“Why can’t everyone just relax more?” asks the grandmotherly African-American woman seated next to me. “Don’t be so uptight… go with the flow.” This is said while several passengers in front of us complain loudly about train delays, the crowded train, and about their generally horrible lives.
I’ve never been to Chicago in the middle of summer; so why not now? I tell the lady that I’m going to see the fireworks and eat at the Taste of Chicago tonight. “My time has passed for that,” she murmurs. “I hung up my dancing shoes a long time ago.” After repeatedly telling me to be careful, I help her off the train and hand her the enormous suitcase she points at. I receive several hugs in return.
A Native-American man sits at my table in the observation car, with a worn set of headphones around his neck and a can of Pepsi in his hand. Conversation ensues, and by the time the observation car closes, I’ve learned that he’s in his 50s, is returning from San Antonio where he attended a wedding, and that he has a long history with alcohol. His head shakes as he tells me these things. There’s a lot to be learned if you aren’t too afraid of people.
On the train back to Peoria, there was even more excitement. I encounter complications again with making my train on-time (my fault) and missed several while waiting in line for ticket changes. As soon as I find a seat on the train, I hear yelling. “Fuck” is hurled like a projectile, with force and menace between two young men as they each escalate the tension higher and higher. Everyone else grows eerily silent, pretending that everything is okay. It lasts 60 seconds, but leaves most of the car a bit rattled.
A 20-year-old boy with a British accent starts to flirt with two overly-done girls behind him. He tells a story of his boyhood in Chicagoland, his move to England and the fact that he leads an “up and coming band.” The girls trip over themselves as they each attempt to impress, an escalation really not too different from the earlier altercation. “I need a whole orchestra at my disposal,” he says with resignation. “It’s frustrating when you can do it all yourself but you need other people.” The boy eventually makes himself inaccessible through this boasting and the girls settle on taking self-portraits the entire ride back.
I can’t remember having any of this happen on airline flights.