Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Happy Monday To Me

Well, friendly readers of my blog, I have lived in Chicago for over a year now. As you know, I love it. I am so much happier here than I was out in STC. And I believe I have talked about how great my neighborhood is in this very blog. You know...people actually say "hello" on my street and know eachother by name. I knew very few people at my townhouse in STC. Those I did know, didn't like me because of my determination to fight with the homeowners association. (THAT, my friends, is another long story)

Since my move, I , like many Chicagoans, have experienced my fair share of the homeless and sometimes mentally unstable people wandering the streets. Sometimes it's not so bad and other times a creepy guy follows you down the street demanding money in a not-so-friendly tone. I take the latter encounters with a grain of salt and a finger or two on the pepper spray.

Don't get me wrong, the homeless, in general, do not frighten me. Hell, even the obvious schizophrenics don't scare me. Most of the time, people ask me for money. Most of the time, I say no. In fact, I have a strict policy regarding "street charity." I will give you money if you provide a service. Plain and simple. You rockin' out on the street with a bucket and a stick? If I stop to listen and enjoy...you have entertained me. I'll throw you some $$. You hangin' outside the Walgreens while I walk my dog? You watch my dog for me while I run in and grab something, you have done me a huge favor. I will pay for that. You sit on a stoop and TELL me to give you money? Nah, I won't do it. You follow me into a store, YELLING at me? You better believe that you aren't getting anything but a nice healthy spray in the eyes. These type of encounters become a part of everyday life when you live in Chicago, I am fine with that.

It's actually kind of fun to have a little bit of nutty and smelly in your daily routine. Keeps you humble. In fact, several months ago, I encountered a homeless guy that made me smile. I was exiting off Lake Shore Drive at Wilson, and there was a guy on the ramp (go figure, right?) with a sign. Traffic was backed up, so I had plenty of time to check out this guy's schtick. He was smiling real wide (actaully beaming), and holding a cardboard sign, like many do. I couldn't see anything on the sign, and because of his enthusiasm, I was really curious to see what he had written. As I got a little closer, I noticed that there was nothing written at all. "Maybe he is confused and has his clever pitch written on the other side," I told my passenger. As we passed, I turned my head to look...and nope. Nothing on the other side of the cardboard either. He was SO happy, though. So proud of his sign that said nothing. I liked that guy.

Now, readers, I told you all of the above, basically to tell you about the experience I had yesterday. For those of you who don't know, I am a regular user of the Chicago CTA system. I like to mix it up with my route to work. Sometimes I take the bus, sometimes the red line, sometimes the brown line. Yesterday morning, I opted for the red line. Let me set it up for you;

If you are not familiar, here is what the red line looks like on the inside...

It was about 8:15 am when I boarded the train. I took a seat as I normally would, (Illustrated below)

and the train started moving. I started to read the Monday edition of the "Red Eye," when I heard the unmistakeable sound of "crazy old guy ranting." Oh, goody. Monday morning entertainment on the red line...again.

I looked up to see what I expected....well almost. It was a crazy old guy yelling, alright, but he was naked. Yep naked. Now, when I say naked, I don't mean wearing-a-trenchcoat-and-flashing-people-naked. I mean NAKED. Thankfully, he was on the oppsite end of the train car from me. (illustration below)

He began by telling passengers to "suck it" which was utterly repulsive. Some of the male passengers on the car snuck past him to push the "alert" button to get him off the car. At that point the train stopped and he sat down. At first, I was happy that he had sat and stopped yelling because it meant that for the time being, he wouldn't be coming (no pun intended) anywhere near me. But then, after quick reflection, I remembered that if one crazy naked old guy was sitting on the other side of the train, who was to say that another crazy naked old guy hadn't shared my seat. Eeew. (I usually try to avoid germy thoughts on the CTA, but it was kind of forced this time)

As the train started moving, crazy naked old guy got up again. He began yelling about how if we all wanted his money, we could take it. He then began to rip dollar bills in half and throw them at nearby passengers. (Where did he keep the dollar bills?) I averted my gaze to the floor at that time and did so for two reasons. 1. I didn't want to make accidental eye contact and possibly set him off further. 2. I had already seen enough old man nuts and berries. After he was done with that tangent, he told everyone that we we were assholes because we were from Chicago. He warned that if we were to go to Milwaukee, we would be decapitated. I took notes.
Milwaukee...decapitated...right. Thanks crazy naked old guy!

We finally stopped at a station platform and some passengers ushered crazy naked old guy off the train. I didn't see if he had anything with him. Seems like he would have. Best I can figure, he boarded the train with clothes on and de-robed mid-ride. Otherwise, why would other morning commuters have sat anywhere near him? Again, where would he have kept the money he tore up or his CTA card? I'm not sure if he was able to gather any belongings he may have had as he was lead off the train. I'm not sure what happened to him once he was standing naked on the platform. All I know is that I felt bad for the people standing out there with him, I felt relieved that he was no longer on the train with me, and I wondered silently about who would be the one to pick up the torn dollar bills.

I'm going to go wash my hands now. Again.