Saturday, October 05, 2013

A very scary moment on an el platform

I've tried to come up with someone else to blame for this one.

Some of you may think that's the lawyer in me, locked by habit and temperament into a never-ending quest for a deep pocket. I think it's the human in me: Which of us wants to accept responsibility for our own shortcomings?

OK, granted, I was at a reception Thursday night and I spent a good deal of time talking to a man just a few years older than me, a retired Marine officer, who was telling me all about the ten marathons he was running this year -- 10! -- including some abomination he'd already run called the Old Farts Marathon, held in Michigan in the woods over what amounts to an obstacle course. Climbing walls, rocks to be scaled, and somehow the course seemed to be almost entirely uphill. I don't understand the idea of running marathons. Having at least a rudimentary classical education, I keep remembering what was traditionally reported as the fate of Pheidippides, the messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens to inform the city of the glorious victory over the Persians: He supposedly wheezed out news of the victory, then dropped dead. I know that I'd be winded running from the back of the house to answer the front door if the doorbell were ringing. I know that, so I can't blame the man with whom I that pleasant conversation for what happened.

It had been a pleasant gathering. I'd had nothing stronger than water, you understand, and it was a beautiful evening, not too warm, not too cool, humid, but not oppressively so. The reception was in the West Loop and I was planning to take the el back downtown, where I could pick up the family van and get home. I was under orders to buy jelly on the way. Still, because it was so pleasant (the rain forecast for the evening had so far held off) I was toying with the notion of walking back.

Then the phone rang.

It was Long Suffering Spouse. "You said you'd be home by now." I looked at my watch -- yeah, I know, I'm supposed look only at the phone, but old habits die hard. Long Suffering Spouse had a difficult day at school and she had to go talk to her principal about the behavior of the 8th grade boys. My wife didn't get out of school until around the time I was planning to leave for the reception -- so I started a half hour late. And I was leaving only a half hour later than originally planned -- not so bad, I thought. But Long Suffering Spouse had a different opinion. "I'm on my way," I told her -- and I was. I terminated the call and put the phone back in my suit jacket pocket.

It was at that point I noticed my umbrella was missing. I'd brought an umbrella to the reception because of the weather forecast. I'd been carrying it in a side pocket. I hadn't noticed when it fell out.

Maybe it fell out when I reached into my jacket for the phone, I thought, and backtracked a block or so looking for it, without success.

Well, that took some more time, didn't it? And my wife had already chided me for being late. So I abandoned any thought of walking back and started again for the train.

Still, I can't blame my wife for what happened -- or even the umbrella. I knew better.

The el station had been recently remodeled. It had all the modern doohickeys including the little screen suspended from the ceiling that says when to expect trains. The screen refreshed as I was looking at it -- and it said the Pink Line train to the Loop was due. I'd catch that train if I ran up the stairs. Lots and lots of stairs.

But I can't blame the sign. I knew better.

And yet... and yet... there I was charging up the stairs like Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill. Without the horse, of course (a horse's ass, perhaps).

My legs became increasingly heavy and were largely useless by the time I was about a half dozen steps short of the platform. The train was in the station. I grabbed the railing and started pulling myself up.

Ding dong! came the noise from the train speakers, doors closing.

A couple of younger men passed me up as I huffed and puffed those last couple of stairs.

I let go of the railing, lurched onto the platform, and toppled over faster than a pagan idol at a missionary convention.

The thud stopped the young men who were heading into the train. One held the door while the other came back to offer assistance.

"Are you OK?" he said.

I tried to stand, but my legs would not work. "I can't stand up," I said.

He offered a hand, but I couldn't pull myself up. My legs would not work.

Doors closing, said the train speakers. The man's companion successfully blocked the doors again.

The train was only a few feet away. The doors were open right in front of me. I just couldn't get there.

My good Samaritan got down and gave me his shoulder. With his help, I got on my feet. I wasn't really walking, though. He more or less dragged me into the train. "Thank you," I managed and threw myself into a bench seat.

Two young women were sitting across from me, watching.

"I'm so embarrassed," I said.

"I didn't see anything," one said.

"Me either," said the other.

I spent the train ride silently calculating my chances of being able to stand unassisted when I got to my stop. Then I was wondering if I'd be able to walk to the parking garage. Then I wondered if I'd be able to sit in the car. I imagined myself calling from the Jewel parking lot. No, I didn't buy the jelly, I'd have to say, I can't get out of the car.

This was one of the first times I'd ridden in one of the CTA's new cars with mostly bench seats. I hate the whole idea of these cars -- but, on this one occasion I admit that the hanging commuter straps allowed me to hoist myself upright when my stop came. I must have looked like Frankenstein's Monster shuffling stiffly to the parking garage. I winced folding myself into the car. I took a deep breath and discovered I could drive, after all.

I even got the jelly.

But I had to tell my wife about what had happened. I had resolved to tell her even before I discovered that I had ripped my new pants at the knee when I crumbled onto the el platform. I knew I'd been bleeding. I didn't know about the tear.

Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter tried not to call me an idiot, though they both thought I should have known better than to try and run up the stairs like that. And I did know better. Honest.


After all that, I didn't have the heart to tell Long Suffering Spouse I'd lost an umbrella, too.


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

well rats curmy, that stinks. just stinks.

smiles, bee

Steve Skinner said...

I'll bet your pride hurt worse than the knee!