On Sunday morning, about 11AM. I walked to the redline platform at Lawrence Ave, where I live, in Uptown. It smelled like “away” in the neighborhood, smelled like travel. It smelled like India and Morocco and everywhere. I know what it is that smell, it’s the chicken stock from Demera Ethiopian Restaurant, but it makes the whole neighborhood smell like somewhere else.
The train pulled up and the black conductor leaned out the window to check that we’re all getting on ok. He sees me (I like to get in at the front of the train) and he smiles at me so big I can’t help smiling back. “A little better this week right?” And I recognized him from being the conductor last week during the Women’s march. We were laughing last week, I couldn’t fit on the train and we were bantering back and forth, he was apologizing and I was laughing – it was so great I couldn’t fit on the train last week and so great he remembered me this week. We laughed and as I waited for the doors to open, I notice a black girl, maybe about 8, looking straight at me through the window.
I smile at her big, she smiles back at me, big.
When I get on the train I sit right across from her, she looks at me shyly and I smile again at her, big. She smiles back, big.
Next to her is her father, tall and lean and stretched out in the seat, and next to him are 3 white teenage boys so clearly from the North Shore and the only way I know that is because that’s where I’m from and I can spot them a mile away. So obviously suburban kids coming into the city for the day.
I put on my headphones. The girl catches my eye and looks down at her sparkly shoes and shows them to me, I smile at her again.
Next to me on one side is a white Hasidic woman and her 4-year-old boy. He’s leaning so far over the seat he’s actually almost sitting on my lap. I laugh and smile at him and then smile at my girl across the way so she can smile at the boy with me too. She’s looking and she smiles at the both of us.
On my other side is a older white Polish woman, she’s reading her news in Polish.
I take off my headphones because the teens are talking about the Trump travel ban. They’re arguing with their parents talking points I’m sure, but they’re good points and they’re having a full-on discussion and they are damn passionate about it.
I close my eyes, open them, a few stops go by and a Latino guy gets on, a white middle-aged lady sits down next to me and a young Asian lady sits next to her on the other side.
The Hasidic boy is giggling about the ride and his mom and I catch eyes and smile at each other and at him and his joy. The teens are arguing and my girl across the way has retreated into her hood and is resting on her dads arm.
I rest my head back and rest too, listening to the teens and the roll of the train. I perk up because my stop is coming up, I’m getting ready to get off and I can’t get my girl’s attention. I wonder if I should tap her on the arm, I know she wants to say goodbye because I do too, but I certainly don’t want to freak out her dad. I get up and go to the door. My stop is right there. I give her one last look just in case.
And she’s looking right at me. She looks me straight in the eye and gives me a wave and a smile, I give her a wave and a smile and walk off.
The conductor is smiling at me, leaning outside his conductor window. He’s saying something to me and I have no idea what it is, it’s too loud, but he’s smiling the biggest smile I have ever seen and he’s saying something that I know is supposed to make me smile too. I wave and laugh and walk up the stairs to the city. I give some tours, educate some people, tour is sold out even though it’s cold – everyone is in the mood to learn something about their beloved city.
Don’t believe it. Don’t believe that Chicago is a war zone. It isn’t. There are a few parts that are rough, parts that are unimaginable. We know this.
But Chicago is the same beautiful, diverse and loving city it has always been.
Don’t believe everything you hear.