SUBWAY TRILOGY PART II: Love and Romance on the CTA

I'll admit it. I've always had a fantasy about getting hot and heavy with a free-minded woman on a subway train speeding under the Chicago River. And that was long before Tom Cruise and Rebecca DeMornay did it onscreen in RISKY BUSINESS. You can't spend time around the rocking motion and ear-splitting noise and thrilling quick electrical power losses without your mind straying to lewd and illicit places. Unfortunately, I've never gotten passed the fantasy stage as far as getting completely off on the train goes, but I have had some interesting and absurd moments with members of the opposite sex with the sound of metal on metal reverberating through the wormlike tunnels underneath the City of Broad Shoulders.

Once upon a time I was a college student, wild-eyed and bushy-tailed and naive as they come. I was studying Urban Planning at the college my mother teaches at in the suburbs (Elmhurst College), mainly because it was free and I could get credit going on trips to Germany and Russia (and Canada) talking to architects and city planning officials along the way. Somehow in the middle of this (or maybe it was at the end; my mind is fogged on the matter) an instructor of mine got me an internship gig with then Senator Paul Simon. It was quite a learning experience, but one for which I paid dearly, at least psychologically.

Not that Senator Simon was some kind of slimy politician type who I would be embarrassed to be associated with. Actually, he's one of the most true blue, straight-arrow, fine upstanding Americans I've ever met. It left a big impression on me that his aides 1) had to cut down on their swearing when the Senator was in town; and 2) had to practically drag him kicking and screaming away from the open meetings with groups of constituents that were scheduled one after the other. Mr. Simon was a rare breed of politician indeed, a normal guy with big ears and a bow tie who really loved regular people, and exuded an honest and sincere respect for everyone around him (including a low-totem-pole nothing like me). No wonder his career in Washington was short-lived.

So what, you ask, does any of this have to do with romance on the subway train? I'm getting to it - don't rush me.

Here's the connection: I took the subway every day of my internship from my tiny shared apartment near Diversey and Ashland to the 38th floor of the Kluczynski Federal Building downtown. And I met this girl who was somehow impressed that I was working my ass off for free for an absentee politician's bunch of lazy aides. Her admiration mystified me, because if she had seen the lame clerical work that was thrown my way every day her image of glamour and power would have been shattered. But she didn't see that, and I didn't describe it to her, because I knew I had a short-lived but exciting thing going with her, no matter what subterfuge was driving it. Heck, she had a boyfriend anyway, so the whole thing was a bit of a fictional soap opera drama.

And her boyfriend wasn't going to see what was going on between us as we careened through rat-infested tunnels dug beneath the Chicago River. Not that much happened, but enough to make the average person jealous, to be sure.

It all revolved around the eardrum-piercing noise that the trains would make barreling at high speeds through the sometimes twisty tunnels. Even being used to high volume noise levels from being in stupid rock bands for a few years didn't help my ears get used to the underground din of metal hitting metal. I got in the habit of covering my ears at the most cacophonous moments, almost as a knee-jerk response after awhile. I wussed out without thinking with this girl one day as she accompanied me home after 'work' at the Simon office, and she somehow found it cute and endearing. At some point, she moved my hands away from my ears and replaced them with hers, warm and inviting in a very innocent way. Innocence didn't seem to fit her somehow, so I wondered what her devious intentions were. I never figured them out.

I think I inadvertently tapped into the soft underbelly of a truly hard-hearted femme fatale. We were acting like a couple of fourth graders trying to act like they're in love even though they don't have a clue of what the attraction is all about. Maybe the nastiness lurking beneath the surface pushed us to such chaste acts of cuteness, in a yin/yang, pushme-pullyou kind of way. Funny how it is that my most 'nasty' (read: libidinous) moments have been with the nicest and kindest girls, and I never seem to get past scenes from some kind of PG-rated romantic comedy with all the notoriously loose and indifferent girls I've hung around. Self-preservation perhaps? I'm no psychoanalyst, so you figure it out. I just have this picture in my head of sitting next to a girl who had the reputation of being one of the meanest in town, both of us acting like giddy little grammar-school kids, her hands on top of my ears.

She tried to talk me into having sex with her a few times later by telling stories of past exploits in public places, but I never took the bait. I stopped hanging out with her and started hanging out with a girl who used to get phone calls from other men asking her to come over and service them as I was in the middle of servicing her. And I had to take the train to see her of course, though in that direction the el never turned into subway and I never had to put my hands over my ears.

- Russ Forster