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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, March 2

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jennifer / June 11, 2004 4:36 PM

More gross than strange: A woman tending to her dude's back acne.

Andrew / June 11, 2004 4:42 PM

Not all that strange, but definitely a little off-kilter:

I watched a guy work on his bike on the Red line, taking up the entire end of the car. He was working to get the chain back on the derailleur, and it was interesting, so I was watching fairly intently. The guy happened to be black, and apparently thought my interest was some sort of racist/classist thing, because he began to confront me for watching him, accusing me of looking down on him for riding a ratty old bike. I was a bit flustered, and tried to explain that I was just watching out of interest, but he would have none of it. He gave me dirty looks as he rolled his bike off the train a few stops later.

jima / June 11, 2004 4:50 PM

Once, on a Red Line train that was going around the curve between the Clark/Division and North/Clybourn stops, the lights in the car that I was in suddenly went out. At the same time, a loud scraping sound was heard, and a shower of sparks started falling outside the window of the car on one side. It was pretty unsettling, and a lot of people left the car once we got to North/Clybourn.

Steve / June 11, 2004 4:52 PM

I've been from one end of the CTA to the other, and seen a lot of strange things....

But my fave is how uninformed/stone-cold stupid some of their employees are. In the first year of the "bring your bike on the train" program (back when it was weekends only), I had an employee at the Addison Blue Line stop tell me that he didn't have to let my bike through the turnstile area because it had METAL pedals! I practically stapled the program brochure to his forehead in an attempt to tell him that he was wrong, but stopped arguing to avoid ejection. I ended up giving him an "Oh, I'll have to replace them" lie.

Also, there's a guy I often see on the Brown Line who looks a lot like director Tim Burton, though another friend of mine refers to him as "Supergrass" because he has big, un-Burton-ish mutton chops. (But I don't think the singer from Supergrass has chops any more -- old habits die hard.)

Then there was the time a few months ago when some dude tried to pick a fight with me, but I'll save that long tale for one of them new "tales of the CTA" sites....

Steve / June 11, 2004 4:55 PM

Actually, it's all strange on the CTA.

I was also on the Brown Line train that rammed a Purple Line train between Sedgwick and Chicago on a Friday morn in August 2001. I wasn't hurt in a documented fashion (despite getting yanked off a pole and thrown on my arse, which resulted in some elbow pain that cropped up the next day), but the CTA's emergency non-responsiveness and the communications blackout we passengers were under for two hours kinda scarred me.

Eliza / June 11, 2004 5:15 PM

I saw a girl fall out of her shoes and into a seizure during morning rush hour a few weeks ago. She just took a swan dive into the ground and everyone gasped, and after three seconds people started trying to help her. It was the strangest thing.

Also, while not specifically an on-the-train story, I saw an Australian girl run down the stairs for the northbound side at the red line Chigao stop, then slip on the last three stairs and totally break her ankle.

Naz / June 11, 2004 5:34 PM

Heading south a few years ago just past Wilson towards Sheridan on the Red Line, there's this dintinct bump and then the car I'm in starts to tilt a little and the chains that are slack between the car I'm in and the one in front of us slides out of it's hoops and does that fast-dropping-anchor whoosh then snags. One doesn't. The train stops at the same time. I then notice the train in front of us is a little further than usual. The conductor eventually makes her way down through the trains and looks out from the car in front of us. We are uncoupled.

She goes back up front, but before she does, hooks the chains back up and then the cars in front of us come slowly back and this nice chunky sound of two cars becoming coupled relieved all the passengers in my car and I'm sure the ones after.

A little freaky in retrospect.

Another time involves one of my fears though I obviously haven't learnt from the experience, I still lean against the doors - the doors opening while the train was moving, albeit slowing down while approching the station but damn if the last thing you expect 20 seconds from approaching the station are the doors just flying open. This one guy almost lost balance. Yikes.

Vit / June 11, 2004 6:48 PM

Late one night about 10 years ago I was talking the Ravenswood home and the train came to a screeching halt in the middle of the tracks and the doors opened, I then heard the conductor yell 'get the f***' on the train'. To my surprise, two drunk teenage boys who were walking down the tracks, boarded the train and we continued on our way.

amyc / June 11, 2004 8:29 PM

"getting yanked off a pole and thrown on my arse, which resulted in some elbow pain"

Uh, dude, don't you know your arse from your elbow?

Once on the Red Line, a disheveled drunken guy had a sweatsock full of pennies and was swinging it slowly over his head like he was going to bust this other guy in the face with it. So the other guy says very calmly, "No, brother, don't be like that." And the penny-sock guy let his arm go slack and slumped his shoulders, and they hugged like they hadn't seen each other for years.

Carly / June 11, 2004 8:36 PM

"Jesus" carrying a cross on his back.

Onid / June 11, 2004 10:56 PM

One morning on the Brown line around the Chicago avenue stop an older gentleman stood up and started dancing in the aisle of the car. Didn't say a word...just started dancing.

Once I was coming home from school and I fell asleep on the red line. I woke up at the Howard station with someone on the PA saying "Howard, end of the line!" over and over. There was one CTA employee standing two seats behind me another standing a couple of seats in front of me and yet another standing just outside the door. Not a one of them bothered to try to wake me.

Alice / June 12, 2004 9:09 AM

Last year I was heading to school for a Saturday class, and I was at the Lake Street stop at about 7:30am waiting for the Green Line. A large African-American male was lying unconscious on the platform on the other side of the tracks.

Someone had already called an ambulance, and I watched as the ambulance pulled up, and two EMTs climbed the steps up to the eL platform carrying a stretcher that looked like a chair. They lifted the man, who showed no sign of life, and straped him into the chair. Then I watched as they carried him back down the stairs to the ambulance below.

It was so early on a Saturday morning that there were very few other people at the station other than myself so the whole thing was a bit surreal.

Matt / June 12, 2004 10:21 AM

On the Red Line, sometime around 2 in the morning, an obviously intoxicated woman started strolling down the train, singing Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World." She would alternate sides of the train, singing the next line to the next person. I believe I was "Don't know much about geography."

len / June 12, 2004 4:40 PM

I was riding the Brown line home from work during afternoon rush hour, and a fairly normal looking guy went out the end door, stood between the two cars outside, and had a cigarette. It was rather nervewracking watching him when the train went around curves.

Eliza / June 12, 2004 6:12 PM

Len -- I've seen someone do that on the Red Line, between North/Clybourn and Fullerton. It was freaky but it seemed like he was used to it. I wonder if it was the same guy?

j / June 12, 2004 6:38 PM

a woman sucking on an old sock soaked in nail polish remover-- higher than a kite and hitting on a bewildered blond all-american college boy visiting from iowa. (I didn't actually confirm that last part.)

Al / June 13, 2004 5:52 PM

there used to be this woman with an awful skin condition that would ride the red line and get off at chicago. It was stomach-turning. she just had gobs and gobs of skin just peeling off everywhere, especially her face and neck. Maybe she just needed a good loofah?

Vit / June 13, 2004 5:53 PM

Normally I would only post one story in the interest of etiquette, but just yesterday I was on the bus and the driver announced he was '10 minutes early' got off the bus, went over to the hot dog stand across the street, and bought a polish sausage and proceeded to start eating it, then got back on the bus, still eating it, and continued on his way..

Heather S. / June 13, 2004 6:03 PM

- A woman came on with no shoes or socks just poorly fitted sweat pants and a t-shirt (no bra) and she started yelling at people.
- A guy snorted cocaine right next to me. The weird thing was it was during rush hour and we were all crammed in the entryway.
- A sleeping homeless guy who had a giant tarp over himself and his belonging.
(This story is not mine but from my bf's brother)
- He was on the way to a Sox game and a guy was passed and then another guy came up, faced the guy and started masterbated. He finished and then stole the guy's wallet.

atomly / June 13, 2004 10:06 PM

Man, I have hundreds of these.

One of my favorites was the time I was riding the State Street bus south at about 1AM. A woman got on at Cermak and talked to a few guys up front (for some reason 3 out of the 5 people on the bus were men in wheelchairs, who apparently all knew each other) and then came toward the back. I made eye contact with her, which apparently sparked her interest, because she then came back and asked me where I lived. I told her 26th and State and she asked if she could stay with me. I said no and she told me, "I'll suck your dicks," (apparenlty I have two) and then sat down on my lap, lifted up her shirt (she was wearing no bra) and began playing with her nipples. I just told her, "I don't think my girlfriend would like that," and got up to get off since it was my stop.

Lisa / June 13, 2004 10:53 PM

Well... I was a fainter on the el one afternoon. It was strange to wake up and hear, "Attention passengers, we have a sick person on the train and we will be stopped here for a moment", then open my eyes and see a circle of people staring down at me. Fortunately, I passed out at my own stop, so I was able to crawl off the train and onto the platform, sending the train away. It was also strange to see all of the faces smashed up to the glass to see the sick person as the train pulled away...

One of my students came in to school the other day and told me that she saw some guy "meat packin'" on the bus. She's a LOUD girl, and apparently yelled at him so much that he left, angry that he had been interrupted!

jm / June 14, 2004 12:56 AM

Wow. I need to ride the train more often and at weirder hours obviously. The only thing I've seen is a woman hiding a Chihuahua in her purse and a drug deal going down from the platform at the Howard El to the dealer in the street below. All sign language, pretty easy to interpret.

No nudity, no sock sniffing, no propositions. I have lived a sheltered CTA life.

'That Ian' / June 14, 2004 8:18 AM

Public transportation is a large part of the reason I ride a bicycle. I really don't enjoy the ultra-smelly guy who rides the El. He is honestly one of the most repulsive smells I have ever encountered.

haydn / June 14, 2004 10:30 AM

Right around Christmas about 10 years ago, I'm riding downtown and a mother and daughter are sitting together in the facing seats near the doors. We're in the tunnel when another woman standing up (I think she had a cane), bumps into the mom and daughter and falls. The fallen woman apologizes profusely, but mom isn't having any of it and starts saying "you f***ing c***s**ker" repeatedly. Fallen woman apologizes again, points out she was the one that fell and gets the same response from mom. Finally, the fallen woman reaches into her full-length dress, produces (what appeared to be, I didn't have the best vantage point) a gun and points it at mom, saying, "I'll blow your brains out." Mom and daughter quickly exit, daughter apologizing as fast as she can to the woman. Me and a guy across from me laugh nervously, but no one else seems upset; one person even started talking to the woman and she nonchalantly said something to the effect of "she should have left me alone, I just did what I had to do."

Steve / June 14, 2004 10:46 AM

My question is, whazzup with the Red Line wandering guy? You know -- the guy who, no matter how crowded the train is, has to walk the length of the car to cross over to the next one. And often enough, he then returns to your car as he reverses his epic trek from one end of the train to the other. What's his deal?

Naz / June 14, 2004 11:16 AM

Steve - which wandering guy? There are quite a few.

This didn't happen to me, but to my friends - I just laughed at the whole image: One night, my two friend were coming back late from a bar, going up North from downtown and this girl is real nauseous. She's got her head in her lap and her boyfriend is tending to her. They're facing south while my two friends are facing north in their seats. Eventually while passing the North and Clybourn stop on the way to Fullerton, one of the bends eventually does her in and she rips a good one. The train starts to tilt upwards as it comes out from underground and the vomit starts to roll south, this one guy who's in thefacing seats by the doors is asleep and the puke rolls all over his shoe and keeps going, my two friends quickly lift their feet up to avoid contact. It then stabilizes by the doors as the train levels out. Yuck.

j3s / June 14, 2004 11:18 AM

A couple years ago Atomly and I were riding towards O'hare from the UIC/Halsted stop at rush hour. A mother and daughter that could be described ghetto (to put it nicely) were seated by the doors. Basically, the daughter was pretty sick, and every time the train would stop at a station she'd lean out the open doors and puke. When we got to the crowded downtown stops the mother stayed in her seat, not helping her daughter, but yelled at the commuters to get out of the way. Of course they didn't get out of the way, and a lot of them ended up getting puked on. I'm sorry to say it, but the whole thing was kinda funny to watch, I felt bad but couldn't help being amused; that's what happens when you ride the CTA too often.

Jake / June 14, 2004 11:49 AM

I saw a sweaty dude in a tank top and sandals clipping his toenails (red line, somewhere between Addison and Berwyn). I have issues with the sound of nail clippers, even when it's a nice looking person like my wife. But the sound combined with the site of this sweaty dude clipping his toenails was enough to send me into a bit of a panic.

Steve / June 14, 2004 11:49 AM

Naz -- 'zactly. The wandering guy is a composite figure based on the many damned souls who are doomed to pace the length of the el train day after day. What do they hope to find? And have they thought about looking for it somewhere else?

As for the vomit stories, that shit ain't funny. A few years ago I got some puke splash on my shoe, sock and leg at the Addison Brown Line as some kid ran off the train to hurl.

But many years ago, a friend who had spewed all over my living room carpet (well, my whole carpet, since I lived in a studio back then) came by a few days later with a Jewel sheet cake upon which was written "Steve -- sorry about the vomit." Now THAT was funny, even if I later puked from eating too much buttercream frosting.

j3s / June 14, 2004 12:29 PM

Jake - I can sympathize with the sound of nail clippers thing - for some reason, the sound of nail files, the act of filing nails, makes me want to run screaming from the room. I don't usually hold back on that urge, actually.

As for the vomit thing, I know I shouldn't have found it funny, but I still kinda did. Also, the puking girl would sometimes puke between stops and have to hold it in her mouth till we reached the next stop.

brian / June 14, 2004 12:29 PM

Which public transit story to share? A man peeing on the train? The guy with bugs on him? The near bus fight btwn a driver and patron? The mugging?

Two faves:

- Train driver gets out of the front, rolls around on the subway platform at Jackson a bit, and then gets back in. Everyone exits the train in stereo.

- Meeting Patty Vasquez on the train before she was too well known because we were all trying to escape Belligerent Man on the Howard stop.

AZ / June 14, 2004 12:50 PM

Two stories:

An acquaintance from Toronto told me how he came to Chicago and got sick on the train from eating a bad hot dog. After he finished being sick, he looked around at the other riders and apologized: "Sorry, I'm Canadian." People seemed to accept this.

Meanwhile, one evening at the Belmont stop, my husband and I were approached by a man who suddenly, to our dismay, he began to serenade us with "Hello" by Lionel Richie. As he burst into song, we ran the other way.

paul / June 14, 2004 1:50 PM

I've seen a lot of the above, I'm sorry to say. One thing I'm glad to have seen once was on the Skokie Swift. I was riding back down to Howard years ago with some workmates when we witnessed a man screaming at his girlfriend/wife. She was screaming back until he said something like "you have no choice but to do what I say bitch!" and he slapped her. Not a bruising slap, but bad enough to make her shut up and cower.

One of my workmates, a large man who had recently gotten out of the army, calmly walked over to the guy and slapped him once so hard that he flew onto the ground and lay there for several minutes, wimpering. There was quite a round of applause.

AL / June 14, 2004 2:17 PM

When I used to take the Red Line to work there were always guys from the Christian Assembly Ministry on the train collecting money. They usually had the same speech about having been on the streets and were now off etc. I usually tuned them out as they were all the same. One time though, this guy came in our car and started talking about having been a high school football star who's head got to big and he turned to drugs. He talked about how the Ministry helped him find himself and God and gave his life and family back. I'm not a religious person but it was pretty touching. I remember looking around when he was finished and seeing a bunch of people with tears in their eyes. How often does that happen on the train?

Steve / June 14, 2004 2:20 PM

People with tears in their eyes is a regular el-currence. Especially in the summertime, when you're in an un-air-conditioned subway car and someone opens one of the doors for ventilation and lets the tunnel stank in....

Benjy / June 14, 2004 3:22 PM

"Jesus" carrying a cross on his back.

Wonder if it was the same "Jesus" I saw last night at Blues Fest, with a 4 ft. cross held over his shoulder with one hand and a bag of cotton candy in the the other hand...

Jake / June 14, 2004 3:41 PM

Jesus loves cotton candy.

How about that crackhead-looking trumpet player who stands below the Berwyn red line stop and skronks and squeals in the most amusical weird little runs? So loud it gives you a headache. But it's fun just to watch everybody's horrified reaction to him. Because it was absolutely fucking painful. I liked to pretend he was a performance artist, or that he used to play with Sun Ra. That made me feel better when I was cleaning the blood out of my ears.

Carly / June 14, 2004 4:10 PM

Benjy- I think there are a couple of Jesus' going around. One of them has a mighty big cross though.

I've seen that trumpet guy, but not this year. Is he still around?

Michael / June 14, 2004 4:38 PM

Red line, PM rush hour... Train stops at Grand... this guy stands up to exit the train and screams "Black Power!!!" complete with the fist in the air. Waking me from my post-work nap, and alarming the shit out of everyone on the train. Then he gets in the line with the rest of the exiting herd.

Maureen / June 14, 2004 5:20 PM

Jake, I've totally seen that nailclipping guy before. It's disgusting.

Once, while waiting for the train after a long day of work, a hallucinating co-ed wanted to push me into the tracks at the Clark/Division redline stop because she was convinced I was evil. Thankfully, one of her guy friends was holding her back. And that same summer, I was sitting next to a guy wearing not a shirt but one of those flourescent work vests that CTA maitenance workers wear. He struck up a conversation with a woman whom I guessed was a prostitute. They hit it off, and the woman then sat on his lap, and they began fooling around. I promptly interrupted their love-fest and moved to another seat.

Has anyone recently seen the blind guy who panhandles on the Red Line? It's been a while.

Lisa / June 14, 2004 5:27 PM

I know I'm getting a little off topic here, but I saw Jesus in a Mexican restaurant on Belmont. (And, no, he did not appear in my tortilla.) The son of God entered the restaurant, set down his massive cross, ordered some food, went to the bathroom, took off some of his Jesus clothes, ate, went back to the bathroom, put the Jesus clothes back on, paid for his meal and then left.

Steve / June 15, 2004 9:15 AM

Lisa -- did Jesus pay with cash, or credit? And if it was cash, did he merely pull out a single nickle and then divide it into many more nickles with which to pay, like so many loaves and fishes? And was he a good tipper?

Jesus was way cool.

Jake / June 15, 2004 10:24 AM

Carly, I haven't been by the Berwyn stopped since I moved over a year ago. So I don't know if he's still around. I hope so!

Maureen, aren't you glad that only tripping hippies are able to see how evil you truly are? Jesus can see it too, but he won't push you onto the tracks. His judgment will come later. After he's finished with his tacos, perhaps.

Craig / June 15, 2004 11:03 AM

Scene: Red line, 9pm, St Patrick's Day 2004. North of Belmont. Angry-drunk-asshole walks into train cab from previous cab while train is moving. Spits on floor, yells at random people, makes his way thru train, all the while spitting and cussing. At the next stop two young men run out from a further up cab and one enters my cab, and one runs further ahead. When angry-drunk-asshole opens the door at the end of the car to pass on to the next train, the two young men converge on the two doors from opposite sides and TRAP the angry-drunk-asshole BETWEEN the two cabs! He pounds and screams at the glass, but neither yield. Youg man #1 yells-- "That's what you get for spitting on my friend, muthafukka!" He turns to the rest of the train and politely explains that the angry-drunk-asshole walked through their cab further up the train and spat on one of them. They had him trapped all the way up the red line to Berwyn, screaming for help at every stop, until they ran off in stereo.

Revenge must have been sweet.

Josh / June 15, 2004 12:38 PM

Not too many bus stories here. I have two. The first happened in 1997 on the southbound Jeffrey Express. As we went through southern Grant Park, the driver stopped the bus, got out, and went into one of the public restrooms. We sat there for about ten minutes. I made a joke about driving off myself (how hard could it be?), but mostly everyone was quiet. When he came back he got settled and off we went. I guess he really had to go -- maybe his lunch had planted a pipe bomb in his gut.

Speaking of lunch, I was once on a westbound bus (maybe the Diversey bus or the Belmont one -- I don't quite remember) and the bus driver suddenly stopped. We weren't at a bus stop so I was a little confused. Then the driver got out and went into a Burger King! After a while, he came out with a sandwich, fries, and a big Coke. He then settled back into his chair and continued along the route, eating the who way without even offering to share fries! He acted as though this was normal operating procedure. Who knows, maybe it is.

Lisa / June 15, 2004 6:02 PM


I must admit that while I was humbled by the sight of our Lord among the common people, I felt confusion and perhaps a little despair when he did not perform the miracle of the burritos and enchiladas.


Paula / June 18, 2004 4:05 PM

Sadly (or maybe not) I have none of my public transit stories, but I do have two good ones from my husband:

He once sat behind a well dressed older woman who had thinning hair teased into a helmet-y bouffant. A small sugar ant had become trapped in her hair and for about a half hour until he got off the train he watched it crawl around the labrynth of lacquered strands never touching her scalp to alert her to its presence.

Recnetly he rode the train with a man who spent a great deal of time filing and clipping some sort of callous on his knuckle. The man then took out a small bottle of wart removal medication and dabbed it on the spot he'd been filing. The odor of the medication completely filled the train and the 4 or 5 other passengers who hadn't been aware of his actions before all looked up and around to try to figure out the source of the odor. Then, as if nothing had happened, the man got off at the next stop.

Chris / July 8, 2004 9:17 PM

I was on the brown line in August 2001. The train before our train struck a purple line train. We were stuck on the L for about a couple of hours. It was a bit annoying.

Chris / July 8, 2004 9:18 PM

I was on the brown line in August 2001. The train before our train struck a purple line train. We were stuck on the L for about a couple of hours. It was a bit annoying.

stel27 / July 12, 2004 5:26 PM

After a long evening of Kurosawa and bonghits, got trapped on the northbound red-line across from an ugly bearded man in a dress dry shaving his legs with a disposable razor.

He had sunken beady eyes and was apparently riding the ass end of a bathtub speed bender, all twitchy and twittering at his fellow passengers with real menace.

I'm revolted just writing this....

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