I went to school in Evanston, the town/suburb directly north of Chicago. Evanston was dry at the time, so if you wanted to drink, you had to take the ‘el to Howard Street, the border between Chicago and Evanston. (You also needed a fake ID, as the drinking age was 21 in Chicago, although it has been 18 back in my home state of Maryland.)
Howard Street was also where you changed to catch trains downtown. But during rush hours, you could get lucky and catch something called the Evanston Express, which took you all the way to the Loop without having to change trains.
Last night, I went to the station at Lake and something. The Evanston Express is now the “purple line” and is marked simply “Linden,” the very last northbound stop. My traveling companion, who had to speak at Northwestern, was a little leery of my plan, but I swore it was the best way to travel north at this time of day. After all, Northwestern — which was paying for the trip — had wanted us to stay in Evanston proper, but allowed us to pick a hotel in downtown Chicago. It seemed only fair of us to arrange our own transportation to campus.
It’s a trip I made so many times. I remembered that Harry S Truman College was at the Wilson stop, that I had gotten off at Lawrence to see the Ramones at the old Argyle Ballroom. I remembered the night that a friend and I combined Mexican food and dancing at a punk bar with interesting, um, consequences. Let’s just say she grabbed my sleeve and pulled me off at the Berwyn stop (or was it Bryn Mawr) and did a neat re-enactment of The Exorcist. We then had to wait what seemed like hours for another train.
The Evanston Express also marked my first experience with public exposure, all the way from Belmont to Howard Street, in a packed and VERY quiet car.
I also remembered how smugly stupid I had been at 21 — the places I’d gone, the risks I’d taken, without knowing for years how risky they were. “Is that a rite of passage?” I asked my companion. “Does it have to be that way?” “I hope not,” he said, concerned about his 12-year-old son.
It was dark by the time we got to Northwestern. The lake was just an abyss to the east, the building where my companion was to speak was new to me, but it was near the University Center, where I worked at the information desk, and just beyond the journalism school. “That’s where they tortured me for four years,” I said. (I loved Northwestern, but have NO affection for the Medill School of Journalism, whose main function seemed to be to take gobs of my parents’ money while making me feel like a bad smell in the room, a presumptuous would-be boil on the ass of the Fourth Estate.)
Take me on a trip — on a train, on a bus, in a car, on foot — that you’ve taken many times. What would be different? What would be the same? Were you smugly stupid at 21? (And, please, if anyone under 21 is posting here, at least get your mom’s permission.)