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Let’s Take a Train Ride!

Reflecting on a train

I love a good story. How ‘bout you? Took a train ride yesterday and some great people watching, reflecting, and feeling came with the fare. Get comfy, I’ll share.

Some background first. Only 20 years ago a day like yesterday wouldn’t have happened. And even if I forced myself to give it a go, I wouldn’t be writing about how much I enjoyed it.

In those days my decisions were made by panic disorder with agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and a depressed mood. And just five years prior, I’d have thrown alcohol on the list.

If you’ve endured any of the above, you’ll know why I got such a kick out of yesterday. And for the record, that very same kick can be yours.

I had a meeting on the southeast side of Chicago. Could have driven, but decided to take the train. Funny how those impulses come out of nowhere.

I have very fond memories of so many train trips between Philadelphia and Columbia, South Carolina as a boy. And, as always, yesterday’s Metra adventure brought them to the fore.

I also reflected upon the trips my children and I took to the city when they were kids. I even texted my son, a college freshman, on the way in. And he returned a warm acknowledgment.

What amazing people watching you can do on the train, as well as the stations…

First there was the elderly man who boarded with three pieces of luggage. You could tell his life hadn’t been a cake walk. And it seemed as though he was edgy about his trip to I don’t know where. He was one of those people who talks to anyone, and he engaged a very patient young woman in conversation the whole way in.

And then there was the young woman at the Van Buren Street Station who was kind enough to share her very animated phone conversation with me. Seems the father of her child is a “loser” and there’s another man in her life now who appears to be a good guy. Even her dad approves. Oh, and she’s working hard to get her bachelor’s (for which I admire her).

About 15 minutes later I had an incredibly meaningful experience. The train passed the University of Chicago campus, which includes their world-renowned hospitals.

It was in 1989 that I reported to their Anxiety and Depression Clinic, having no clue as to what was happening to me. It was on that very campus that I had my first full psychiatric/medical evaluation. I could even see the top of the building where it took place.

The hours long experience scared the hell out of me, but two appointments later it became well worth the angst. I started on imipramine (Tofranil) – this was before the popularity of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). And my life began to radically change. I have a special place in my heart for the University of Chicago.

On the way home I had 45 minutes of wait time before boarding the train. What a pleasure it was sitting in the great hall of Chicago’s Union Station. Its grandeur is amazing. I could visualize so well the hub-bub of the 1930s and 40s, with travelers scurrying about in their suits, dresses, skirts, and hats. Very cool.

So now I’m sitting on the train and we’re about to leave. Behind me is a woman chatting away on her cell about some sort of computer security breach at work. Minutes later a woman rapidly speaking Polish into her cell phone parked it in the facing seat across from me.

Now, is it just me, or is there really something to yacking away on the phone no matter where you are; as opposed to silently taking in the sights, smells, and sounds? Hmmm.

Well, we’re three stops away from my destination – the last station on the line. On the other side of the aisle there was a young woman fast asleep.  She’d already snored through the prior three stops, and I kept wondering if any of them, or the ones to come, were hers.

So I asked the young men in the seats in front of her if they were all together. No. After relating my concern, one of them tapped her on the leg, awakening her. They explained why, and she was grateful – though she was riding ’til the end.

So we pulled into the Aurora Transportation Center, and my train fix was over. However, there was one more heavy bit of reflecting awaiting me.

I hit the restroom before grabbing a cab, and a memory hit me right between the eyes. I was working psych at the local E.R. about a year ago. I was paged to assess a young man who’d hanged himself in a stall in the very same restroom. I’ll never forget him, and how grateful he was he hadn’t succeeded. It was a life-changing experience – for both of us..

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I enjoyed being in the midst of it and sharing it with you. So much observing, reflecting, and feeling. And what makes it all the more sweet is knowing what it’s like to have no desire, or hope, for such adventures.

Perhaps like you?