The CTA: Home to Some of the Best People Watching in America

Growing up in rural northwestern Pennsylvania then spending two years in the football-obsessed capital city of Nebraska, you quickly become dependent on having a vehicle. For most people, driving to and from work and everywhere in between is something you get used to and take for granted. For 25 years, I never could have imagined a day and time when I’d gladly ditch my car in exchange for public transportation.

Living in Chicago, you quickly realize that cars are a waste of time, money, gas, effort, stress, high-blood pressure…you name it. It’s not worth having one in this city. When my family visited recently, I gladly sent my car home with them, essentially swapping out the headache of having to move my car twice a month for street cleaning (welcome to driving in circles for 30+ minutes each time hunting for a free parking space that you’ll actually fit in without having a dented/scratched bumper) for lower insurance rates thanks to a population a fraction of the size of Chicago while I finish out my lease that’s thankfully up in May.

Not having a car is, by far, one of the most liberating feelings ever. I now understand how feminists felt when they burned their bras during the Women’s Rights Movement (or whenever they burned them – perhaps while camping for fire-starters last weekend? – I don’t know how you ladies operate these days). Without a car here, public transportation becomes your best friend and worst nightmare, all at the same time. 

I have come to love and hate the CTA in my three months here. While you save SO much money taking public transportation vs. having a car (we’re talking a $100 pre-tax deduction for a Chicago Card that gives you unlimited access to CTA services of buses and the “L” vs. about $600+ a month NOT pre-tax for a car payment, insurance, gas, and a parking spot at my condo), you get to deal with delayed trains, walking to and from a station, having to deal with weird people, claustrophobia that you never knew existed, the possibility of winding up in a weird Missed Connections posting on Craigslist, etc.

HOWEVER…the people watching associated with public transportation is absolutely phenomenal. While you see some of the best-looking people that you never though existed outside of magazine pages, you also see some of the craziest shit you could ever imagine too – especially on the Red Line. Believe it or not, there’s actually a blog devoted entirely to the People of the CTA – it brings the People of Walmart to a whole new level. It’s a running joke that the Red Line is the free, all-night homeless shelter of Chicago. Sad, but most definitely true. I cannot tell you the number of odd sights I have seen taking the CTA to and from work every day.

For instance…

  • A couple weeks ago there was a random man sprawled out taking up four seats. Pants down around his knees. But no, it doesn’t stop there. Insert right hand of said man into underwear. Passed the F out. At. 6. O’Clock. PM!!!!!! I mean, come on buddy…really???
  • Last night. Sandwiched between a man who should have been featured as a “before” spokesperson for a Proactiv commercial and another who should have been fined for how badly he smelled. (Seriously. It was a delicious mix of rotting flesh and a feral-cat-infested home. Yummy, right?) I really wish I’d paid more attention in swim lessons as a child so I could have held my breath longer without getting light-headed and nearly passing out.
  • Also last night. Random guy gets onto the train. I have my headphones in (listening to some obnoxiously gay dance mix, most likely at a near ear-splitting volume level that should be reserved for bars only) and can hear this guy start yelling and begging for money. Why can’t you just get a street corner with a cup and a sign like any other homeless person? You clearly just paid $2.25 to get on this train. Go away. But no, it gets worse. Why is he homeless? Because he just got out of the hospital and has nowhere to go so he’s been sleeping on the Blue Line and got an infection in his leg which the hospital is refusing to treat and the CTA refuses to acknowledge. Oh wait…it gets better. He starts showing off said wound to get people to feel sorry for him and give away their dollars. Gross. Exit car. Proceed to get onto next car back.
  • A week ago I watched a man with a suitcase – not a carry-on, we’re talking packing-for-a-legit-vacation-checked-bag-fee-required (or any gay going out of town for a weekend) suitcase – use said object as a veritable battering ram to shove his way onto an already-jam-packed Red Line train (thanks a lot, Chicago Cubs for your game that just so happened to coordinate perfectly with rush hour). Umm, where are your manners? There’s another train “immediately behind this one” per the conductor. Rude. Take a number and wait like the rest of us, but don’t mind me while I chuckle as the doors nearly snip your bulbous ass off while you struggle and squeeze your way in while the doors are closing. I hope you fell out when they opened at the next stop. Also, why are you in such a hurry to go somewhere on the Red Line? Newsflash: the Red Line goes to neither O’Hare not Midway, and you’re going the wrong direction from Union Station…
  • On the obesity epidemic: you should be charged a second fare if you require two seats on the CTA just like you do if you’re on a plane. Simple. The end.
  • Oh, and don’t even get me started on bad weaves. If I had a nickel for every bad weave I’ve seen….ooooh gurrrl…dontchu make me take my urrrringsss off!

It’s reasons like this that I leave my headphones in and my “judging sunglasses” on while riding the train, no matter what time of the day…well, unless it’s at night. I’m not one of those I-wear-my-sunglasses-at-night people. That’s just obnoxious.

But seriously…public transportation is always an adventure. And on that note…home I go. Time to see what the CTA has in store for me today…
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