|This is where I get on/off the Blue Line.|
But Monday night trips to Chicagoland Games: The Dice Dojo (5550 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL) – I'm sure they'd love some business in you're in the neighborhood – has me taking the Blue to the Red and vice versa on the way home. The Red Line can get a little dicey on the way back, something that isn't all that strange given that I don't usually get on it until after 11:30pm. Not a lot of Nine-to-Fivers in that crowd. Actually, a fair amount of drunks and addicts, but what trouble they cause is usually among themselves. And they are the minority in any given car.
But not so with the early Tuesday morning (I arrived home around 2:00am) trip back on the Blue Line. The car was equally populated with the sleeping homeless – the one alert homeless passenger got off at Illinois Medical District – and the agitating, troubled, do-you-got-a-smoke or give me some fucking money for food crowd. Some of them just came from a hospital, as evidenced by slings and casts and those paper bracelets hospitals give out. Into this mildly unpleasant car came a steady stream of give me a smoke and you have any money, motherfucker? passengers who had no one else to bother for these items other than me.
No, I don't have a smoke. I'm like 7Up with regard to caffeine in that regard. And I don't have any money. Seriously, not a penny on me. It isn't like I have any money at home, either, fellas. I have nothing for you. Maybe its a good thing I finished the book I brought just before I had to switch trains, because I wouldn't have felt comfortable not watching my fellow passengers.
"How can you not have any money?"
Well, jackass, it could be that I simply don't want to give you any money. I don't. I would actually rather get into an unseemly knife fight – one I'm sure I would lose, because I've never fought with a knife before and I'm still not in general fighting shape, knife or no knife – than give you money. But since I don't have any money to give, that is kind of a moot point.
It isn't that I don't believe in giving money to people who need it. I do. And it isn't that I think that addicts and drunks don't need their fixes to some degree. I just don't think it is my responsibility to support them when I have no money to spend on myself. Like every greedy person who can be made to feel guilt, I want to have a reason to feel guilty. My not jonesing is not some indicator that I am well enough off to spare a quarter, largely because I didn't have a quarter, dime, nickle, or penny on me. I had a CTA fair card with $2.50 left, which means that I need to get some money to put on it if I want to be accosted again.
Anyway, nine different passengers approached me twelve times. The one guy demanded I give him something.
"I have an unopened bottle of water. That is the sum total of food/drink/valuables I have. If you want it, its yours."
Guy grabs it, gets upset. Curses under his breath. Curses louder. Curses at me. Fakes throwing the bottle of water at me (I'm all of about two feet away, buddy...I don't think you are going to get any arm speed going by throwing it...may as well just hit me with it). Opens it up and spills it on two guys who are using the train as a place to sleep. Decides to tell them its my fault because all I would give him was water.
Motherfucker, I don't have anything else to give you. At least not on me. I'm not invited you back to my place so I can give you an unopened can of store brand mini ravioli (say what you will, at 50¢ a can they don't seem that bad), a sleeve of lower sodium Ritz crackers, or more bottled water. I don't have what you want. I don't have what I want. And your need to pick a fight with me because I can't help you get your fix is really just reminding me that I can't get the shit I want for me. The simple shit.
Anyway, after about three minutes of trying to convince any of the other beggars to help him get some revenge for being given water the guy wanders off to a different car. He comes back once to shout something (I couldn't understand him). The rest of the awake passengers are all upset, and their anger is directed at me. Because I'm awake? No. Well, maybe. But because I seem to be in a position to help them but I am not.
Ain't none of us in the position we wanted to be. Not even by modest standards. I managed to get there, I guess. I just wanted to get home. Safely. Since nobody attacked me, I guess I did. But there was this weird, real threat of it for the first time I can remember it. And it makes me wish I had the ignorance of my youth, in a sheltered upper-middle class suburb (where we certainly didn't have the money to fit in, but that is what living on the fringe of said suburb allows). Where thinking that people who rode public transportation instead of driving were stupid or lazy or bums. Bums looking to bum something. Bad people.
But in that suburb, that was all code for something else.