Sunday, 15 March 2015
Who was that mystery traveller on the Chicago 'L' train?
On August 25, 1989, after an evening out with friends to say farewell to a memorable summer, a young man stepped out of a car into a rainy, windy Chicago night. The streets were unusually quiet save for a dog's bark and a racing cab probably late for a fare. Walking down the stairs to the platform he looked up at the transit board to see when the next train to Evanston would arrive. Instantly, a wave of uncertainty spread from head to toe as a realization set in. Wrong train stop. Wrong station. Wrong side of town.
Racing back up to street level he frantically searched his pockets hoping to find a quarter to call a cab. Finally, in his last pocket to check he found a quarter - it was the only coin he had. There was a phone booth across the street - his only chance he thought. So, aided by the dim light from a sorry excuse for street lamp above he dialed a taxi's number. “Sorry sir”, came the dispatcher's voice from the other end. “You’ll need to give us a physical address. We can’t pick you up from a phone booth. Have a good night. Good-bye.”
No quarters. No change. No cell phone. Just a prepaid train stub. He'd been advised many times that this wasn’t the time of day to be navigating the streets alone. Boarding an unfamiliar train in the dead of night was his only way home. With a heavy reluctance he walked back to the station...down the stairs and waited.
A train’s lone headlight broke through the fog and rain. No choice but to get aboard. The doors slid open and after glancing around he saw that vacant stares were the only occupants of the late night train. Finding a seat he took stock of those around. The usual late night riders he surmised. Don’t stare. Don’t look out of place. Don’t panic.
“Division is our next stop. Division.” The conductor said. A few moments later: “Chicago is our next stop. Chicago”. Those stops sounded familiar but, there was a problem. He was on the ‘Blue’ line – and should have been on the ‘Red’.
Each time the doors opened, he jumped up to survey his surroundings since the windows were wet with condensation and the rain reflected thousands of tiny lights. Maybe he would recognize something significant. No. Just another wet platform. Just another person looking for a half smoked cigarette.
“Where’re you headed?” came a voice from a seat behind him. “I’ve noticed you getting up each time the doors open”, she said. An elderly lady riding the late night Chicago train was the last person he thought would - or even should - be commuting by herself.
“Yeah. Trying to get back north to Evanston. Got on the wrong train.” His voice quivered.
Looking at him with a strange sort of familiar tenderness, she replied, “That’s where I’m going. I just came from the airport and I’m going up to visit my daughter. You can travel with me…but could you help carry my suitcase?”
“Sure. No problem. Thank you.” Relief washed over him.
Not much was said for the duration of the ride. A transfer at Union Station was required to get on the ‘Red’ line to Howard. About thirty minutes later the voice on the speaker broke the quietness of the ride, “Dempster is the next stop. Dempster.” “That’s my stop”, she said. “Mine, too”, he replied.
The doors opened and they exited the train. Across the platform and down the stairs they went. He handed the lady her suitcase. She turned left and the man turned right. No sooner had they gone their separate ways when he turned to say ‘Thank you’ once again to the lady who accompanied him safely home.
But she was gone. Not a footstep. Not a breeze. Not a trace. Nothing.
I didn’t see her again.
Was it fate? Did mere circumstance cause our paths to meet? Or, was an angel of God riding the Chicago “L” train that late night? Whoever that person was that appeared so unexpectedly, and then disappeared so suddenly, I believe God was watching over me that night. We tend to think that God only acted and appeared to people in the Bible. But he’s as present and active now as he was then. God is here with us. He promised never to leave.
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