That really used to piss me off. But now that it’s tried to kill me, I think I’ll be able to put non-near-lethal delays in perspective.
Tell me, what’s worse than walking six or seven miles to the library because you only want to splurge on the inflated el fee one way and you figure you’ll be more tired coming home, then getting on the train when you’re ready to come back, plunging into the best-looking of the books you’ve checked out, and almost instantly being interrupted by the loudspeaker announcement that you’re being delayed due to a small fire on the subway track, and looking up and realizing that the air is beginning to fill with greenish-black smoke, and putting your shirt over your nose as it starts to smell like a cross between a tire fire and Satan’s hangover breath, and getting dizzy anyway, and then not being able to see more than two seats in front of you, and realizing that you’re stuck 100 meters underground and have no idea how many side tunnels lead out of the main tunnel — not that you can safely bail out of the car anyway, since god knows what’s going on out there, and now the train has begun to crawl along, and the conductor promises you’re going to be released at the next station, but then the car stops again, and then it starts again, and then as orange flames sweep down the sides of the car you realize that the conductor is driving the train through the goddamned fire, or else you have died already and the train is taking you to Hell, and you should have listened to your grandmother — but since your lungs feel so terrible you kind of suspect you are alive, for the moment, and now you wonder exactly how you’re going to die, since asphyxiation, poisoning, being burned alive, or simply dying of the panic attack you feel coming on (for once it makes sense!) all seem to be more or less equally viable candidates, and you’re wishing you could store oxygen in your body tissues somewhere for use when you can’t breathe, in the same way you can store calories for use when you can’t eat, and you suppose evolution will have to throw humanity a few more million tunnel fires before we’ll make that adaptation, and hopefully we’ll have died out by that point anyway — if the idiots who are clamoring for the conductor to open the doors (so the smoke can get in faster, derrrrrr) are any indication, it won’t be long before we shoot ourselves in our last remaining foot — and shit, isn’t it going to suck to die this way, and since you’re in the tunnel and can’t get reception you can’t even send anyone a goodbye e-mail, and jesus christ I never noticed how claustrophobic the subway is before, if anyone survives they’ll have a great idea for a horror movie I’ll bet, and then as far as you can tell in the smoke the train seems to have finally pulled into the station, but before the doors open the power goes off? Huh? What’s worse than that, you ask?
Well, at least up to this point, we have all been in it together. But when people start figuring out that even with the power off we can open the doors by pulling the safety knob, it’s every lung for itself. And the lungs nearest the only reachable (broken) escalator are up near the ground and the breathable air (relatively breathable; this is Chicago, after all, but right now a face full of diesel exhaust would taste like a mountain breeze) before the rest of us can even get within seeing distance of its heavenly light. The escalator is only two people wide, so everybody lined up in back is going to have a few more minutes’ wait before our oxygen feast.
So what do the first people to get to the escalator do? WHAT DO THESE ASSHATS DO, I ASK YOU?! Do they panic and cause a riot? Do those of us in the rear start a scrambling row? Oh no, nothing happens that’s as understandable as that. This is the glorious 21st century, and we are all angels of ADD. Forgetting their so recent terror, not to mention the continuing terror of those behind them, the first waves of people to reach the upper world START SLOWING DOWN THE MINUTE THEY CAN BREATHE, HALFWAY UP THE FUCKIN ESCALATOR, SO THEY CAN DIG OUT THEIR PHONES AND START SENDING PEOPLE TEXT MESSAGES!!!!
Uh… human race? Hello? Hello? What are you thinking when you do things like this? Mom doesn’t need to be assured that you’re safe yet — this only started thirty minutes ago, and even if anything’s hit the TV she probably doesn’t know exactly which red line run you were on, unless you’re such a mama’s boy you actually text her shit like that. Your boss doesn’t need to know you’re going to be late until you actually start being late, and your friends don’t need to know (ASNAP!)what an amazing cool unique thing you just survived… because it ISN’T THAT FUCKING SPECIAL. It’s just another near-death experience; people have them all the time; quite often they swing so near they actually fall in.
But the rest of us down here do in fact need something: AIR! WE NEED AIR, YOU PIECE OF SHIT!
When we finally made it out, there were people from the train that was nearest the ignition point stumbling around with their faces covered in greasy black crap; about ten ambulances were already on the scene, and a few really messed-up people were being strapped to stretchers. I hung around for a while hoping we’d be offered some sort of free shuttle bus to get where we were going, but that was just the smoke inhalation thinking for me — why would the CTA fail to charge you double when now they’re going to have to find a way to pay to clean up and fix the antiquated disaster they call a train?
Then again, I seriously doubt they’re going to really fix it; according to the report that’s now up on the Trib’s site, fires like this happen all the time. The wooden ties (I can hear Western European cities laughing at us now; yes, people, we do still use 19th-century technology, we just hoist it up in places on these rickety crumbling concrete pillars to give it that Disney city-of-the-future look, but actually we lost the Olympic bid to Rio because of SKULLDUGGERY) get soaked with fuel, and then when it’s warm out and the train throws sparks, BOOM. It’s just that usually it doesn’t happen in the tunnels. I guess flaming, compromised wooden ties on an elevated track aren’t quite as bothersome as people breathing burning creosote in an enclosed space, so they’ve never really given the problem much thought before.
At any rate, although I had only managed to wring about a mile’s progress out of my el fare, I was feeling too stubborn to give them any more of my money (and too loopy to dig it out of my pockets and count to $2.25 anyway), so I walked all the way back home. Now my feet hurt enough that I really don’t notice my lungs, so I guess I’m cured! Well, except for that black crap coming out of my nose… oh, well. At least now I know what boogers are for.