Getting to my Thursday morning volunteer shift at the Chicago Cultural Center requires a morning rush-hour CTA bus ride and a mid-day ride home if I want to avoid nearly $20 in taxi fares or a $22 parking fee and horrendous traffic. If I think my arthritic knees can navigate six or seven long city blocks each way, to and from the bus route, I take what a now-deceased former colleague once called "the people's transportation," in my case, the Broadway or Clark Street bus. I've never been a regular CTA commuter, so these weekly bus rides have proved to be enlightening. Yesterday's ride home was especially so.
Chicago busses tend to be crowded and irregularly-paced (a long wait is often rewarded by the arrival of a bus too full to board and/or a parade of busses arriving in rapid succession). There's a legislative battle for additional funding, more busses, better scheduling, and greater efficiency of operation, and it seems to go on and on.
Anyway, as I've noted before, most bus riders seem to be patient, long-suffering, kind, and accommodating. While I try not to look old or helpless, my necessary struggle to pull myself up into the bus always alerts someone, and I'm offered a seat. A few young riders bury their noses in their books or newspapers and ignore the other passengers, but many fellow riders are willing to offer a seat in the front section labeled for senior citizens and the handicapped. While riding a crowded bus, with or without a seat, is no picnic, I'm always happy to thank my benefactor for his or her courtesy. Yesterday, I encountered packed busses both coming and going, and I was given a seat each time. This gave me a good feeling about the citizens of Chicago.
The additional lesson from yesterday's ride home was the realization of how important bus rides are to the seriously handicapped. The northbound bus passengers included one older man and one younger woman in wheelchairs, two or three senior citizens leaning on canes, and one double amputee whose "legs" looked like metal rods inserted into the openings of his shoes. The bus lift got the wheelchair-bound aboard, able-bodied passengers vacated the fold-back seats in the wheelchair areas, the cane users made their slow progress to willingly vacated front seats, and everyone seemed helpful. I heard no complaints about the delays and inconveniences involved.
Again I was impressed by the spirit of cooperation. I also realized how fortunate I am. My only handicaps are old age and non-functioning knees, and besides, I can afford those taxi fares or parking fees when necessary. But there on the bus, I saw seriously disabled people getting around on their own. Their only alternatives are probably isolated and reclusive lives at home.
I wish Chicago city officials and others who may consider themselves above the masses would abandon their limousines and automobiles occasionally and try the people's transportation. There are lessons to be learned there that might help solve the perennial under-funding and the other problems of the Chicago Transit Authority. Public transportation is a very important, very necessary part of city life.
Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo from Official CTA Web Site