Tuesday, January 6, 2015

About a tenth full

They say the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is that the optimist sees the glass as half full while the pessimist... well you know the story.

I've mentioned before that I'm the son of  woman who believes that if you anticipate the worst out of life you're seldom disappointed; and that philosophy has served me well for many years. But when push comes to shove. as far as my general outlook on life is concerned, I'd have to say I'm a glass is half full kind of guy. In other words, when things look pretty bleak, I figure it could always be worse, at least up to a point.

My optimism threshold is about twenty percent; that is to say, if the glass gets any lower than that, all bets are off. During this evening's commute, I encountered two women who put my capacity for optimism to shame. 

The train I take home is called the Purple Line; it makes local stops between Downtown Chicago and Belmont Avenue, then runs the next five miles express, north to my stop, Howard. Now the Purple Line runs on the same track as another train, the Brown Line. That is, up until Belmont, where the Brown line switches tracks and heads northwest. It's not unusual for Brown Line riders to mistakenly board a northbound Purple Line train at Belmont, only to discover after the doors close, that they are in for a ten mile detour. 

Some people rant and rave about their misfortune, sharing their woes with the rest of the passengers, while others suffer in silence. Some people take it all in stride, but the woman who sat across from me who made that mistake this evening was downright philosophical about her problem. Another woman sitting next to me, a seasoned Purple Line rider, struck up a conversation and was very comforting and understanding about the situation. "Oh this train is an express and it will only take ten minutes to Howard. You'll have plenty of time to catch the last express train that will get you back to Belmont in no time at all." Knowing better, I kept my mouth shut. 

The two women became fast friends and kept up their up-beat banter for most of the ride north. The so-called "express" train actually ran at a pretty good clip, unusual given the cold weather and the terrible condition of the tracks. We got up to Morse, two stops from Howard, in just as the woman predicted, about ten minutes. She said to her new friend, "you see, you'll be able to catch the express back, no problem. The Brown Line passenger, happy with this unexpected turn of events got up and went to the door as the train began to slow down, assuming that we were about to enter the Howard station where she could finally get off the train going in the wrong direction. Again, knowing better, and not wanting to sound like a Debbie Downer, I kept my mouth shut.

The train came to a stop, as it almost always does as we approach Howard. What I didn't want to tell the woman is that three different lines, all going inbound and outbound, use that station and there is always a delay in the evening as the crunch of trains going in six different directions at rush hour is too much for the system to handle. 

So we waited.

And waited.

The women for the first time during the ride remained silent. Then the voice of the operator came over the speaker. It was unusual as he did not spew out the normal CTA-speak explanation for the delay: "we are standing momentarily waiting for signal clearance. we expect to be moving shortly." His frustration was apparent as he said: "Folks, what can I tell you, we've been standing here for ten minutes and there are still two trains ahead of us, I don't know what the hell they're doing with these trains up ahead of us but we'll be sitting here for a while. All I can say is the CTA says it's sorry, and I'm sorry. " In all my years of riding the system, I've never heard such candor from an employee. 

After the announcement, the stranded rider sat down again. She realized, as did the rest of the passengers in the car, that she'd certainly miss the last express train and have to take the Red Line local back to Belmont, about a thirty minute ride, if she was lucky. 

Again, she was philosophical. She said to her new friend, "in these situations, I tell myself this happened for a reason. I imagine something terrible might have happened to me had I caught the right train." The other woman then relayed a story about how her ex-husband once missed a flight meaning he would miss a job interview and the opportunity of a lifetime. It turned out that the flight he missed crashed just after takeoff killing everyone on board. 

The story confirmed the woman's feelings, and seemed to make her feel better. 

Again, I kept my mouth shut, hoping and praying that nothing bad would happen to her on the way home.

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