I am riding on the L train, in winter, at night, with my sisters.
A drunk man leans in too closely, sways unreliably, and slurs, “What’s your name?” My eldest sister answers, “Mary”. We always answer, “Mary”. None of us are named Mary. It’s just safer, easier. It’s also an inside joke of ours. In our minds, it’s the generic white girl name; Mary.
We are 3 white girls riding the L train at night, through neighborhoods in Chicago, where white folks don’t go. We make the trip home, weekly, from Evanston, where we take figure skating lessons with suburban girls who have Dorothy Hamill haircuts, and expensive down jackets. My mother won’t pick us up in Evanston. It’s too far. We can take the train, she says. My mother never takes the train anywhere. We make the hour and a half journey home to a neighborhood the Dorothy Hamills have never heard of. A neighborhood Michelle Obama would later put on the map. South Shore. Southside with us.
When the train starts its trek, it is already getting dark. We travel through the city’s north shore, then the Loop, then into parts of the city that sing the blues. Indiana Avenue, Garfield Avenue, King Drive, Cottage Grove, and finally Stony Island/Jackson Park.
Along the way, there might be looks of dismay. “What are these children doing here?”, some eyes ask. I appreciate the sentiment. I can’t figure it out, myself. Most people stare vacantly. They have problems of their own. No one bothers us much, but we feel naked, exposed, and abandoned.
The long trip, from one end of the line, to the other, is tiring. As we get closer to home, the scene below looks as hopeless as we feel. The houses, and yards seem naked, exposed, and abandoned.
The train reaches the end of the line, but the fun is just beginning. Our mother is not there. The instructions are to call her from the pay phone at the bottom of the station stairs. She will then come and get us. My eldest sister makes the call on the icy sidewalk, while we stand beside her, listening into the receiver for our mother to pick up. Finally, she answers. She says she will come and get us, as soon as her favorite television program is over. Wall Street Week, hosted by Lewis Rukeyser, or “The Holy Hour”, as she likes to call it, will be done in 10 minutes. The drive will take an additional 10. We will have to wait.
Back up the stairs, we climb, to the unheated station. The Dorothy Hamills of the world, don’t know how good they have it. It’s below freezing, but the old wooden structure will give us cover from the wind, at least.
I am waiting at the L station, in winter, at night, with my sisters.
We shiver, and complain, but we don’t cry.
We huddle together in the ungodly cold, and wait for The Holy Hour to end.