Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Like most people…men more than women, I’d suspect…I’ve had a lifelong attraction to trains, from the time Uncle Buck first took me to the train station in Rockford, Illinois to watch the huge black-metal monsters come chuffing up to the platform wreathed in steam and thick black smoke, amid squeaks and hisses. From that moment, I was hooked.

For Christmas of 1938, my dad bought me…well, us, since he played with it more than I did…a five car Lionel electric train. It had a bullet-shaped streamliner engine, a coal car, a baggage car, a diner, and a caboose. I had it until just before my 2006 move to Chicago, when I realized that much as I loved it, it was foolish just to keep it packed away in a box, so I put it up for sale on eBay, and got $1,000 for it. I was of course happy for the money, but even happier that someone who loved trains would be enjoying it. I think Dad would excuse me.

A couple of times, after I moved from Chicago in 1966 to Los Angeles, I took a train between the two cities, splurging on a sleeper compartment with its own tiny bathroom. It was rather decadent, I thought, and a lot of fun, albeit rather expensive. I’d love to do it again, and have always wanted to take a train across Canada. Well, it’s on my wish list.

And now that I am living once again in Chicago, I look out my window and see (and sometimes too-clearly hear) silver elevated trains rumble by half a block away every several minutes. From my vantage point, looking down on them, I convince myself that I once again have my own little electric train set. (The sound, by the way, becomes so much a part of existence that I am for the most part totally unaware of it. All part of big city life.)

I’ve mentioned before that Chicago has one of the best transportation systems in the country, and having an el so close means that I am literally only steps away from any place in the city. If the el won’t get me there, the busses which pass every elevated stop will.

And even though I’ve been back in Chicago for two years now (good Lord! How can that be possible?), the el fascinates me. But what fascinates me more is how everyone in Chicago simply takes this marvel for granted. To walk up a flight of stairs and look down the track to see four-six-and-eight-car silver trains moving into and out of each station. Watching the cars slide past as the train moves up the platform, seeing the doors slide silently open, watch the people getting on and off as though it were no big thing (and in truth, I guess it isn’t, except to me and my friend Gary, who recently moved here from Texas and is still as fascinated with them as I).

Riding through the city on an el, especially as it approaches the Loop and its towers, is to me a never-ending source of awe. Hundreds of thousands of people each day board and alight from the eight separate but interlinked lines serving the city: Red, Brown, Orange, Yellow, Purple, Green, Orange, Pink. In the Loop, the major north-south Red Line, which begins and ends as an elevated line, sinks beneath the ground to become a subway, then emerges again to become an el.

I often wonder how many of those who ride it every day ever stop to think that probably most people in the country have no ready access to such a complex public transportation system, let alone the joy of real trains running back and forth right over their heads, or of how wondrous and complex a thing it is. I know I do. Simple pleasures for a simple mind.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site: 

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