A Thousand Fucking Degrees

Updated: Mar 18


Every once in a while I experience a little experience that is not life changing or profound or even terribly exciting, but for some reason fascinates me. I had one such experience on the El earlier this year, when I took the train home early on a warm spring day and for some inexplicable reason the heat was pumping full blast on the cars. An interesting character boarded the train and in the short time we shared a car, I was thoroughly intrigued by him and the brief interaction he had with another woman on the train. I repeated the story of what I witnessed to my husband, who said I must write it down. The following is what I wrote the next day, to ensure that beautiful moment never dissipates into some vague recollection of a guy who simply farted on a train...


Whoosh! A warm front descended as I stepped through the doors and onto the train car. Heat flooded my body the way it does in that split second you realize a car almost nailed you as it blew a stop sign. I considered hopping off to wait for the next train but I'd already invested twelve minutes of my life waiting for this one, so I hunkered down in my favorite seat right by the door. It was my favorite because there was only one other adjacent seat, thereby limiting the potential number of people who could annoy me with their gum or their music or their spousal spats.


Whoosh. How was it possible the car was getting even hotter? I looked up and, seeing a vent directly above me, quickly changed to another seat (a single-seater but one that faced backward). Still the hot air still blazed down on me. I scanned the train and realized the vents were all placed about a foot apart. Escaping the heat of Hades was an impossibility. I scurried back to my original seat and looked around at the other passengers.


I’d left work early today and let me just say that the brown line at 3:30 PM was vastly different than the brown line at 5:00 PM. There were only about a dozen other passengers in this car – at least four appeared were stoned out of their gourds, one was quietly crying, one was staring accusingly at me (I probably deserved it), and then there were a handful like me, skipping out early for their annual dentist appointment or whatever they had going on.


The doors opened at the Harold Washington Library stop, temporarily offering relief with a cool gust of air as a couple unsuspecting passengers boarded.


“Jesus Christ! It’s a thousand fucking degrees in here!”


I looked up to check out the observant new rider. Fresh crew-cut, sandy-colored hair. Dry skin smattered with freckles and pockmarks. Glazed eyes. Blue windbreaker and loose fitting jeans capped with dirty white K-Swiss tennis shoes. If he was on his way to a 90s mixer, he was on-point.

“I’m not kidding you – it’s a fucking oven on this train,” he continued for the benefit of whoever was listening on the other end of the Bluetooth attached to his face.


“This is the fucking CTA for you," he went on. "You know what the problem is, don’t you?" He looked around the train as though inviting everyone in on the conversation. "The CTA can’t manage itself and doesn’t have any fucking money so they hire a bunch of dumb fucks – a bunch of retards – and these dumb fucks walk around with their CTA jackets on and they think they’re important like the fucking FBI or something because they got a fucking little patch on their jacket." He shook his head in disgust. "Working for the fucking C. T. A.," he said, enunciating each letter in the acronym. "That’s not a fucking career. It’s a job. It’s a job.”


I looked around at the other passengers. In typical Chicagoan fashion, everyone pretended not to notice the scene unfolding. This guy could have had bloody hand prints on his jeans and pulled down his pants and taken a piss on the floor and no one would have batted an eye. That’s not hyperbole. I've seen it happen. So there I was, pretending along with everyone else that I hadn't heard a thing. But really we were all wondering what fabulous career this guy had that entitled him to pass judgment on a CTA worker.


“These people don’t got no education whatsoever," he continued. (Direct quote, I shit you not.) "They’re not educated at all and they got no… no formal education or… or nothing. You got to make good life choices ---”


And that's when it happened.


“Shut up! I’m trying to read.”


I didn’t turn my head to see from what woman that request sprang. I was too interested in seeing how the gentleman would react. The gentleman who must have had a very formal education and made good life choices (excepting this morning's decision to non-ironically wear K-Swiss shoes, of course).


He turned his head to stare at his challenger.


“Oh yeah? You're trying to read? Well I’m trying to squeeze this fart out.”


He walked over to the woman, backed himself into her face and let rip.


Then he walked back to his spot, standing near the doors as though he’d just politely stepped out of the room to pass gas in private.


The soul at the other end of the Bluetooth must have inquired as to what was going on because the man repeated the story of the fart - loudly, proudly, and in detail.


Then the train stopped and the doors opened.


“This is Sedgwick,” the speakers announced. “This is a brown line train to Kimball.”


“Fuck!”


The gentleman again.


“I gotta go, ma! I missed my stop. I was supposed to get off at Clark and Lake. Fuck.”

His voice trailed off as he pushed his way through the onboarding passengers.


This is where I'd usually find some cute way to wrap things up, but I think I'll just stop here and let this one linger.

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