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What I Learned on the Chicago CTA

May 16, 2016 • Posted in Story, Writers by
Lessons learned on a CTA bus

Lessons learned on a CTA bus

So there I was, sitting in the 36 bus on Broadway in Chicago, a long way from Emmaus, PA. I’d been in the Windy City about a week, first for the Book Expo America convention at McCormick Place, then spending some quality time with our author Anna Nessy Perlberg, preparing for the launch of her book The House in Prague.

Anna and I needed to deliver a box of signed copies of her memoir to the place where she’ll be doing a reading in a few weeks. I thought it would be nice if I would deliver the books by hopping on the bus, thereby making good use of my 5-day CTA pass. Piece of cake, I said.

Box of books in hand, full of confidence borne of having Google Maps on my iPhone, I caught the 36 bus. Only problem was, as I learned later, the bus was headed in the wrong direction.

10, 20, 30 minutes passed while I patiently waited for my cross street to be announced. Thinking how proud my husband would be of his usually impatient wife, I waited. Wondering why Anna planned to speak at a place so far from her home, I waited. Remembering my father, a man who knew the streets of Chicago like the back of his hand, I waited. Smiling to myself as I recognized the names of streets from my childhood (Ainslie, Diversey, Irving Park, Kedzie, Damon), I waited. It was fun. An adventure. As the buildings got more and more seedy and my cross street had still not been announced, I started to doubt myself. But I had been paying attention. I couldn’t have missed my stop. I kept riding.

By now there were only two people on the bus, me and a slender young woman who spoke no English. As we pulled to a stop, she looked at me and beckoned with her head – you’re getting off here, right? I looked up. End of the line.

My box of books and I walked up to the driver. I could barely keep the note of accusation out of my voice.

“Clark and Broadway. You never announced it.”

His eyes widened, a bit of sarcasm around the edges. “Oh lady, that’s way back before Foster. That’s . . . You gotta get on the next bus going back. Over there.” His thumb pointed to the first of three buses lined up, waiting. “I think that one’s next.”

Still wearing my misdirected sense of pride, I straightened my back and walked over to the first bus. The driver was leisurely finishing her lunch.

“Can you take me back to Broadway and Clark? I went the wrong way.”

“Sure,” she said, wagging her head back and forth in a motherly way.

By now rush hour was beginning, and it was taking twice as long to get back to where I had started. I knew Anna would be worried, but I was afraid to call her from the bus because it was very loud, and I feared she wouldn’t be able to hear me. Plus, I was so embarrassed, I wanted someone else to do my dirty work. So I did the sensible thing. I texted my husband back in Pennsylvania, and asked him to call her. Which he did.

Finally, my destination; delivery made. Relieved, I got back on the 36 bus. But had I learned my lesson? No. Did I ask the driver if he was headed where I wanted to go? No. Did I head in the wrong direction once again? Yes.

Seeing Lake Michigan on my left instead of my right was my first clue, but it took a few more stops for me to admit I’d done it again. I finally pulled the “Request for Stop” cord, jumped off the bus, crossed the street, and boarded the bus going in the right direction. Ten minutes later I was off the bus and walking up to Anna’s door, where she graciously received me without a single comment on my stupidity.

So what did I learn from this experience? Many things, but here is the short list:

  1. Having a husband who will help without laughing at you when you do something stupid is a wonderful thing
  2. You can learn a lot about humanity riding a CTA bus in Chicago for a few hours
  3. Asking for directions can save a lot of time and aggravation
  4. Just because you are sure of yourself, have a map, and are patient and happy, doesn’t mean you’re not headed in the wrong direction
  5. Being aware that you’re living within a story and watching it unfold adds to the adventure of life. About half-way into the experience, it dawned on the writer in me that I was an actor in a scene. It had a beginning, middle, and (I hoped) a happy ending. I, the protagonist, would be changed by the action. Every detail was fodder for future writing. So I might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.

And so I did.

Image credit here.

Nancy Sayre is Golden Alley Press's old-school, hands-on editor. Max Perkins, Saul Bellow, and Robert Giroux are some of her role models. Her reading interests include classic literature, theology, and the subject matter of whatever books she is editing at the moment.
Debbie On June 4, 2016 at 1:08 am

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Michael Sayre On June 8, 2016 at 10:09 pm

Speaking as the husband in question, I’m just glad you got home safely.

Beth On August 4, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Ah, yes. Being aware that you’re living within a story and watching it unfold does indeed add to the adventure of life. Keep enjoying the ride, my friend.

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