The Paper Machete is a great live magazine happening every Saturday at the Green Mill in Chicago (with a great podcast as well). Every month the host, Christopher Piatt, hosts an open mic incubator series called The MASH, which I attended again this evening. Below is the piece I wrote for this iteration. For those of you outside of Chicago or didn’t catch it on the national news, the context for this piece is at the bottom.
It was performed in character, so imagine a voice a little bit like Yogi the Bear but more depressed. Enjoy!
Hey guys—my name’s Larry—some people call me L Train—it’s my nickname—but you can call me Larry.
I’m a ghost.
First off, I just want to say, I’m sorry. You probably all heard about that CTA crash Monday morning in Oak Park on the Blue Line, where a train seemingly driven by no one ran into another train sitting in the station: well, that my bad.
I wanted to come out tonight and publicly take full responsibility for my actions. I had no intention of hurting anyone, sure as hell not injuring more than 30 people just hanging out in one of those fresh, almost potpourri smelling CTA cars.
See, here’s what happened: I’d been visiting CTA stations off and on this summer and kept seeing these signs for Ventra, you know? And it was really piquing my interest and everything because I didn’t know if maybe it was some kind of new Starbucks coffee size or some player for the White Sox or new female orgasm tool or whatever, you never know what they’re advertising in there.
But then one night not too long ago I snuck into this woman Sharon’s place. It’s kind of nice over there: she lives in this first floor walk-up and leaves the window open; the fact that she walks around naked really has nothing to do with it. Anyway, she had on that WGN TV station and I heard ‘em say “Ventra”, so my ears perked up, you know, as much as ghost ears can—with about the same ineptitude as my you know what can’t perk up any more either, but that’s another story—but anyway, I heard ’em saying Ventra’s this new way to pay for bus and train trips, and it all starts to come together, you know, just like the end of that movie the Sixth Sense, which I can’t mention here without also making sure you’re aware just how much every ghost hates that movie, because every ghost KNOWS they’re a ghost, from the get go, there’s none of this thinking you’re a person shit that Shamalamadingdong guy pulled on all you gullibles out there. But I digress.
But this Ventra shit sounds kind of crazy, am I right? Do you know all about this? I mean, first it’s run by a private company, which isn’t so surprising here in Chicago where you don’t even own your parking meters, but still, strike one if I do say so myself. And I do say so myself. Then you have the fact that you’re basically signing up for a credit/debit card with this thing, and then you get all the fees for all the bells and whistles the company is planning to charge. And then, if you just want to buy a one ride ticket, it costs $3 instead of $2.25. And there’s not even an option to pay with cash, even on the bus. To all that I give a big BOOOO, if you don’t mind the expression…
Anyway, I got to the CTA station Monday morning, still kind of pissed about all this Ventra stuff—and a bit of an aside, I suppose, pissed is apparently how lots of people riding CTA elevators feel, if you catch my drift—but I decided, what the hell, I’ll jump the turnstile today, who’s going to see me? Ghost joke! Am I right? Am I right?
So I head up to the station and there’s no train around so I just kind of mosey over to the rail yard where they keep all the extra cars and I find one I like and head inside. And I realize I have never been in a train car by myself before, and it’s pretty cool in there. I mean, there’s no one’s ass for me to grab and pretend it’s “because it was bumpy” or whatever, but there’s also no one trying to sell me any candy for their youth sports leagues so it all kind of balances itself out.
And then I’m like “Larry, you should go into the cockpit or whatever that place in front is called where they drive the fuckin’ train.” That is literally the sentence that ran through my head. I’m sorry I’m kind of slow sometimes, but I haven’t slept since 1953 when they demolished my house with me still inside to make room for the Eisenhower Expressway. You all seem like smart people, you all don’t need that history lesson, right? Maybe another time.
Anyway, I head inside the cockpit or whatever and then I got to thinking… “Hmm, what if I, you know, drive this thing?” So I hit a few buttons and before I knew what was going on the train was moving. I mean, I was surprised I could even go anywhere, right, since the crash, I’ve heard or all this stuff that should have stopped me: the breaks, obviously, which would have needed a key to release them, but also—and I know when I tell you this you’ll be all like “L Train, you better not be shittin’ us”, but I swear this is real—something called a “dead man control” which has to constantly be pressed or else the motor shuts off and the brakes are applied. I guess they have that in case a train operator had a heart attack, or, you know, there’s a ghost who wants to operate the train.
Maybe if they funded the CTA half a shit all those things would have actually stopped me, but the train just kept on barreling down the tracks, and I’m all on the intercom, shouting shit like “L Train in the house!” and singin’ “Peace Train, sounding louder, ride on the Peace Train” all Yusif Islam style and then WHAM! Impact. I ain’t felt that kind of crash since that wrecking ball came through my bedroom window. Anyway, I’m kind of freaked out, realizing what happened, and I just get the hell out of there.
I felt kind of bad, but it’s kind of cool, too; I mean, the Trib even called it a “ghost train”, which is kind of validating for me and Tim and Sparky and all us other ghosts who never get any respect. It took me a couple days before I felt comfortable getting on the train again, but today I decided I’d give it another try. So I was on the Green Line this morning, sitting on some lady’s lap and reading the Red Eye, and I couldn’t help but start laughing to read that the National Traffic Safety Board, who was investigating the crash, had to stop working Monday night because of the government shutdown. To that I say, “Thank you Mr. Boehner!”
So once again, I just wanna say I’m sorry for injuring those people and delaying the blue line for the west side and northwest side hipster riders. It’s hard out here for a ghost. Thank you.