Street Smart Chicago

Train in Vain: The new dynamic of CTA intimacy

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Common Sense for Chicago 2010

The CTA started introducing its new breed of trains this spring, bringing jarring changes to the typical morning commute. Passengers got to experience a much shinier and cleaner, smoother trip. But what changed most notably was that special type of cozy awkwardness that tends to accompany the ride.

The train follows a New York subway-style layout, which is said to allow for more standing room. Instead of the two-to-a-row layout, you’re lined up longitudinally. Now, you don’t have to sit next to someone you don’t know, intimately rubbing elbows, or experiencing terrifyingly loud snoring, with the potential that your shoulder could soon become your neighbor’s pillow.

But then again, not experiencing that is almost like not riding the El at all. The traditional seating arrangements allow for a special, albeit bizarre adventure. But with this new design, you’re sharing your discomfort with the person on the other side. And you’re doubly discomforted, sandwiched between your fellow passengers.

No longer will you sit, two across, trying to keep within the confines of your side of the divided seat. Now your awkwardness is shared by all those around you as well. You are faced with either staring into the eyes of the passenger directly across from you, or turning your head, owl-style to talk to a friend sitting next to you.

So as you sit, lamenting the sweaty man who is talking to himself, or the oblivious teenager whose headphones are providing a soundtrack for everyone within a ten-foot radius, enjoy. This may soon mark your last intimate ride with an obnoxious stranger. (Lindsey Kratochwill)

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