Once, when it was cold and raining, I caught the train at 39th and Indiana. "What are you doing here?" asked a motherly woman--my mother's age, but three times her size.
Because no one ever talks to anyone else on the trains, let alone the platforms, I was surprised. "I'm going home," I told her. "I just got off the bus and this was the closest train stop."
She moved closer to me and said, "I'm carrying a gun in this purse of mine. I wouldn't get on at this stop any other way. You stick by me, hear, and I'll get you past 35th safely."
The CTA closed the el stop at 39th over a month ago. They claimed it was too old, too fragile, too expensive to fix. The taggers took advantage and crisscrossed the platform with spray paint and magic markers. Other vandals went for the plastic and wood, but they have been less successful.
The neighborhood surrounding the closed station is one of the poorest in the city. A few blocks to the east, the Ida B. Wells projects line King Drive, and the Robert Taylor Homes begin a few blocks to the west. Stateway Gardens, another project, overlooks the tracks.
When it was open, 39th was an A stop. Students from the Dawson Skills Center used it sometimes, but most of them took the State Street bus and caught the elevated at 35th.
Since the 39th Street station has closed, the 39th Street bus doesn't go by it anymore. The bus veers down 35th instead, making for a much safer trip west on Pershing for Chicago Board of Education personnel and anyone else with business there. Pamela, an out-of-town teacher seeking employment with the Chicago schools, has made that trip on quite a few occasions.
"Catching the bus at 39th was too much like being in a war zone," she said. "I'm much happier--not to say much safer--now that I catch the bus at the 35th el stop."
I take the train south to 51st every day. Each morning, after Washington, I get a seat in the third car of the A train. And every day more and more graffiti seems to appear on the platform and walls of the closed 39th and Indiana station.
One day we were passing by it again. A handful of men coming off the night shift had joined me in the third car, and one of them sitting behind me said, "It's a shame they closed that station. It was close to my home. I could get off there and walk a block over."
"You didn't really get off there?" another man asked.
"No," answered the first, "I'd get off at 35th and catch the bus over."
I turned in my seat and looked at them. They were both huge, muscles bulging beneath their winter coats, the kind of men you did not want to even think about on dark street corners.
"Yeah," continued the first man, "that sure was one dangerous stop. I always made sure I was packing before I got on a train from there."
"I don't know anyone who didn't," the other man replied.
I suddenly remembered the boy I'd seen grab a gold chain from a lady's neck at that stop. He was down the steps before she even began screaming.
"Yeah," both men said, "that sure was one dangerous stop."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.