I was without a car in Chicago having lent my father my Honda Civic while his truck engine was being rebuilt. I was getting along quite well learning all the ins and outs of Chicago’s marvelous mass transit system. After three weeks I was starting to feel like a pro transferring from one subway line to the next and knowing exactly where to catch which bus.
I was leaving a party early in the morning near the University of Chicago on the south side and I had been dropped off at the big subway station at 95th and State. I would take the train northbound to the downtown Chicago loop ant then head northwest to the Logan Square stop.
I was not unfamiliar with this station and walked confidently up the stairs to the platform and into a train that sat in the station with doors wide open. I took a seat and looked around the car which was occupied by no more than a half dozen other riders. The trains ran slow at this time of the night and this train would sit in the station until its designated time of departure. We sat there for maybe ten minutes before we heard an announcement that the doors would be closing. Standing in the doorway of the car nearly directly opposite of me were two men in their early thirties dressed as perhaps they had also been coming from a party. The doors started to close but one of the men blocked it with his foot while he continued to chat with the other man. “Please don’t hold the doors”, bellowed the conductor over the intercom. One of the men moved out of the doorway and took a seat across from me. The other man continued to stand in the doorway with his foot holding the door open while he chatted with his seated friend.
Again the conductor pleaded, “Please don’t hold the doors. We’re trying to get these people home.” The man continued to stand in the door, ignoring the conductor’s request while he chatted with his friend. By now it seemed apparent that his friend seated in the car thought it was time to say their final good-byes for the night and said something to that effect. There was a long pause while the man stood in the door and continued to chat with his friend and then the conductor appeared outside the door on the platform.
The man blocking the door moved out on the platform to face the conductor. “Hey, what’s your fucking problem man?”, the conductor demanded. “Quit blocking the door. I’ve got a job to do here”, he added. The man slowly moved his hand towards the opening of his jacket and slowly pulled it open revealing a silver plated handgun tucked into his belt. “What you going to do about it?” asked the man with the gun. It wasn’t but a moment later when the conductor pulled a revolver from the pocket of his jacket, pointing it down towards the platform. “You think I am afraid of you?”, the conductor asked.
You could hear a pin drop in the train. I exchanged nervous glances with the other passengers wishing that I hadn’t been the one closest to the door. I didn’t know what was going to happen next but I didn’t figure it was going to be good. At that moment a woman who had been seated a few seats down from me on my right sprung up out of her seat and headed for the men on the platform. She was in her forties with a brown wool coat and a matching African head scarf wrapped neatly around her hair. She thrust her finger in the air towards to the two men and said, “That’s exactly what the white man wants you to do; fight each other and not the white man’s system.” Next she pointed at the conductor and ordered him to go “back to the train.” And then she pointed at the man who had been holding the door and said, “You should be ashamed of yourself. There’s plenty of people on this train that are tired and want to go home.” There was no movement at first but then the conductor put the gun back into his jacket and turned and walked down the platform to the conductor’s booth. The second man turned sheepishly and walked towards the stairs that would take him down to the street. The woman returned to her seat and the doors closed and the train began to move. Not a soul on the train said a word.