So yesterday I went back to school-my first class in fourteen years. From now through December I have class on Monday and Wednesday evening, plus Tuesday afternoon.
I originally planned on taking the regional Metra train downtown to campus, but the powers that be who run the university of my choosing have aligned themselves with the Chicago Transit Authority, which means that every semester I get charged $85 for an unlimited use transit card, like it or not. I'm not complaining; within eight weeks or so I will have taken $85 dollars worth of rides with four weeks of the semester left.
It does change my plan, though. I was going to walk the mile or so to the train station in my hometown, and then the mile or so from the station in the city to campus. To catch the CTA train that bisects the Kennedy Expressway, I have to drive four miles and park. I can still chose to have a lengthy hike once downtown if I want, but I have to admit that in the dead of winter I will be thankful for the stop three blocks from campus.
But I was looking forward to the exercise.
Yesterday I left several hours before class, so that I would have time to get my bearings and take care of a few administrative issues. As soon as I got on the train, I experienced a trinity of events that led me to believe that perhaps I was not going to have a good day:
1. I could only get a seat facing backwards. This is a hit-or-miss thin for me. Sometimes I can stomach it, sometimes I cannot. I definitely cannot read while facing backwards, and it is a forty-five minute trip.
2. As soon as I sat, I felt my feet stick to the floor. Someone had spilled a drink (or something) and I had not noticed. The floor was very sticky. So much so that it took some effort for me to move my feet.
3. At the first stop after I got on, a man sat down next to me. He was, shall we say, ripe. There's no smell quite like this one; not plain body odor, but a smell that comes from wearing clothing while sweating profusely, hanging it up and letting them dry, and then wearing the same clothes again the next day.
Fortunately, he was only on the train for ten minutes or so. The rest of the ride was uneventful, except when I noticed the advertising banner running along the side of the top of the train. It was 50 Cent pimping for some brand of vitamin water. One of the panels said "No groupies. No love. Just 50" and showed him sitting at a table with a bottle of this water, reading the Wall Street Journal, while three scantily clad women stood off in the distance, wondering just what the hell was wrong with him.
I wonder who thought that advertising campaign up.
One thing I love about my decision to get back into the classroom is the fact that it forces me down to the city several times a week. I used to work downtown and got very familiar with its intricacies, so much so that I used to think of myself as somewhat of an urban expert. And I realized yesterday that I have allowed that part of me to erode in three years since I left the city.
My class started at six. I was early. I went up to the fifth floor, found my room, and sat in a chair next to the window that faced east. From my vantage point I had a clear view of Lake Michigan, Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain. I sat in silence for about ten minutes, drinking in this view, until other students started to arrive. I forgot how calming the views of this city can be sometimes.
At the halfway point of our class, we moved to the other side of the building, to a room where we will be doing half of our work. This room faces west, and has no air conditioning. It was hot yesterday, so the windows were open. The tracks of the L run adjacent to the building, so every five minutes or so, we were interrupted by the metal works of a passing train.
You might think that annoying. I would respectfully say that you are incorrect.
I do love this city.