Ahhh Chicago. The Windy City. Great place to live, horrible place to drive. The traffic here is the worst. Be it down town or the freeway, if you’re driving somewhere, bring a book. The frustration of driving in Chicago is only matched by the frustration of trying to park your car in Chicago. You want to park your car downtown? You can expect to pay $25 bucks an hour in most places. That rounds out to about a quarter million dollars a year so unless you’ve passed the bar exam you probably aren’t parking your car in a garage in down town Chicago for very long.
As if that isn’t enough of a hassle, there is a whole other production associated with simply owning a car. You have the city stickers, the zone stickers, the parking passes and the license plate stickers. And don’t forget the street cleaning days and the parking zones that change once the Julian calendar passes into winter or a certain amount of snow falls. Yeah, if there is a certain amount of snow that accumulates on the ground the parking rules change. God forbid the city gets a light dusting of snow during the night while you’re sleeping because the city will come and take possession of your car. Trust me, I speak from experience.
So what’s the point right? Why bother going out at all when you can stay home and watch old re-runs of Seinfeld? Not to worry, there exist alternatives. Chicago, like most cities, has a public transportation system. Need to get down town or to the south side to watch a Sox game, no worries, hop on the subway. That’s not to say that the subway here in Chicago isn’t without its flaws, it has many. The trains can be frequently late, they don’t seem to operate all that well in the cold and most homeless people tend to use it as if it were an apartment complex. But all things considered, it’s a fairly reliable means of transportation in Chicago.
However, the train doesn’t pull up to your front door, well…not for all of us that is. What about those of us that live where the train doesn’t run? Well there does exist one more alternative. The bus. Chicago has a fleet of CTA buses that criss-cross the city to pick up people in those hard to reach areas. Pretty convenient right? Actually, it’s closer to the exact opposite. Why? The bus is horrible, fuck the bus!
Are you kidding me? Why is this such a pain in the ass? I’m just trying to go from point A to point B. It’s not that complicated. But somehow it’s the worst part of your day. When you can crawl somewhere faster than you can in a device with a combustible engine then you know you’ve got a problem. It takes a pretty backwards ass system to fuck up a concept like going down the street. Let’s examine a typical experience a commuter encounters while trying to get to work using the bus.
You walk out your front door and the first thing you think is, shit, I have to take the bus. A wave of depression sets in that remains for several hours and usually ruins the rest of your day. You try to cover it up with some tunes from your MP3 player but anything short of the chemical strength of Zoloft generally doesn’t help.
You round the corner and as soon as the bus stop comes into your field of vision you can see that the bus is already there or pulling up to the stop. And by “stop” I’m referring to the stick in the ground under three feet of snow with a picture of a bus on it…if it’s still in the ground at all.
You now have a choice to make, you can either let the bus leave without you and wait for the next one…which may never come, or you can take off down the street in a dead sprint to try to make it before the bus pulls away. If you spend any time in this city you’ll already know that most people opt for the second choice. Of course this choice typically involves taking your life in your own hands as you’ll undoubtedly be forced to cross traffic and either engage in some type of acrobatic, Mission Impossible style hood sliding or timidly walking in front of oncoming traffic like you’re the Frogger.
Either way, it won’t matter, you’re going to miss the bus. You’ll live longer if you except this inevitable outcome. Now it’s a waiting game. How long will it be before the next bus arrives? A good rule of thumb is the amount of time you have before you’re supposed to be at work, plus 20 minutes. But we’re skipping over the best part, just because a bus does eventually come your way, that in no way means that you’re going to get on it.
You wait, you wait and you wait. Your MP3 player starts losing power. The 30 degree weather is taken down a considerable notch by the wind chill. The wind is moving the bus stop pole back and forth. If you’re down town, the tall buildings create a wind tunnel which makes it difficult to stand upright. People are holding their hands up in front of their faces in a vain effort to shield themselves from the wind. You know they are cursing but you can’t hear it over the howl of winter. You start to accumulate snow fall on your head and shoulders and still the bus doesn’t come.
But wait, what’s that off in the distance? Is it the bus? Yes, the bus has finally come. The bus gets closer and you realize that it isn’t slowing down. It blows right by the stop, you’re hit with exhaust and it’s gone. What the fuck just happened? Well guess what, the bus was too full. So full that it physically can’t allow one more individual on the bus so it doesn’t even try. Forget about that bullshit capacity number they hang on the window, it is geometrically impossible for it to hold another human being, be it Fat Albert or Mini Me. In fact, there are probably too many people already on the bus. So the waiting game continues. How many buses pass by with a maxed out standing room only capacity? If you’re lucky, only 2 or 3. If you’re unlucky? Call in sick.
If you decide to skip lunch, the bus will eventually come. I wait for the bus, it pulls up, the doors open, I step onto the bus and…bullshit! All I’ve done is enter the bus and I’m already face to face with a guy who smells like seafood, a man holding a bag of trash and an old woman who looks like she was released from the nursing home for the day to go change out her oxygen tank who happens to have a walker pushed into my crotch. As the bus lurches to a stop to narrowly avoid hitting a pedestrian who is running to get on the bus, the only thing that keeps me from falling over is either my face hitting the windshield or desperately grabbing onto a man that seems to have pissed himself two days ago and didn’t bother to change his pants or the guy who hasn’t showered since the Clinton administration. Note to the City of Chicago, no one says, “I’ve got shotgun” when talking about the bus.
The bone chilling cold that you experience at the bus stop soon evaporates as you share body heat with the 7 other individuals pressed up against you. Claustrophobia sets in as you notice that someone’s hand is in your pocket. Not because they are trying to lift your wallet, there just isn’t any more room on the bus. You are now also being exposed to every kind of infectious disease known to science as well as a few that are evolving into existence in the seat next to you. From the number of people that have already coughed on you, you start to feel like you’ve just walked into a tuberculosis ward. All I want to do is get to work but now I have to worry about consumption like I’m in the dark ages.
It also seems like every school child in the greater Chicago area is on this bus. What the hell is this? Now I’m surrounded by kids that have flaming hot Cheetos all over their fingers touching my pants as I try to move past them to sit with the man who has open sores on his face. Well, as it turns out, Chicago doesn’t have school buses for high school kids. That’s right, the kids don’t have their own bus, they commute like the rest of us. Whose idea was this? Is it taboo to suggest that the kids should have their own god damn bus instead of being crammed in with rest of us like we’re in a concentration camp?
How did it get this bad!? Who fucked this up so bad? Why does the bus feel like a cattle car? Are you ready for this? You know who gets the blame? Unions. Yup, city officials blame the abject failure of the CTA on unions.
The propaganda reads like this, after 4 years without a pay increase, some of the bus drivers got a 3.5 percent raise. That’s it. That’s the whole excuse. As Einstein said, let’s do the fuckin math. So in a 5 year time span, some bus drivers got a 50 cent raise. The CTA President Richard D-Bag Rodriguez asked them to give it back and in what must have felt very similar to the battle of the Alamo, they refused. So Rodriguez responded by canning over 1,000 employees. But he was just getting started. The CTA eliminated 9 bus routes all together and cut service on another 119 bus routes and 7 of the 8 train lines that run through the city.
Give me a fuckin break. Me and the other 200 people just ponied up two and a quarter for this carrier of the plague to drive us a mile and a half. Plus they’re exploiting every school child in the city for the same amount. If you expect me to believe that giving the guy driving us 50 cents forces the city to cripple transportation you must be sick in the head. So for the foreseeable future we’re stuck with the worst traffic and the worst public transportation system a 50 cent raise can’t buy. I hope you’re stocked up on patience and prozac because winter is coming and it’s only going to get worse.