My aging legs and I approach the Red Line “L”.
How steep are the steps tonight?
How close is the train?
Hurrying, not fleeing, I case the street characters.
Quick through the turn-style,
I pull myself up the steps.
The Red Line poses its promised questions.
Cubs game tonight?
Weirdoes . . .?
On the platform, the train, three stops away,
And a quarter-inch high,
Translates to 4 minutes distant
I check my fellow travelers –
Join them under the heat lamps?
From the look of them, No.
Like Wild Bill Hickock would
Sit back against the wall
In the saloon.
So he could see everybody’s eyes
Until one night he forgot.
I think of Bill tonight.
I enter the train car
Like Wild Bill did the saloon ,
I study the faces, the layout, the attitude.
But I soon forget about Bill
And scout a quiet corner to read
My back to them, offering easy pickins’.
Am I imagining the disembodied voices getting louder behind me?
I admonish myself
“Don’t jump at every sound.”
I can almost feel them gathering now,
Surrounding me, mocking, admiring my stuff, leering,
“Hey how much did you pay for that?”
Then the shouting voice pierces and startles.
I struggle to read.
I don’t look.
Got to be cool, Urban Rider.
Show no anxiety.
At Addison, the car is filling.
The volume of that shouting voice
Drowns out everyone in the car, and I look.
It thunders from the 70-something black man,
“You aint sat down since you got on!”
“Who? Me?” the tall young tourist turns.
“You are a patient man! Standing there the whole ride.”
“How tall are you?” “Six-five,” is the edgy answer.
“How old a young man are you.” “Nineteen,” eyes darting.
My stop is next and I don’t want
To think of what came
Of that little drama.
The subway escalator climbs to the street ,
To brighter lights, wider avenues and broader minds.
In the movie of my mind that I carry forth,
They, the old man and boy, embrace,
The young man bent almost double
To reach the old man’s arms.
Setting the example for the urban riders,
Surprising even themselves to learn
They have taken a step to a higher place.
I return in reflection to the L – and look back,
Fooled and surprised, knowing
Most anything can happen.
By Larry Ambrose