I avoided an accident today. Maybe even a heart attack.

At the very least, I managed to not get stuck in rush hour traffic on the Kennedy or the Tri-State.

I need to pick up filters and a crush washer so I can change the oil on my Monster, and the dealer is all the way down in Villa Park; I am in Lincoln Square. They are open until 8 and I know I can make it there before they close. But they’re open early on Saturday too. Even though my head cranes impulsively and I run to the window every time I hear a bike go by, I can wait. I’ve been itching to ride. But I… can… wait.

It’s just like the other day, when I managed to avoid an assault charge.

I’m not really an aggressive guy. Mostly bark. Not much of a biter. But I was waiting for the light to change to cross the street to my office on Michigan Avenue when an attractive blond in a red mid-length wool coat and black skirt stopped along side me. Our eyes simultaneously locked in on a silver Beetle as it drove past. As the Slug Bug went by, I briefly entertained thought of punching her on the arm. Not very hard. Just a tap. But she was a complete stranger to me, so I doubt she would have found the gesture funny or cute. Who knows? I could have accidentally knocked her off her heels. I envisioned my conversation with one of Chicago’s finest:

“You see, it was like this: you know those commercials…”

“I got yiz commercials right here. C’mon buddy, we’re gonna take a little ride and show you a few Beetles.”

Then the light changed. And so did my mind.

Just the other day I had one of the crappier rides on the El in a while. At least since the day before, when some little high school puke was blasting Slim Shady loud enough for everyone’s half deaf grandmother to hear. I’m not complaining about loud music . But do kids still listen to Eminem? Really. I know I am old, but the tzs tzs tzs of the crappy drum machine through cheap earbuds is just so lame. I felt my blood boil and I thought about tapping the kid on the shoulder.

“You know, I could cut you right here and throw your scrawny body on the tracks an no one here would stop me.”

Some people might not find that funny.

But this was a different El ride. This time I managed to catch the Red Line in the subway at Grand and easily breeze to Fullerton, where I got off to transfer to the Brown Line. And there I waited. And waited. First, a Purple Line. That’s OK. That means a Brown will follow. I watched the DePaul women’s rugby team run through drills as three Red Lines came and went. But the next train was another Purple and I was getting twitchy and pacing to stay warm.

When a Brown Line train finally arrived, it took what seemed to be almost a half minute before the conductor opened the doors. I managed to squeeze onto an already full car, which was irritating enough. But the conductor was either a rookie or a total numskull. At each stop, the conductor applied the breaks tentatively until finally digging in, which jerked passengers about the car. People would brace for each stop and still be tossed about. I had had it.

I saw the look on the face of one of my traveling comrades and knew I was not the only one edging toward the brink. By the tenth stop I was finally going to do something about it. I was gonna press that emergency call button and give the conductor a piece of my mind. I was going to show him.

But what you want to say never comes out how you meant to say it, and I quickly realized I would forever be that guy if I pressed the button. Besides, there is probably some law against misusing the button or verbally abusing a CTA employee. I considered the consequences. There were only two more stops, so I re-gripped and braced myself for the ride.


About the Author

Tom Long

Tom Long is one-third of the seldom heard Chicago band The Ethyl Mermen. The name Tom Long can be found in the dictionary, Baseball Encyclopedia and a pub in Ireland. Tom Long is not affiliated with any other Tom Long; he won the rights to use his own name after prevailing in a three-way game of Jan-ken-pon by choosing "dynamite!" No Toms were harmed in the making of this blog.

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