Thursday, September 14, 2006

midwestern trip

Late on Tuesday evening, I got on a train, heading west. I found a window seat and settled in for an all-night ride. Fortunately, I had my "survival kit" with me... a portable CD player, a bunch of CDs, and some food, including my mom's famous chocolately chocolate chip cookies (good enough to bring joy to the heart of any choco-holic).
The conductor brought me a tiny pillow and I set it behind my head. It instantly found a place behind my back to lodge. No matter how many times I moved that little pillow, it always returned to its favorite place.
The trip is already becoming a blur in my mind. I dozed off and then woke up again. I remember images of the journey... abandoned steel mills, closed oil refineries, shut-down chemical plants... bits and pieces of the "rust belt." I saw the Cleveland Browns stadium, parking garages, restaurants, train stations... as I rode through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, and into Illinois.
As the sun rose, I looked out the window and saw that the landscape had changed... the trees were different from the onces that I left at home... but, well, weeds are weeds... some things never change...
I got off of the train at its last stop, in Union Station in Chicago.
As I got off the train, I saw someone familiar getting off the next car. It was my friend, Shirley, who, unknown to me, was also traveling to Chicago. It was a delight to see her. She had crossed the Fort Benning fence with me in 2003. We spent a little time together in the train station so that I could pick up my luggage and then we left the station, heading in separate directions... me to the subway and Shirley to a bus.
I walked down Jackson Boulevard toward the subway station on State Street. Jackson Boulevard is a busy downtown street, featuring many office buildings and stores. It was fun for me as window shopping is one of my hobbies.
I descended a flight of stairs into the subway station. I had to buy a card to get through the turnstile and then head on to the subway platform. It was at this point that I would have made a fine candidate for an "America's Funniest Home Videos" segment. I got stuck in a small space between the turnstiles (there is a double set in Chicago, as I found out when I was halfway through)... or, to be more accurate, my suitcase got stuck. I ended up climbing over the second turnstile. That was quite a sight, as the turnstiles are not designed to be easily climbed by someone who is five feet tall! Then, a transit authority employee helped me lift my suitcase over the turnstile.
Free of the turnstile, I chose to descend to the subway platform via an elevator.
Before long, the subway came. I was traveling on the "red" line. I got on the subway, and stood until a gentleman offered me his seat. I was very grateful for that. I listened to the driver announce the stops, as if I had never heard them before. Come to think of it, I have never heard them before. I have not been in Chicago since the early 1980s when I was about two and was learning how to use mass transit by myself! (yeah, right!)
Two stops before I was supposed to get off of the train, the driver made a startling announcement. The next stop would be the last before the train became an express and would head off nonstop to the final stop on the route! Everyone who was not going to that destination should get off immediately. I emerged from the train, confused and asked a woman, who was standing near me, if that sort of thing happened frequently. She said, yes, it did.
I wondered if I should travel around the country and write a subway rider's guide to the United States. Hmm, what about the world, I thought, as my plans grew more and more grandiose.
Another train arrived and I got on and found a seat. Two stops later, I got off the train and walked to the house, where the Voices for Creative Nonviolence is located. In this area, I passed many stores and restaurants, most of them either Vietnamese or Thai. My mouth watered happily as I thought about delicious Vietnamese and Thai food.
I found the house and rang the doorbell, which resulted in a dog symphony.
I was invited in and I managed to settle into a small room with my suitcases.
It was time for a nap. Jeff let me know when he would wake me up so that we could head off to DeKalb for a nonviolence workshop that he was facilitating. I thought that I had only about 45 minutes to snooze until I realized that my watch and body clock were on Eastern time, while everyone else was on Central time.
The nonviolence workshop was an interesting experience, as nonviolence workshops always are. One can never stop learning about nonviolence... it's a way of life and gives hope in a world in which violence is such an everyday occurrence that, sometimes, it's not even noticed.
Today, I am getting onto another train and will head off to LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
More later.

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