10,000 Maniacs

May 2019 View more

By Greg Olsen

This year marks my 21st of riding the BNSF line from Naperville to Chicago, five days a week, which means that I’ve endured about 10,000 trips between Fifth Avenue and Union Station. Ten thousand. The BNSF has the largest number of daily commuters year after year—no other line comes close. I’ve seen or heard just about everything—good or bad—that could possibly happen to a fellow human in a closed environment.


Despite my filtering efforts, there have been quite a few times I couldn’t stand the words coming out of some loudmouth, or the smell of someone’s fast food, which motivated me to rise up from my seat and move to the next car. Moving doesn’t always work, however—the next car might not have any open spots. I solved the odor problem, but now I have to stand.


I feel for those who drive into Chicago every day. When they do occasionally ride the train, what I hear is that they feel like a piece of meat—cattle, if you will—when getting off at Union Station. It’s terrible! How do I put up with all these people? I always respond with a nod and comment that sitting in the first car will eliminate that problem. If you’re sitting in the first row of the classroom, you don’t know how many kids are behind you.


Decades ago, when I got my first monthly train pass, I also paid a $25 deposit to be put on the waitlist for parking, which can take up to 20 years. Passes are so valuable they are literally willed
to offspring.
After 18 long years—of arriving before 7 a.m. to grab a limited daily spot, or taking the Pace bus, or riding my bike—I have been granted an official spot. The day my plastic windshield pass came in the mail, I leaped for joy.


Ever heard of the quiet car? Us Regulars know it’s the second car from both the front and back of the train—important to know and easy to figure out, as there are signs posted. But it’s supposed to be a “quiet” car, not a “silent” car—another important point. I had a conductor pass me his business card once, who told me the Rules I needed to know to be an effective leader in the education of Rookie Riders, or Innocents.

You see all types in the quiet car—the makings of a nice beef stew is right there, every day, when you’re dealing with the public. It’s heavy on the beef—as in complaining about the noise made by some unknowing Innocent. Sometimes the Unhappys (the know-it-all daily riders), really go off breaking the quiet rules they hold near and dear, as they scream at an Innocent. Metra would make a killing by fining the whining that goes on.


So what time is rush hour? I don’t know exactly when it starts in the morning, but a few weeks ago I happened to be in the quiet car (see left) heading out of Chicago on the 6:20 p.m. I couldn’t help but overhear two gentlemen arguing—in the quiet car, no less—about the question of when rush hour ended, exactly. It wasn’t pretty. It was typical, however.

Each of the men was right, and they both stood their ground, explaining to those of us (sitting quietly by) why his position was correct. Then they got louder—way over the top and well beyond the quiet car Rules of Engagement. One of them might have been a Rookie Rider. I think both were having a bad day, and I think the tall dude needed to go to the bathroom, the way he kept fidgeting.


Now, have you ever heard of the liquor car? Yeah, they used to sell booze on the train. Anything you wanted—as long as it was a hard drink to get drunk fast before you made your stop on the way home. I heard tell of a line that still operates this type of car—north line, of course. You know, where all the big shots live. Those Glenview types. Now that’s the car you want to be in.

Illustration by Hawk Krall