I realize, given the nature of our existence, that lots of stories start this way. That is to say, given our existence in Chicago, which is to say, given the fact that the CTA isn’t quite reliable.
Bottom line: I wasn’t too surprised when ten minutes of waiting became 12, then 15.
Eventually a muffled voice came over the PA system to inform us what was going on:
“Hsxawc faoaknt xbt aybalf!”
The dozens of other people on the platform had stopped to listen, pulling out their ear buds or cocking their heads or looking around to see if anyone else could actually make out what was being said. No one could.
“What was that?”
“I think they said we’re fucked.”
“ … vatlknar. Hsxawc faoaknt xbt aybalf!”
While the rest of us were searching for answers, the woman next to me had an insight.
“I think it’s something that would be helpful to know,” she said. She was wearing a nice cashmere overcoat and struck me as tall, though she may have just carried herself with authority. She looked at her phone. “Train tracker only says it’s delayed.”
Train tracker and I had reached the same conclusion. I glanced up the track for the umpteenth time. No headlights, no rumble, no tunnel wind.
The woman looked at her phone again. “I’m at the point of calling Forrest Claypool!” she said. “It’s time he dealt with these CTA people!”
I gathered that she was talking about CTA workers—the very workers Claypool has blamed for causing the system’s chronic budget woes with pay and benefit abuses.
So I said I knew what she meant—but maybe it was about more than the rank-and-file workers. Maybe it was also about years of patronage employees, management fat, poor planning, insider contracts, rusting infrastructure—
She gave me an irritated look, as if I were, well, me. “It’s these workers and their contracts,” she informed me. “Claypool needs to get rid of them all—or at least most of them. No, that won’t fix the crumbling infrastructure, but it will help. They don’t need to get the day off for their birthdays.”
Actually, I think they’ve got to show up for their birthdays, though they might get paid double-time.
“All that waste! And so many of them, all they do is talk to each other!”
They also get us home safely each night. But I merely asked who’s supposed to be managing these CTA talkers.
She shrugged. “They’re in unions.”
There was another announcement: “Nasknhoart fzeafl, Hsxawc faoaknt xbt aybalf!”
The woman looked at her phone. I decided to climb the stairs and wait for the bus.