Zachary Loeber

I eat complexity and am never without a meal.

Chicago Commuting Dictionary: New Definitions

2011-11-19 6 min read Chicago Commuting Zachary Loeber

I found myself subjected to the commuting lifestyle again for a recent Lync 2010 deployment I’ve been working on. I realized that after several months without commuting that I had forgotten just how funny it is to experience the commuter’s lifestyle. So I’m continuing my Chicago Commuting Dictionary so that others may be able to understand this weird weird world should they find themselves within it…

Gravy Train – There is a train which does not run during the normal commuting hours. This train usually boards somewhere between 10am and 1pm and goes the entire length of the rail to the very last stop. Unfortunately it also meticulously stops at each train stop along the way. Those things that look like abandoned benches while you are zipping by to and from work are actually train stops in very crappy areas of town. You too would know this if you are unlucky enough to have to take a gravy train as it will stop at each and every one of these dinky little stations. When you are on this train it feels as if time is going backwards because of how long it takes to get anywhere at all. The Gravy Train I’d have to ride to get home takes about 2 hours to get to the end of the line. I checked google maps and it would take me 8 hours to walk to my stop (which is very near the end of the line). So I figure if I had a skateboard I might be able to make it to my destination just as quick as the gravy train takes to get me there.

Jail Breaker – When you get off of a train or a bus sometimes you have places to be, at least that is the theory otherwise why would you subject yourself to public transportation to begin with? The Jail Breaker has somewhere to be which is of far more importance and urgency than anyone else. You know a Jail Breaker because, after they stand at the exit door of the train for the entirety of their 45 minute commute they burst out of the train door the moment it opens. It is not uncommon to witness a Jail Breaker leaping down four stairs of the train exit only to land on one foot and then take off at a full sprint as if they were running a marathon against a Kenyan. The Jail Breaker will push, leap, shimmy, and pole-vault their way through the crowd to get ahead of the pack as if he or she just escaped from a jail and never ever want to go back. I swear I once saw a young Jail Breaker body check an old woman in front of a moving car without even looking twice. A Jail Breaker is only different from a Home Runner in the direction that they are going.

Perm-a-bum – If you regularly walk to and from the train station to an employer’s office you quickly get to recognize local landmarks. There are majestic statues, architectural wonders, historical landmarks, and perm-a-bums. A perm-a-bum is a unique life-form which is indigenous of urban landscapes (but may be found in some select suburban areas as well). The perm-a-bum is a more evolved version of an ordinary bum insomuch that it has demonstrated a unique ability to forever be a bum in the same location (or vicinity) in a city landscape. One can go years without commuting to the city, start commuting again, and see the same perm-a-bum in the same location which they have always resided. It is theorized that the perm-a-bum is the most vicious bum of the bum family as they terrorize and scare off any other bums from their squatting area. Woe be the truly needy beggar who attempt to beg for change in the perm-a-bum’s territory. It has been witnessed where another bum encroached a perm-a-bum’s territory once and was never seen again. The perm-a-bum has a symbiotic relationship with the Guilty Soul.

Home Runner – When you finally have dealt with work and the rest of humanity with all of their smells, looks, and general peopleness on the train, the last thing you want to deal with is another battle. Too bad, as you are not the only person who wants to get the out of that insane speeding metal tube-o-people on rails and get the hell home. It is amazing what the end of a day will do to the most demure of people. The kindest old lady commuter you have ever met becomes an entirely different being at the end of the day when she has to get out of her parking spot amongst 500 other people trying to do the exact same thing. She becomes a Home Runner. Where once was a person of rational thought becomes a person of crazed lunacy with a singular thought, “Get Home”. The hardcore Home Runner actually gets out of their seat in the train 10 minute early and stands at the door to exit the train. They then run like their ass is on fire to get to their car so they can end their day of misery. I once saw a Home Runner old lady body check a whole family of starving immigrants in front of a moving bus without even looking twice. A Home Runner is only different from a Jail Breaker in the direction that they are going.

Wicked Witch – An unfortunate side tribulation of being a commuter is having to deal with the elements. Sleet, snow, high-winds are regular things to tolerate to most commuters. And they certainly mean nothing to the Wicked Witch as rain is this commuter’s mortal enemy. You know the Wicked Witch as they often are smaller individuals who wield umbrellas which are twice their height in diameter. Their umbrella is so large that one might deem it more of a tent of personal protection. With a swift enough wind this person actually can catch air like Mary Poppins, an evil Wicked Witch Mary Poppins. If you get too close to this commuter (as you surely will because their umbrella is the width of most sidewalks) you risk losing an eye from the umbrella prongs so be careful.

Guilty Soul – Many people make their living from work born of a city landscape; Old, young, thin, fat, bald, afro-headed, tall, and small. Hidden among them is a spattering of Guilty Souls. It is often hard to tell which commuter is a Guilty Soul. Sometimes it is just a glint in their eye as you walk past that immediately tells you that he or she has obviously murdered someone or done something very wrong. But one sure way of picking out some of the more benign Guilty Souls is witnessing them giving money to bums. There are some Guilty Souls that have given money to the same perm-a-bum for years. To the Guilty Soul, each time they throw a  half skim mini-grande double-shot, one-shot decaf, latte’s worth of change into a dented can of a beggar, it is like serving a penance for their being awful people. Each coin they give to the perm-a-bum is a little bit of salvation from their own obvious awfulness. It is a convenient self-absolving gesture that makes them better people each time because there is no way in hell they are going to go help the needy on the weekend or do any charity work. The Guilty Soul is too busy commuting and working every day after all.