Wednesday, April 16, 2008
A 3.5 hour tour
I said a couple of years ago, after an emergency evacuation of the Blue Line, that I thought it would be interesting to be evacuated from the tunnel sometime.
I was mistaken. It's actually somewhere between tedious and infuriating. Also filthy.
A train ahead of us broke down yesterday morning at 8:10, stopping every train behind it. We were in the tunnel halfway between Grand and Lake. No big deal, the trains stop all the time. But then the operator told us that there's a disabled train, we apologize for the inconvenience, we'll be moving shortly. He apologized every five minutes or so. Time passed. We opened the end doors for some air. Some morons smoked between the cars and pissed everyone off. People started making jokes about just leaving, but nobody really meant it. Discussion of how one actually gets out of the tunnel - are the emergency exits locked? We started seeing people walk by, "self-evacuating," which could have triggered a disorderly mob of evacuators but fortunately did not. The operator came back on and yelled at us to close the doors and get off the catwalk, calling the self-evacuators stupid. Much amusement on our car. And then the power went out. Word later was that the power was cut BECAUSE of those self-evacuators. Thanks a lot, buttheads.
More time passed. More garbled apologies. Not a single CTA employee, police, or fire person in sight. Nobody sharing info or keeping folks off the catwalks. Restless commuters, frightened children (including the 3-year-old girl who was sure she'd never see her mommy again), seniors, claustrophobes, and pregnant women. We were left to languish underground, in the semi-dark, no A/C, for NINETY minutes. Most cell phones don't work in the tunnel so we had no way to call offices etc. Then they announced the evacuation was beginning, but of course four trains worth of people don't move single file very fast. We sat a while longer. Finally we moved out. With one exception (loudmouth woman trying to pick a fight), everything seemed orderly. People were cooperative and resigned. Years of experience have taught us: When the CTA has you in its grip, all you can do is shuffle along like sheep and wait for it to be over.
During the evacuation, CTA personnel were everywhere, guiding us around tight spots and directing traffic. Never saw a single police or fire person, just one paramedic and an army guy (??). Our car was at the split between evacuees going north and going south, so we went south. Very good decision, as the most awful sea of humanity was accumulating at Grand and Milwaukee waiting for the CTA to arrange shuttles. (Advice for Chicagoans: if the CTA is offering shuttles, FIND ANOTHER WAY.) After walking carefully on a concrete walkway for a very long time, we snaked through a dead-end tunnel stub, into a hallway, and up maybe 6 flights of spiral staircase. We emerged somewhere on Lower Wacker, completely disoriented, and were led into a mystery door and up into an office building on Wacker. The building folks let us use their bathroom to wash that nasty horrible brown dirt off ourselves, and finally we emerged triumphantly, blinking in the sunlight somewhere west of Clark and Lake. I got my bearings and walked to Halsted, hopped on a bus, and arrived on campus 3.5 hours after leaving home. If I'd ended up on Milwaukee with the rest of the mob, I would have just gone back home in aggravation.