter, I like to go down the lake and kick ice.
Every winter I’ve been here in Chicago has been brutal. Weeks and weeks of unending ice and grey sludge in the streets. Temperatures so low they lock up all the moisture in the air; getting bloody micro-cracks across my knuckles. The constant need to lotion up my shins (why those?). So cold it’s impossible to ride; or if you do ride, so cold you can’t keep the tires inflated, and you fear the bike will shatter into a thousand metal shards when you hit a bump. Or, so icy you fall down again and again and again until you give up, walking an hour home, dragging a useless bicycle with your numb hands, your backside bruised and wet with slush.
So when the melt finally comes, and on the first barely warm day, I go down the lake. Usually you can find great jagged piles of ice, kilometers long and meters high. The wind whips it up, you see the waves are driven up over the seawall, and they freeze there before they have a chance to run back into the lake. The snowstorms will drive the snow against the steps, where it’ll stick. Or there’ll be layers of ice, slightly melted in a weak sun, refrozen again when night comes. Oftentimes the ice is full of dirt–whatever has been churned up off the floor of the lake by the angry winter waves–and there’ll be a skin of more dirt that rises to the top of the ice wherever some water has evaporated. The ice lingers, great mounds of it.
The first warm day, I go down and I kick ice. Sometimes you can only bust up a little bit of the edges, and you have to move on to another patch. There’ll be other places where there’s a good soft spot, and you can bust through and really do some damage.
The fun of kicking ice is strategically making chunks big enough to break up with a foot, then giving them a great kick seaward, so the chunks go flying over the seawall. The noise it makes hitting the water is fantastic. Crash! If you kick a big flat one fast enough, you can make a ferocious splash. Other times, you lose velocity, and they limp over the edge, almost vertical, and barely make a sound as they ease into the water.
There’s a grave danger involved in this, which I respect but don’t necessarily fear. I wear regular sneakers, because they’re going to get dirty. I pick whatever is messiest or oldest, and thus also the slipperiest and most worn out. The cold, wet concrete gives pretty good grip, since it’s grooved, but it’s ice we’re talking about–it’s slippery. When you kick at it, you can usually tell where it’s going to go and (more importantly) how much resistance it’s going to give you. Just like in shooting, you have to judge the kickback correctly or you’ll hurt yourself. I temper the danger with technique: first I punch straight down on the ice with the back of my heel, several times if need be, then when I think I got a good one loosened up, I’ll give it a full pitch from the hip. Usually, this works and you get the splash. But there’s a risk of following the ice right into the lake. How much is it worth doing? How deadly would the water be? After all, it’s not frozen. Could I make it to the nearest ladder if I fell in? Respect the lake. But attack the ice.
I like seeing lake dissolve the ice. Like I said, lot of times the ice is muddy, it’s full of stones, the chaff that rises up to the skin of any melting and refreezing ice. When you send a good ice chunk into the blue water, a stream of brown silt usually flows off of it. The waves’ll wash over the ice chunk, carry away the silt, in a slow plume. Sometimes you’ll find a pure, white chunk under there. More often, it’ll fracture into a dozen pieces before you see any clean ice. Usually, it all just melts dirty, then gone.
It’s funny how long the ice can last, how many minutes. Drifting away like a dirty ghost. But it can never outlast the waves and the water–however cold it may be–because liquid water is always warmer than ice. There’s a solidity in that, a certainty. It’ll go.
And that’s the real reason to go down kicking ice. Every bit of ice you send skittering over the wall brings spring and summer that much closer. It’s a public service, getting rid of ice. We’ve got to get rid of it, because if the lake path is still crusted over with ice, then it’s still winter, and winter’s got to go.
I kick last winter right into the water. Sometimes only a bit. Sometimes it’s not time yet and I have to come back. Sometimes I find places where the meltwater is coming out, and there’s a small trickle already, or a big one. I can tell it doesn’t need much of my help. But if there’s a trickle I’ll build dams, sometimes, figuring if I can make a big pond of water, that’ll rinse away more ice and faster than I can do with my shoe. But usually I get bored of all that eventually and smash it all up and kick everything into the water.
It’s all got to go. My trips down the lake are restorative, peaceful. Nobody else wants this work; I get the whole city’s shoreline to myself, and as I say it can run on forever. So I walk, kicking, and thinking.
I feel cheated. This winter has been the mildest I’ve seen since I moved to Chicago. Right now there is not a bit of ice anywhere on the shore–and there isn’t even any slush or rutted ice in the streets, either. It isn’t fair. There’s nothing to do down the lake, and it’s not dangerous to go kicking, walking, thinking. And this weekend it was already crowded, at least by February standards. My good work isn’t needed.
I have had a great idea for a long time, and it’s about fish. Living here in Ohio, you don’t hear too much about fish. Why is that? Well, it’s because we live 450 miles from the shore. And that’s the basis of the great inland seafood problem. Across the Midwest, it’s the same: we don’t have the home base of a commercial fishing fleet right in town. So if we want seafood for dinner, we have two options: frozen, tasteless fish shipped in by truck, or else have it expensively flown in from the coast. The cost of having the fish flown in fresh means the prices at the Columbus Fish Market are high. (Mysteriously, the prices at seafood restaurants on the coasts are just as high.)
The problem of fish transport, therein, seems to be a great hindrance to Midwestern seafood enjoyment. Interestingly, we still consume tons of seafood in this country. Consider, if you will, that in 2001, 8.2 billion pounds of fish was taken out of the ocean, and another 1.1 billion pounds of shellfish were landed. This had a value of $3.2 billion. (There were also 27 million pounds of sea urchins, 82 million pounds of unclassified seaweed, 71 thousand pounds of kelp with herring eggs, and 1.4 million pounds of worms. Oddly, the worms were worth nine million bucks, which means pound for pound, sea worms are more valuable than some cuts of steak.) Even if you assume half of it went to our coastal brethen, it’s still a hell of a lot of fish. But the problem of transporting fresh fish remains.
Enter my grand invention. Conceive, if you can, a great pipeline, connecting Chicago with the fishery ports of Boston, New Orleans, and Seattle. I call it… “the Fishline.” Its purpose? To speed inland the great snappers, lobster, salmon, clams, and halibut that this nation’s rich waters yield up every year, so that these glorious fishes may find themselves right-side-up on dinner tables across the heartland the same day they’re caught! Each major city along the route would have a pumping station where fish could be retrieved from the Fishline. Each day, the people of Helena, of Denver, of Chattanooga, and yes, of Columbus, would open the valve where a great gusher of cod and sardines would release what could truly be described the catch of the day.
Skeptics may say, how would the fish possibly stay fresh inside a giant, tasty pipeline? Well, to ensure that the fish reached Chicago in the same day, the fish would have to be moving at a safe but steady speed of approximately 95 mph. Some may say this would be impossible to accomplish in a giant brine-filled tube. I say, fish are already designed to flow easily through water. So I don’t expect there’d be any problems with moving at this kind of speed through the Fishline.
Some may say that the pipeline could suffer problems, either from old-fashioned accidents, or else some sort of aquatic terrorism. I agree that this could be a serious blow to the successful economic operation of the Fishline, so I suggest that a band of mermen, known as the Fish Guards and belonging to the Department of Homeland Security, patrol the length of the line, ensuring its safety. Fortunately, the environmental damage wrought by a Fishline rupture would be minimal, easily biodegradable, and delicious.
Finally, the question would remain, what would intermediate stops on the route do when they tapped the Fishline and found they’d received a load of anchovies or, heaven forfend, sea worms? Clearly, this would be an unpleasant and unwelcome outcome. The problem of separating the various species of fish in transit has yet to be worked out. Perhaps the fish could be coded with radio transponders, scannable computer chips, or radioactive dyes. Or perhaps the Postal Service could lend some of its substantial sorting expertise to the effort. Or perhaps Red Lobsters throughout Wisconsin will begin offering a Grab Bag Platter. These challenges, I leave to the seafood diners of the future.Â I’m a visionary.