It’s hard to tell who will have the shorter career — a UNIT soldier or a redshirt on Kirk’s Enterprise.Diane Schirf (me)
Right now, all over the world, a nearly infinite number of things are happening. Hawks pursue rabbits; factions make war; dust filters through the atmosphere; buildings burn; stars shine; children die. Things happen, and everything changes. No one can comprehend it all, only what we experience. Our limitations are our protection; in omniscience lies madness.
My thoughts rambled on during the train trip from Chicago to Ann Arbor. In my limited view from one of the train’s windows, it was a perfect, sunny mid-September day, and in the back of my mind I was looking forward to a weekend spent with friends. I gazed out the window, unable to focus on reading or the other usual train pursuits.
The Amtrak passenger train braked more suddenly than usual, throwing everyone slightly forward. It seemed a strange place to stop, in the middle of a crossing in Albion, Michigan. Sometimes passenger trains halt to allow their freight brethren to pass, but generally the delay takes place out of the way and doesn’t interfere with auto traffic. To me, sitting in the second car, just on the crossing, this stop felt different.
A couple in an auto waiting at the crossing got out and walked toward the train. I wondered why.
At first, the passengers continued their pursuits — chatting, reading, listening to music through earphones, eating, drinking, or staring out the window, perhaps thinking of what the end of the trip held — reunion with family, school, work. At last, however, the low buzz of activity and conversation heightened as more people noticed how unusually long the train had stopped. A few made joking comments. The uniformed personnel who generally bustle back and forth between the cars had all disappeared. There was no one to ask about the delay.
A rumor from the first car floated back to mine; the train had hit a person in a motorized wheelchair. A motorized wheelchair? What is the likelihood of a motorized wheelchair being in the crossing just when a train is coming? In a small town in Michigan? Then, what is the likelihood that someone would think up that particular scenario?
Someone must have been hit or hurt, or perhaps become seriously ill; a PA announcement requested that any medical professionals on the train make their way to the café car.
The Albion police and two ambulances arrived. The police quickly set up the yellow “Police Line — Do Not Cross” tape around the triangle bordered by the train’s first car and a half and the grassy area next to the crossing, using several convenient trees. Two young women, late ‘teens or early twenties, stood on the grass, hugging each other and crying. The couple from the auto and then the paramedics talked to them and tried uncomfortably to comfort them. I wondered if they had seen the accident, or if they knew the victim well. For a while, they sat on a curb next to the crossing, but at some point they must have left. I wondered if they would seek professional help.
The conductor walked through the train asking that people not open any of the outside doors. “It’s very morbid, believe me,” he said. I knew then that the medical professionals requested earlier were not for the accident victim, but for someone else.
Both ambulances were parked for at least an hour, lights flashing and paramedics walking about, but no one seemed to be doing anything; it all seemed very disorganized and haphazard, almost dreamlike. Finally, both ambulances left, leaving only the police and what were most likely witnesses as well as the invariable spectators. By now, even the couple in the auto had driven off.
For a long time, the police wandered around aimlessly, at least to my inexperienced eyes. One man, sporting long hair and civilian clothes, talked to nearly everyone else, including the police and witnesses, although his role was unclear. He gestured and pointed quite a bit. He remained on the scene during the entire investigation. Other people noticed him as well and wondered who he was.
Meanwhile, the people on the train were becoming impatient. The man across from me spoke of a birthday party in Dearborn he was to attend, schedule for 6 p.m. Two women in front of me were going to two separate wedding showers. When they discovered their purpose in traveling was identical, even though the destinations weren’t, they fell into a deep conversation.
Some of the police began to board my car and walk toward the back, returning to the front and exiting a few minutes later. It occurred to me that they were probably using the lavatory. A crowd had gathered in the foyer between the first and second cars, and the police and conductors had to make their way through them. I didn’t see any reason for the convention, other than to be in the way or to see something of the action. They were a chatty, laughing group.
As the quarter hours, half hours, and hours passed, the passengers became more restless and agitated, wondering how long it would be before the train would be allowed to move on. A very young police officer told our car that the area was considered a “crime scene” and that they could not allow people off the train to contaminate the integrity of the scene. The photographers and others still needed to do their work. They were working as quickly as they could, he said, but could not make any promises about when the train would be released. I wondered what the “crime” was.
I overheard that we were waiting for another engineer to arrive; the train’s engineer was too traumatized to continue. I wasn’t surprised. I’d read before that train engineers involved in accidents suffered trauma long afterwards. Imagine seeing that you are about to hit someone and that that person is about to die. This probably has happened to many an auto driver, but without the surety of death, nor the particularly grisly qualities of a collision between train and human. Most likely only an engineer who has experienced that sickening moment fully understands the trauma and its reasons.
The passengers I heard talking didn’t say much about the victim or the circumstances. Most felt primarily inconvenienced and talked about why with people nearby. Some complained that no one from either Amtrak or the police was providing us with necessary information about when the trip was to resume. There was a rush toward the train’s only phone; one person came back and said offhandedly to anyone listening, “Don’t even think of trying to get to the phone.” “There a line?” one man asked. “Is there ever!”
Outside, the sun continued to create the perfect day. I looked out the window, forward, and for the first time noticed a motorized wheelchair. The police must have put it there within the last half hour. Next to it lay something covered in white. I must have reacted; the man across from me asked me if I’d seen something. “No, not really,” I answered. I didn’t want him or anyone else to talk about what lay under the white. I tried not to look at it, but it was directly in my line of my vision. I saw it and thought, “Only a couple of hours ago, that was a person, maybe going somewhere, just like I am, just like we all are. No more. Just lying there, an object for investigation.”
The police walked around the wheelchair and the body. A photographer appeared and took several photos of the site, including the wheelchair. Another lifted the white material as well — from the other side — and snapped several shots from several angles. The majority of people on the train were unaware of the grisly proceedings.
The man across from me opened a plastic bottle of diet soda. I was thirsty, too, but it seemed disrespectful to satisfy that living desire in the presence of recent death.
On the corner parallel to the train and the crossing, a small herd of boys on bicycles gathered. Each stood poised over his bicycle’s seat, watching the proceedings. It must have been at least 3:30 or 4:30 by then. School was out.
Another police officer boarded the train. He quietly asked the first few people some questions and seemed to disbelieve their answers. He looked around and asked loudly and a little plaintively, “Didn’t anyone see anything?,” as though he couldn’t believe what he had heard. The passengers looked at each other in puzzlement. How could people sitting in the second car be expected to see what must have happened at the front of the train? A young policewoman joined him; they asked each passenger for his or her name, date of birth, address, and phone number, as well as if he or she had seen anything and how fast the train was going at the time of the accident. This last question seemed pointless to me. A train’s speed is very deceptive; usually they are traveling much faster than it feels to the passengers. I suspect the answers ranged from five mph to 70 mph — all subjective guesses and not very reliable in determining exactly what happened. My own estimate was 15-20 — but I would not swear to that.
People continued to be increasingly restless. Another rumor began circulating — that the train was going to back up to the last station, which was quite a way back, so the police could get clearer photographs and drawings. The complaints began again. “I’ve got a better idea — why don’t we move forward?” Not too long after, the train started backing up, and several passengers began groaning. I watched the wheelchair and the white-covered mass recede before me.
The train did not back up to the last station, but just far enough to be out of the way of the police and probably most of the crossings. The passengers became louder as more and more talked to each other. A series of conversations unrelated to the accident arose as people found out where their neighbors were from, where they were traveling to, and why. The little mob in the front of the car continued to banter and laugh. I kept thinking of the shape lying a few blocks ahead.
Eventually, the engineer arrived, and the police cleared the train to leave. From Albion to Ann Arbor was a fast, uneventful journey; I arrived at 6, about four or five hours late. By then, the day’s bright sunlight was muted with the oncoming night. Later, my friends took me to dinner and then to a nostalgic toy store. Even then, I couldn’t help thinking of the white-covered figure and what it might have been doing had it not been for bad timing — or, perhaps, from its perspective, the timing had been perfect. And how it would never see another bright mid-September day. I thought such thoughts until they became too painful, too overwhelming. I could not think them for the millions of others who died that day. I cannot think them now.
Copyright © Diane L. Schirf
Update, 11 January 2019: I used to be Testy McTesty about public transportation, didn’t I? To its overall credit, the CTA is a lot better these days, with a few lapses. Bus tracking smartphone apps are helpful. The announcements are still deafening, but as they say no one seems to mind. (Except me.)
An exchange with Customer Service at the CTA. Will post any follow-up.
Deafened in Chicago
On 8/5/05 7:33, CTA Help at email@example.com wrote:
Thank you for your complaints. We would like to look into the X28 problem you described, but we need to know what stop you are waiting for it along the route.
The route is the X28 southbound; I was waiting at Franklin and Jackson, south of the Sears Tower. A working bus came around 6:30 p.m.
Comparing it to the #151 and #156 buses doesn’t help us, because ridership on those other two routes is much higher than on the X28,
The X28 used to be standing room only, but the service has been consistently unreliable so most people have given up on it. Certainly 2-3 people did yesterday, which is not uncommon. Yes, now it is a barely used route. But it’s cause and effect.
As for the 156 and 151, I’ve taken them regularly when I had a volunteer job, and the ridership is not that high — I can always get a seat at any hour and stop — so I don’t think it warrants a bus every 5 minutes, as is often the case. They come so often that only 1-3 people board at the stop. I’ve gotten on South Side buses where 15-20 people are waiting at each stop. Does anyone from the CTA ever ride any of these buses?
so there will always be more of them as long as the current ridership patterns hold true; any transit agency must allocate its resources based on where its customers actually are traveling.
On the other hand, when a bus makes an appearance at irregular intervals, maybe twice in an hour during rush hour, if that, the ridership is bound to disappear, as has happened. Which is why I suggested canceling it since it is virtually useless — or commit to it. I can’t depend on it to get me home within a reasonable time any more, nor can all those people who’ve given up using it. And yet it’s convenient for the many of us who work in the growing West Loop.
But this does not negate your complaint; 45 minutes is far longer than the scheduled frequency of X28 buses and we can review the service if you tell us where you wait for it. And if you have any further delays while we are investigating, please give us the specifics. The four-digit ID number of any bus with a malfunction, such as a non-working door, will help us find it more quickly.
It was hard to tell what the number was while struggling with the door, but shouldn’t the driver tell you the door doesn’t work? The employees should be responsible for reporting malfunctioning equipment.
We also need a bus ID number to check any report of the announcement system being too loud. We get very few complaints about overloud announcements on the buses and yours is the only recent one about this being a problem on the X28, so we would need to inspect any bus where you think it is a problem. None of the buses have the volume deliberately set at 100 decibels and we would repair any system that is louder than it should be.
No, that was a general complaint. EVERY bus route I’ve been on has overloud announcements. I wouldn’t mind seeing OSHA measure them. If I can hear them *clearly* while wearing ear protection, distinguishing every word with the steep hearing loss I have, and they hurt my ears without hearing protection, they are way too loud across the board. Just because people don’t complain doesn’t mean they don’t mind. People often have complaints they voice to each other but aren’t going to bother putting in writing. The best way to tell if they are too loud is to measure the decibel level, which is an objective measure.
The exterior announcements (the ones heard on the outside) are so loud on many buses I can hear them a block away. I’m glad I don’t live on a bus route.
—– Original Message —–
Sent: Thursday, August 04, 2005 7:38 PM
Subject: X28 on 4 August 2005 at 6:00 p.m.
Every afternoon between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m., I routinely wait 20-45 minutes for the southbound X28 bus, while in the same time span 8-12 151 and 156 buses will go by, with maybe 1-2 people getting on today. Today, an X28 bus came after 20 minutes, but the front door would not open fully, and although the driver told me, “You have to pull it,” I couldn’t pull it open enough to get on. Why was a bus allowed to operate in that condition?
So I had to wait for the next bus, which came 45 minutes later. By then, people had taken cabs. This is ridiculous. Either cancel it or run it at least as reliably as those other buses. It took me two hours to get home from work — it should take no more than 45-60 minutes. And there was no traffic issue downtown or on Lake Shore Drive, either direction.
On another note, I’m hearing impaired and, even with hearing protection (worn because the recorded bus announcements are so loud), I can clearly hear them. That means they are loud beyond my hearing loss plus the 33 decibels of hearing protection. I would guess them to be 100 decibels at least, quite possibly more. They are ear shattering on most buses. That is far, far too loud (and an occupational hazard for the drivers). Can they be lowered to something reasonable, like under 50 decibels? They make the bus ride very unpleasant (ironic given that one says to be considerate while talking on your cell phone so as not to disturb other customers — no one on a cell phone has ever been as disturbing as constant nagging in your ear at 100+ decibels.
You know the world has passed you by when a large bus-side ad for a movie features the names of three actors you’ve never heard of as the stars. And in small print at the bottom are the names of three people who in your youth were household names (one having been a major box office draw).
(The movie is the The Dukes of Hazzard, and the three in tiny print are Burt Reynolds, Willie Nelson, and Lynda Carter.)
Why I don’t believe in astrology — aside from the obvious, that is.
|Cancer – Your Love Profile
Your positive traits:
You’re intuitive enough to know what’s going wrong in a relationship early on
A total sweetheart — you’re often the most caring person anyone knows
You are a generous and devoted parter [sic] to whoever you fall in love with
Your negative traits:
Insecurity — you tend to need a huge amount of comforting from your partner
You tend to be overly sensitive and easily hurt, which make loving you difficult
It’s difficult to predict your moods. One minute you’re up — the next you’re down.
Your ideal partner:
Someone equally sensitive, who wants to take time to get to know you deeply
Dreams of an everlasting love — complete with marriage and a family
Loves to take care of you. Being a good cook and masseuse doesn’t hurt!
Your dating style:
Slow. You enjoy dates that last all day, with plenty of time to talk and get to know one another.
Your seduction style:
Quite tender and loving, once you are comfortable in your relationship.
Coy. You tend to play it cool to drive your lover wild.
Orally talented — you’re known as the best kisser in the zodiac.
Tips for the future:
Be a little less sensitive. Not every little mistake should hurt you.
Spend time away from your partner every so often — independence is a good thing.
Find ways to take care of yourself. You’ll be happier if you put yourself first.
Best place to meet someone online:
eHarmony — you’ll be able to take the time to get to know each potential match well
Best color to attract mate: Aqua
Best day for a date: Wednesday
Today, I opened a new box of Kotex panty liners. The first thing that struck me is that no piece of paper any more can go without being printed on. I don’t mean the brand name — that’s to be expected, I suppose — but the peel-off backing had menstruation tips printed on it. Who needs books and poetry and essays and such when they can read their panty liner backing?
The tip I glanced at was something along the lines of, “Staying physically active during your cycle will help to relieve cramps.”
Okay, go out and catch some nice, diarrhea-inducing disease. Got it? Okay, good. Are you experiencing the wonderful intestinal cramping that comes with diarrhea? Good.
Now feel inspired to “stay physically active” as your innards cramp and cramp and cramp.
See how easy that is? Just go out there and walk five miles with all your innards cramping, and you’ll feel like a new person.
I wonder if these words of wisdom are the same on all the backings, or if there are maybe five variations. I wonder if any of them say, “Staying sexually active during your period will help to relieve cramps through cataclysmic orgasms.”
Now go catch a diarrhea-inducing disease again, rinse, and repeat every month.
This overcast evening I walked to Promontory Point and watched as an ominous black cloud, reaching down from sky to earth, almost like a tornado, traveled north. It left in its wake peaceful white clouds and mist, all tinged pink by the setting sun. It did not cast a shadow on the water, but turned it a darker green as it passed overhead. Meanwhile, the wind was roaring in my ears and whipping the water into a frothy frenzy.
To the north — the sound and the fury. To the south — the reflections of the last rays of a summer’s day.
I will be surprised if I do not dream again tonight of an apocalypse.