On the day that I had a meeting at the University of Chicago I looked at the map and naively decided to take the green line to 63th street and Cottage Grove. As soon as sat my ass down at Randolph and Wabash I was the only blonde in the train. I didn’t care, there have been so many occasions where I was the only white in my life. Opposite of me sat an older women with a car filled with stuff that seemed like trash to me. To the left of her, a man with a long ponytail hanging on his chin, playing loud hip-hop on the speaker of his phone, and making rapper movements while singing. The speakers could clearly not handle the deep beats so it sounded like a train crashing into a truck. Some seats further a cute little family with a child who was playing with the IPhone of her daddy. He was clearly afraid that she would drop it on the floor, but every time he would take it away, the child would start creaming so for the sake of quietness he let her. Opposite of them a beautiful young man who closed himself of from public life and listened to his own music.
The train passed neighbourhoods like Bronzeville and Indiana where almost no one got on or off the train. Looking out of the train it was clear to me that I was not supposed to get off and wonder around in these streets. The vacant lots, empty buildings, and littered streets did not really invite a tourist tour, to say the least.
At 51th street an older man entered the train. One of his legs was lame so his walk was quite eluded. He wore an old jeans and a jacket that was ripped on the side. A poor man with friendly eyes that smiled at me as he passed by. Than the metro took a turn and the man swung onto the car of the old lady. I jumped up to help the man sit next to me. But the woman took his unfortunate move as an attack and instantly started shouting. She stood up in front of us and elapsed in a slang that sounded as filthy as she stank. She mowed her arms over us and hovered her huge body right in front of the skinny old guy. Her yelling was loud, louder, loudest in an English that I could barely understand.
In contradiction to what I expected, the whole train started laughing. The wannabe rapper took up his role and started beat boxing in the rhythm of her filthy words. The women picked up on the rap and continued screaming. The hysteria transformed in a surreal performance of sad hatred mixed with female resentment. But the man decided to protect himself from social ridicule and rose up from his seat, that decision, however, was social suicide. The woman was too strong, her voice to loud, and her words to filthy. His move made the oxygen leave the train and left a tense and explosive energy.
I looked at the toddler and the cute guy, whom I am sure paused his own music. I found myself right in the middle of a fight between two poor, maybe homeless, and for sure bitter people on a train through the South side of Chicago. I desperately wanted to get out. The joke was no longer a joke. If I could just stand up and sit next to that guy, I would feel a bit safer.
So I dared, I stood up looked straight into the face and the smelling breath of the old lady, and walked across the train. Behind me, the women and the man kept on shouting. The cute guy softly said, ‘What the hell are you doing here, this is no place for a white woman like yourself’. I looked at him and laughed, ‘I am on my way to the University of Chicago’. ‘Gals from the University no take this train no!’, he responded. He had to get out and I stayed in the train until the very last stop. I walked through the neighbourhood to the University. Although I could praise my curiosity and simply crossed a street, the walk confused me. Nothing happened. But why did I feel that I was not supposed to be there?
Arriving at the University only deepened my confusion. The first thing I red was a sign saying ‘the University of Chicago strongly discourages its students to take the green line’. The divide between the high rising beauty of buildings that were to replicate Oxford mark a painful distance to the social housing projects on the opposite end of the street. The window of my professor’s room faced the well-kept courtyard. Everything seemed to ensure that the social scientists of this world, ironically, should not be confronted with the real world. On the contrary, the green line showed me a Chicago where a beat boxing wannabe rapper is able to enlighten an everyday fight between two impaired elderly.