Urban Rider – a poem


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.

Too full?

Too empty?

Cubs game tonight?

Scary dudes?

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.


Look up.


Look up.


That voice,

So close

I don’t look.

Got to be cool, Urban Rider.

Show no anxiety.

Ears open.


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


About Chicago Stories

I'm a Chicagoan, have been for fifty years. I've had a consulting business in the city for thirty-eight years, working with many Chicago companies and organizations and others around the world. Before that, I worked the city's race relations agency for five years.I am a volunteer tour guide for Chicago's Greeter Program and introduce visitors from around the world to this beautiful city. I'm also a writer of several professional books as well as poetry, essays and fiction. The city has become my inspiration, education and entertainment. View all posts by Chicago Stories

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