The small victory of the single seat on the el train

Without it, riding the subway would be even worse than it already can be.

While Chicago is blessed to have access to a relatively high-functioning train system, it's still hard not to get beaten down by the monotony and grind of the public-transit gauntlet. Weary-eyed and apathetic—oftentimes compounded by whatever weather-beaten slog it took to get from point A to point B—we wriggle through thickets of humans during rush hour in hopes of finding some shred of somewhere to sit, just enough for a butt cheek. We scoff at the gnarled and matted seat fabric, wonder what has soaked into it over the decades, and plop down anyway. And now, with the implementation of CTA transit trackers at most stops, our routines have become more methodical—we don't even have the mystery of arrivals to liven things up.

At least there's the single seat, the CTA's most precious gem. Elusive and damn near taunting, this protector of solitude allows a lucky passenger to check out and stare off into the middle distance in peace. No more awkward, accidental leg-to-leg contact with a seatmate; no more being jarred from a nap by an exiting rider. Just focus on the thrum of the train. Blue Line singles are often jammed behind the last pair of seats on both sides of the aisle, tucked in such a way that they look like a last-ditch effort to give another body a place to sit. Chicagoans have taken to single seats like the ancient, broken-in La-Z-Boy recliners languishing in their parents' basements: temporarily forgotten, but beloved once you see them.

With the rollout of the 5000 series el cars in 2011 on the Red and Green Lines, the single seat seemed as though it might be in peril. Meant to maximize space and replace the 2600 series rolled out in the 80s, the newfangled 5000 series mimicked New York's MTA setup with longitudinal seating and wider aisles for standing. There was no single-seat pipe dream upon boarding these bright and shiny cars; we'd have to be near other people and interact with them (or we'd have to take the bus). What a drag. But with the recent return of rail-car manufacturing to Chicago—thanks to last year's $1.3 billion contract with CRRC Sifang America—we'll soon have an even shinier new 7000 series, which is being spun as a hybrid of the 5000 and 3200 series of cars, the latter of which now operates on the Brown and Orange Lines and features . . . forward-facing single seats. Thankfully, being left alone will never go out of style.  v

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