It’s the end of St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Chicago. In another world, a much younger me might have enjoyed this weekend. The current, actual me, however, has come to view this weekend with a healthy dollop of dread. This city gets pretty stupid this weekend. It’s worse than New Year’s, and for a much lamer reason. That said, yesterday I had an experience that was so strange I feel the need to record it for posterity. Mostly I want it written down so that twenty years from now when I look back on it I can be certain it actually happened, and I did not dream the whole thing.
I was on the Brown Line of the CTA, returning home from a workshop for a show I’m currently developing for my theatre company. We pulled into the Rockwell station, just two stops from my own, and then sat there for a little while. At first I didn’t really care. I had a book (Annihiliation by Jeff Vandermeer – highly recommended) and I had my headphones on, and I didn’t mind if the ride lasted a little longer. Another minute or two went by and I heard the conductor make an announcement over the train’s PA system. Because of my headphones, I did not make the words, but a few seconds later I saw a CTA employee sprint up the platform. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. A couple of curious passengers poked their heads out the door. (We were fully into the station and the doors had been standing open.) One of them said something along the lines of, “Holy shit!” He waved at a companion to come see whatever was out on the platform. At this point it was clear that whatever was causing the delay was not your ordinary obstruction. I got up and took a look.
I was in the rearmost car. I stepped out onto the platform and looked ahead. Two cars up, top half on the platform and bottom half still inside the train, lay a body.
Now of course my first thought was, “Fucking St. Patrick’s Day.” It was two o’clock in the afternoon, for Christ’s sake. But the more I looked at this guy, the more unnerved I became. He did not move. Not even a little. From where I stood, I could see no indication that he was breathing. About seven or eight other passengers stood in a semi-circle around him, keeping a respectful distance. I saw no attempt at CPR. Even more strange, CTA employees kept moving in and out of the train, stepping over the guy. At one point one of them did bend down and check for a pulse. I could not tell from my vantage point what he found. The guy looked like he was in his twenties. He had a thin red goatee.
Now here is where the story gets strange.
I will admit, one of the many thoughts that went through my mind was, “I’m only two stops away. Should I walk?” And I looked toward the station’s exit. When I did so, I saw two-time Tony Award nominee Amy Morton walk up onto the platform, and I experienced a bout of cognitive dissonance. It was like somebody crashed a cymbal in my brain.
Was it actually two-time Tony Award nominee Amy Morton? I am 99 percent certain that it was. It’s not outside the realm of possibility. I’m pretty sure she lives in Chicago, after all. She is welcome to confirm or deny… or ignore – that is, assuming she ever actually hears this story.
Anyway. On any other day I would have introduced myself right then and there. I would have told her that seeing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Steppenwolf was a formative theatre experience for me. I would have told her how my wife kinda worships her. I might have tossed out the names of a few friends we even have in common.
These are all things that I thought about doing. But there was this body.
Amy Morton (or her doppelganger) proceeded a few steps past me on the platform before she saw what was happening. She halted in her tracks, then shifted over toward one of the covered enclosures. She peeked at the proceedings from there.
At no point was there ever any sense of urgency from anybody. This made me feel like maybe things weren’t that bad, but man. That guy didn’t move. Not even a twitch. Not even when they checked for a pulse. Nothing.
The downtown-bound train arrived on the other side of the platform, and Amy Morton (and several other people) boarded. The train departed, and in the back of my head I wondered if I’d blown some opportunity. Yeah, I know. But still.
Another couple of minutes passed and finally the paramedics arrived, looking annoyed. With no sense of urgency whatsoever they moseyed up the platform. One of the EMTs bent over the fallen man and started flicking him in the face. No, seriously. She flicked the guy in the face. Kinda hard, it looked like. A few times. Then, the man moved. He made a sad, feeble attempted to swat away whatever was flicking him in the face. He did not even wake up. He just gave a distracted wave of the hand. The EMTs had this stretcher that converted into a sort of wheelchair. They set it in this position and hauled the guy up into a seated position. No attempt was made to preserve this man’s dignity. His pants fell halfway down his thighs. Since his jacket was baggy enough to cover the important bits, they didn’t bother to pull them up. It was apparent that as far as the paramedics were concerned, this idiot had brought it on himself. And considering what weekend it was, that is almost certainly the case.
We remaining passengers boarded the train again, and a minute later we were moving. And I texted my wife to tell her about the weirdest damn thing that I’d ever seen on the CTA.