SUBWAY TRILOGY PART III: The Most Strange and Bizarre Occurrences by Russ Forster

One thing I love about the subways (really all forms of public transportation in most major cities) is how it acts as a great equalizer, putting classes and races and temperaments of all kinds into crowded little cars. It's not surprising to me that tempers flare and fears get flamed and the melting pot nature of this country gets tested pretty hard sometimes in the dark tunnels underneath the city. I certainly spent enough time on the trains to have some weird and mildly scary stories of my own.

My favorite subway experience along these lines wasn't actually scary for me, but it was startling for someone else. Back in the days when I was sporting below-shoulder length dirty blonde hair with plenty of split ends and impromptu curls, I was riding the O'Hare line back from a trip to somewhere or other to my bohemian cave in cozy Wicker Park. I was sitting behind a large black woman minding my own business, probably lost in thought about some band thing or another, when she turned around, looked at me, and let out a shriek. I was clueless as to what had spooked her, figuring that long hair on men had become so trite since the '60s that it was almost a cliché in the mid-'80s. I was dumbfounded for a few seconds, and then she finally composed herself and offered me an explanation. It seems that she had Jesus on her mind as she turned and saw me, and somehow in that vulnerable instant she thought I was the spitting image of her savior. 'You looked just like Jesus,' she explained. I didn't go into how I could hardly have looked like Jesus at all, since he was most likely olive-complected and lacking in caucasian European features of any kind. I knew she was referring to fallacious paintings depicting Jesus as some kind of Euro-trashy long-haired hippy freak, and I had to admit that I fit that bill pretty well. I guess I should have taken it as a compliment, or figured out how to make some quick cash off my 'uncanny resemblance' to such a famous celebrity, but instead I went back to thinking about becoming a rock and roll star, and maybe getting a haircut soon.

Then there was the time local Chicago legend Lee Groban followed me off of the Howard line in Rogers Park, giving me the creeps even though he didn't say a word to me. Anyone familiar with Mr. Groban, who has been a fixture of underground poetry events, film events, art events, and music events for years will know that while he cuts a striking figure at well over six feet tall, but he's completely harmless and friendly, despite his odd obsessions and general disconnectedness. But I wasn't aware of his reputation yet as I watched him stare at me on the train and then get off at the same stop as me and follow me down the street outside the station. He probably wanted to talk with me about some Medieval Russian text he just read or something along those lines, but I wasn't ready to stick around and find out. It's the only time I've ever been pursued after getting off a train by anyone, and it didn't last long after I sped up and ditched him by ducking into a 7-11. Actually, he might have just been going home. I never asked him.

Have I ever gotten sick on a train? You betcha. After a hard night of college drinking followed by an ill-advised morning of scrambled eggs and hash browns, my trip to my suburban home was interrupted by an urge I couldn't resist long enough for the doors of the Lake-Dan Ryan train to open and let me spew on the platform for the Adams stop. So I spewed right on the floor by the doors that thwarted my desire to lose my breakfast more discreetly. Everyone near the offending pile (which, by the way, looked about the same coming out as it did going in) dutifully stepped away without uttering a word or even making a sour expression. The most eerie thing about the whole experience was how everyone was so determined to act as if it had never happened. Then the doors opened, and I exploded out onto the platform, ran down the stairs and out of the station, and stormed into a local restaurant muttering something about the men's room. My distress was written all over my shirt and pants, so it's not surprising that I was spirited toward the nearest sink which served me quite well indeed. How long my gift to all those morning commuters to Oak Park stuck around being ignored I can only guess. My guess is probably well into the afternoon.

- Russ Forster