Pigeon on the El

Sunday 16 August 2009

In lieu of any new writings (there is one, but I’m trying to get in into a newspaper first, so you’ll have to wait a little longer for that one), I went back to the archives for a short little piece I wrote about 3 and a half years ago.  It’s not as powerful as it could be, but I’m not in the revising/editing mood today (and it’s a Sunday, so I’m not going to do more than I feel like).  Enjoy!

I rode with a pigeon on the El today.  I don’t mean “pigeon” as some slang that may be out there – I mean the kind of pigeon my mom finds so cute.  The kind of pigeon you find in big cities, strutting around, eating food scraps, and disregarding all the “NO LOITERING” signs.  ((But let me start again.))

Now, because I live in Evanston, a little bit north of the Chicago city limits, I have to catch a train, the Purple Line, so I can go about 8 blocks to catch another train, the Red Line, that will take me the remainder of my journey.  On this particular Sunday, I was about 8 seconds from making the train I need to get to assure myself that I’ll arrive at church on time.  But as it was, I saw the train pulling away as I ran up the stairs.  I had to wait, reading some Anne Lamott for the 10 minutes until the next train came.  Usually this meant I would get to my final El destination at 10:00, just the time church was starting, but as it worked out, I arrived to the front of the door of the church about 8 seconds before the service began.  So in the end, it all worked out.

But let’s not forget about the pigeon.  I missed my normal train, so thus I had to take the second, arriving at the Howard El platform and changing to the Red Line, looking at my clock and hoping I would be able to make it on time.

Now, you might find it weird when I say this, but it happens to be an integral part of what occurred this Sunday morning: Whenever I ride the El and will be stopping at a familiar location, I try to position myself on the train so that I might be as close to the stairs or escalators as possible as to limit my time of walking up and down the platform after arriving at my location.  In this case, it meant walking a little bit back before boarding an empty car on the Red Line train.  I decided to sit facing backward in the middle of the train, but I soon moved a few seats away so that I could have some more legroom.  And as I sat there, doors of the train still wide open, waiting for departure, the pigeon walked in.

Now, I have heard of a few instances where a bird had somehow flown into the open window of a train or bus and then struggled to get out, but this was nothing like that.  The pigeon simply walked onto the train and looked around, as if making sure this was the right train to get it where it needed to go.  And when the train’s voice bellowed, “Doors closing,” the pigeon didn’t even take notice, instead strolling over to investigate some interesting bits of nothing on the floor across the way.

All I could do was sit and smile, not able to decide what I wanted to do more: laugh or cry.  This was one of those moments where you realize, as it is happening, that you’re experiencing something that will probably never happen again.  The pigeon was so nonchalant about it all, too.  It had pretty much taken over the back half of the train car, the portion I was facing, pecking away at whatever caught its attention.  I glanced behind me to see if anyone else was enjoying this once in a lifetime event, but the only passengers behind me, two men, were busy reading, something I couldn’t yet bring myself to do with the excitement of the pigeon.

Both then, in the moment, and now looking back, I have to liken my experience to the scene in the movie American Beauty where we get to see a video of an ordinary plastic bag doing its little dance.  Ricky, the character who recorded the incident, proclaims, “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.”  Ricky is actually showing another character this video because it is so special to him and he wants to share that with this other character.  And as the bird pranced around, taking ownership of the train as if it were its new home, I wished I had brought my video camera with me that morning.  But as I think about it now, I’m actually glad I didn’t.

One of the things that made that experience so special was knowing that, no matter what, it was a finite experience that would not last forever.  Even if the pigeon held its ground and refused to leave as more and more people entered the train, eventually I would arrive at my destination and leave the pigeon behind.  Or if I decided I would continue to ride with my new friend, the train would sometime reach the end of the line and I’d have to get off then.  There was no way to make this experience last forever, though I was enjoying it so much, I probably wouldn’t have minded if it did.

And if you think about it, isn’t life full of those types of moments?  While not every moment may be exciting and delightful, many are.  But we usually don’t care to realize just how amazing our experiences are, not when we’re in the moment and not even when the moment has passed.  We’re so concerned about what’s coming next, we choose not to live in those moments of joy and bliss.  But that doesn’t stop us from living in those moments of sorrow and agony.

My pigeon experience didn’t last forever.  In fact, it couldn’t have lasted more than about three minutes.  As we approached the next stop, the pigeon started to mosey over to the doors of the train.  The doors opened, and the pigeon slowly crept toward the cold air that was rushing into our car, into an area of the train where my view was obstructed.  I didn’t think the pigeon was walking fast enough to get out in time, but as the doors closed, I looked out my window just in time to see this bird dart from the train and fly away in the direction from which we had just come.  The pigeon had had its fun, and it didn’t even have to wait until the next train to get back to the Howard stop.  For all I know, that pigeon does this kind of thing a few times a day, taking a little joy ride to keep life interesting.

I stared in awe at the floor where the pigeon had been wandering, enjoying my thoughts as I pondered why that crazy bird had wandered onto the train with me.  Once again, I almost wanted to cry.

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the purple (ticket) line

Thursday 22 January 2009

If you didn’t know already, I was one of the multiple millions who was in DC for Barack Obama’s inauguration on 20 January 2009.  I hope to share a few stories but lets get started here.  It almost seems a bit redundant after reading and hearing many similar stories already (see links below), but I feel a bit of need to share my experience, too.

I was initially uncommitted to venturing to DC for the festivities, but I had put in a request with my congressman Bob Latta (OH-5), the morning following the election, and when it was confirmed that I would be receiving two “tickets” to the inauguration ceremonies, I committed to go, bringing with me my brother Adam to use the other ticket.  We didn’t know exactly where the tickets would get us until picking them up Monday morning at Latta’s (after a half hour wait outside a congressional office building).  Then we got our programs (great memento, notwithstanding) and learned we’d be in the purple section.  (See this map for ticket holder sections.)

Adam and I debated arrival times based on where in the section we wanted to stand (about 1/2 of it seemed to be obstructed by trees) and gueses on ambitiousness of others with tickets, and we arrived near the purple ticket gate around 7AM, with security scheduled to begin at 8AM and actual section opening at 9AM.  When we took a look at the entrance and found the apparent “line” we were to get into, which extended down the block, turned, and then turned again to enter the tunnel which goes under the mall area between 2nd and 3rd streets.  A police officer asked to see our tickets to get into the tunnel.  (See here an interesting map of the situation.)  After walking for about 15 mintues (to put is now at 7:15), we reached what was then the end of a line (I don’t want to say “the line” because I’m guessing there were more, based on future occurrences), about 80% or 90% of the way down through the tunnel.

And we waited.  Sitting there for an hour without moving was expected, and we slowing moved up in small surges, trying to estimate if we actually were moving fast enough to make the assumed 11:30 cutoff we anticipated for entrance.  We chatted with people around us to pass the time, Adam and I read a bit as well, and we moved ahead.  About 10:30, getting close to the exit of the tunnel but losing hope, the mother of a girl standing near us returned after doing some investigating, with the girl leaving and us learning of the apparent shutting of the gates and no one getting in at this point.  Adam and I decided to stay in line, actually able to move out of the tunnel a bit before 11 as the people were really surging forth to get out of the tunnel and near the entrance.

A bit after 11, Adam and I decided it was most prudent to ditch the line and seek viewing/listening elsewhere — and it seems like that was a good choice based on videos and reports of the non-successes of those who stuck around.  In a bit of luck and irony, after an epic journey walking/jogging for 30 minutes (which I may speak of later), we found what I can only assume to be a breach of security at the 3rd Street entrance to the mall (which means, yes, we did walk all the way around the capital) to allowed us entrance to the mall, with no security to clear, to view the ceremony (post-Biden swearing in) almost directly above the tunnel we had spent about 4 hours in.

In reality, the tunnel experience wasn’t that bad, but the outcome was indeed horrible.  Adam and I were extremely lucky and fortunate to end up with the view we finally held for this historical event, but thousands, likely tens of thousands, who had received tickets they believed (with no reason not to) would grant them access to history.  Instead, many were left to watch it on tape or find a TV to watch it on instead.  I intend to share my disgust with the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies at feedback@jccic.senate.gov and invite all others who had similar experiences to do the same!

Did I mention there were no police or security in the tunnel with us either?  That could have been disastrous.

Here are some of the MANY pieces I’ve found online relating to this fiasco:
An NPR story (similar to on Adam and I heard on our drive out of DC): A Frustrating Inaugural for Many
Two Washington Post articles: fiasco and subsequent apology and statement by Sen. Diane Feinstein (head of inaugural committee)
A bit from the NY Times: Guided Into Tunnel, Ticket Holders Missed Swearing-In
Politico article: Inaugural woes have members ticked
Two other bloggers: the purple tunnel of doom and Cursed Purple Tickets

YouTube has been a great place for some great video evidence (hundreds more than this if you keep looking):
My favorite: The Purple Ticket of DOOM! (An experience very similar to mine, except for the exact time stamps.)
A close second, a funny, amazing song!: Purple Tunnel of Doom — a Song
One man’s rant: Long Live the Purple Ticket Holders
Near the Purple Gate, probably close to 11:30: People With Purple Tickets Chanting and Useless PURPLE Tickets

And of course, the Facebook group for all of us who were left out in the cold (literally!): Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom