Who suggests a trip back...rides to this bit of nostalgia in the middle years of the Great Depression aboard a Chicago elevated train, "the El." We hurdle head-long above asphalt blanketed streets that are determined to out distance each high moving carrier. No matter how fast or far we go, the street beneath us stretches with incalculable distance, always far beyond our destinations.
Noisy, jerking, screeching cars carry their human cargo in eagerless pursuits to destinations and performances squashed into too many work hour boxes. Dreams have been abandoned in begrudging flight from still warm beds. Renewed are yesterday's animosities; now recharged to be relived and resented. These overcrowded noisy transporters seldom offer up a seat to the sleep deprived bodies in occupancy who struggle to stand upright on already aching feet.
Clutching overhead hand rails and hanging straps, they swing and sway to the unpredictable rhythm of the jostling cubicle they've chosen for this morning's wretched ride; a ride which seems hell bent on tossing every rider to the floor. Standing or sitting, all are captives to this place that binds them in- until each departs. And, as the exit doors of the conveyor bang shut with a resounding clang of finality, empty spaces await. The departed are never missed, it is as though they never existed. Spaces and bodies dissolve and refill in unspectacular regularity.
Perspiration is a rude intrusion that saturates the propelling cubicles and collides with pungent smells of fresh perked coffee, axel grease, Jergens lotion, and stale garlic breathe from last night's pasta.
Back there, not so many stops ago, those recent evacuees from the flats, apartments, and yes, those dreams, have left coffee cups stained by days of residue...turned upside down to drain until...until! Crumbs from burnt toast are scraped off sarcastically into yellowing sinks...while half-used sticks of butter melt into greasy saucer ponds by noon.
And the damned clocks of the world race in three-quarter time.
The train careens past tenaments entwined by decaying, woody stairs. Behind the frontage of buildings, other lives are being waged. Other creatures, large and small, huddle and curry to safety in the dark within their summer scorched walls. Office buildings wrapped by darkened windows catch the blurred reflections of moving elevated cars and shadowy figures within. Gazing out the windows of that intercity train, the apathetic passengers watch with unseeing eyes the reflective blur of their own outline passing...and gone.
Slowing for a wide turn, the train groans with an ominous leaning, revealing below some youngsters wading and splashing in an already hot, early morning while waters gush from a hydrant come to glory in a geyser of childhood delight. The train rolls away from the sounds and sights of wailing fire engines and firemen come to extinguish the errant fountain and the clamor of exhuberant laughter. And the helmeted heroes become unwitting arsonists as they set fires of resentment; hot as the char-broiled pavement.
Screaming objections are squashed by authority and the sound of a noisy El passing overhead. A quiet submission now overwhelms those on the street below, mystically connecting them to the gaggle of passengers on the passing elevated train. None of them are enamored of this new day-its dawn- or its promise. Any memory of childhood laughter evaporates as quickly as wonderous wetness besieged by a sizzling sun.
What is there to remember about vapors?
And as the elevated trains do, day after day into the night, this carrier of human cargo- lumbers on!
Copyright © Margaret Wade | Year Posted 2018