Typical Monday. I dragged my ass out of bed, fed an overly-excited Siberian Husky and did the rest of my usual morning routine, then took off to walk to the El train to head to work.
The Blue line runs from O’Hare to The Loop. I live off the Western stop, which is about 4 miles from the office. It’s a quick trip, now that they got the tracks fixed after last summer’s tunnel derailment, an even which I narrowly escaped when, upon entering the El stop at Clark & Lake, I remembered that I’d actually driven to the office on that particular day and walked out again.
Today, though, I didn’t. I took the train, like most every other day. I don’t mind the El much. Hell, I like it. I’m a people watcher by nature… and in Chicago, you see ALL kinds of people on the El. So, this morning, I hopped on the Blue Line, plugged the ear buds into the iPhone and finished watching Ocean’s 13 while we made our way into the heart of Chicago.
Morning rush hour is typically pretty insane. Regardless of whether you drive, ride a bike, walk, take a bus or train, the whole of downtown is like a beehive. You simply can’t get away from it.
I got off the train with a few hundred others and we all crowded toward the one escalator leading up to the street, with an adjacent, parallel set of stair running next to it. Typically, the stairs are for descending and the escalators are for ascending, but during rush hour, we’re all heading in the same direction. UP.
I had put the phone away on the escalator and was casually looking around when I noticed him. A black man, well-dressed, business attire, walking up the stairs next to me, who just couldn’t seem to throw his sportcoat over his shoulder far enough. he tried and tried, four or five times, which struck me as a bit odd. Then I noticed how close he was walking to the young lady in front of him and thought they might be together. Was he trying to cover up the back of her shirt? Had she caught it on something and torn it? Hmmm…
We topped the stairs and I prepared to step off the escalator. I looked over and the young lady suddenly was rifling though her tragically cool, yet suddenly not-too-secure shoulder bag, looking for all the world like… “WTF just happened?!”
“SHIT!”, I thought, as I turned around and saw the man heading back down the stairs… QUICKLY.
“Sonofabitch. Here we go.” I turned around and hauled ass down the stairs, just in time to see him jump back onto a Westbound train, heading the other direction.
I ran as fast as I could as the automated recording went “ding-dong! Doors closing”… and I made it in time. “Come here.”, I demanded, to the utterly shocked guy standing there, who suddenly managed to have no problem whatsoever keeping his sportcoat over his shoulder.
The telltale ding-dong of the train door alert rang again. I was running out of time.
“Come HERE”, I insisted.
He stood there scared shitless, like a deer in the headlights, just hoping to get away in one piece.
“No, I’m good. I’m sorry. It’s cool.”, he replied.
I stepped onto the train, then…
Then he just… handed it to me. Her Chanel billfold.
I stepped off again. There’s a difference between crazy and stupid. I had no desire to be alone on a moving rail car with a known criminal and I could see by the look in his eyes that he sure as shit wasn’t interested in being on there alone with with me. We were both in full fight-or-flight mode and people, especially men, get desperate at such times and they do some very stupid and inhumane things.
So, I stepped off as the doors closed and he got away.
I suddenly realized that I had no idea where she was and that she had no idea I’d gone after him. Hell, I didn’t even remember what she looked like!
I ran up the escalator once again and took a 50-50 shot at which exit she’d taken. Fortunately, when I got to the top of the escalator, there she was, talking to the CTA attendant, reporting her crime.
Out of breath and surging with adrenaline, I managed to tell them, “Well I didn’t get him, but I got your billfold”. She about broke my neck hugging me in sheer relief. I told them both to have a nice day and hurried out of the station to get my damned coffee… not that I really needed it any longer. I was more than wide awake.
I know I’ll never forget that face, nor he mine, and this town isn’t nearly as big as it looks. People run into each other over and over and over again…. and I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.