We wait by the tracks at the Van Buren Station. Salt that has liberally applied to melt the ice, cracks under our feet as we walk back and forth across the platform, trying to stay warm. The concrete shows signs of age as do much of the station; rust and decay have over taken too many years of little maintenance. The salt, while a safety measure, will only hasten the decay. It’s cold, but not bitterly. At least the wind, from which this city is famous, isn’t blowing. Soon, through the tunnel in the distance, you can see the train snake its way toward our platform. People began to come out of the station and join us on the platform, waiting to board the South Shore Line.
We all climb on board. This is only the second stop of the run, but already the only seats available are those facing backwards. I stow our luggage overhead and pull out a copy of Richard Ford’s Rock Springs, and plop down, watching the tall buildings and parks and museums fade away as we pass the McCormick Place and New Comiskey Park, now known as U.S. Cellular Field, a name that just doesn’t seem right. Soon, we’re in the tenements, high rise housing projects that are surrounded by boarded up warehouses and depilated factories. I wonder why it is that I, who have a nature dislike for cities, have fallen in love with Chicago. Maybe it’s because I know from Chicago I can quickly retreat home, even though such a retreat, whether by train or on the highway, will take me through the less desirable sides of the city and tempers my desire to return.
After the stop at Kensington, the line turns east, with stops at Hegewisch and Hammond and a host of other places as we pass the mills at Gary. Along the way, old boarded up buildings and small bars with a car or two out front dot the landscape. There’s snow on the ground, but not enough to truly cover up things and transform the landscape. This could be a setting for a Tom Waits song or, if it was out west, one of the vignettes for the hopeless characters in the Richard Ford book I’m reading. Leaving industry behind, the train picks up speed, running through the sand dunes along the lake and then into the hardwood swamps and fields of cut corn, their stubble sticking up out of the snow. But all that is short-lived as the train slows down and the conductor cries out, “South Bend.” We re-enter an industrial zone then ride beside the runaway till we arrive at the station, affixed next to the airport terminal. Covered in snow and ice, my vehicle awaits in long term parking.