Chubby fingers outstretched and round cheeks flattened against the window, I leaned further into the plexiglass. Although I could feel a firm hand tugging at my shirt, urging me to sit back in my seat - at ten, I possessed little concept of manners (or sanitary awareness), both of which I abandoned as I refused to cease standing on the chair of the CTA train - at the moment, all that mattered was that I was soaring above the streets of Chicago. Eyes darting across the ever changing expanses of the city, I refused to lift my gaze in fear of missing anything.
For the first time, I was taking a trip in the belly of a gargantuan silver beast, known familiarly to most Chicagoans as the “L.” What distinguishes the L from its relatives - the Tube, le Métro, the MTA - is its ability to burst through concrete and asphalt streets to rise above, guided only by wood and steel, and glide through the towering skyscrapers that dot the Chicago skyline. It elevates and cultivates a sense of infinite wonder in its riders, from the all-too-serious businessmen I’ve caught gazing dreamily out the windows to the young children futilely yet passionately attempting to balance in the center of the car as the train weaves throughout the city. From that first ride to the present day, my fascination with the inner and outer workings of the L and its passengers has refined itself to an infatuation.
Each ride presents a chance to ponder the overlooked, to question the seemingly mundane: You can quantify the number of people that find themselves teeming through the L’s sliding doors, but can you quantify their experiences? Who is that woman, man, student, small rodent, and what is their story? I adopt the lenses of journalists, economists, marketers, sociologists, historians, and the mere fellow passenger to analyze: the placement of an ad for Planet Fitness adjacent to an ad for Pizza Hut, the change in the racial makeup of passengers as the train travels North to South, the origin of unassuming stains or abandoned books. More recently I pondered, if they say the beat of a butterfly’s wings can induce a hurricane halfway across the world, can a five minute train delay get me into college?
The L is a catalyst between my vim mind and the seemingly elusive outer world, a seventy-five cent silver chariot that I can ride to whatever adventure I see fit. Since that first ride, I persist in search of the optimal collection of train stops, forging a mental map of Chicago shaped by my life experiences - all accessible by a simple swipe of a ventra card. The multitude of train lines that branch from the L’s “Loop” are dotted with my discoveries. The boathouse, where I strain my vocal chords from hours of training (and hours of laughing with my teammates).
The school, where I test the waters of political responsibility, explore the depths of socioeconomic research, and conquer the wakes of edits delivered on my reporting for the newspaper. The small urban farm, located in a former project, that I help create and cultivate each spring and summer.
My thirst and and hunger for the knowledge of anything and everything was, and remains, insatiable. This train, this beating artery, pumping from the birthplace of the city to its outer reaches, is what quenches my thirst and satiates my hunger. Riding the L not only gave me the access to pursue rowing, a liberal education, and volunteerism; it forged a sense of adventurousness deep into the synapses of my nerves, a sense driving me into the intersections of journalism, student government, fashion, and aiding my beautiful city. That first L ride instilled the interests that lie within me, passions that subsist on experiencing life at its fullest and engaging my sponge-like intellectuality. I thrive on discovery; It defines who I am.