Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I never will forget, how that brave Jeanette MacDonald
Just stood there in the ruins and sang, and sang...


For ten years I’ve lived next to the Francisco stop on the Brown-line el in Chicago. For ten years I’ve heard every 6-8 minutes “ding-dong”, the whoosh of doors, then as the train pulled away from a distance just the last part of the automated announcement… “Violators will be arrested”… The train station has always been my temperature guide, mornings seeing what people were wearing. It was my constant amusement seeing what cute guys were on the platform or my annoyance when the overnight attendant would be screaming on the pay phone to her boyfriend at one in the morning.

For the next six months, all that has changed. The Francisco stop is no more. Due to the “we must look as much like Toronto as possible” policy that the city has adopted, the cute covered bridge designed station is being replaced by one of cement and glass. If it’s anything like the one at the other stops, it will be clean and efficient and boring. The Rockwell, Francisco, and Kedzie stops were always the best because this was where the el stopped being elevated and road on the ground. Suddenly you were no longer on an el but on a neighborhood trolley. But ah! I wax nostalgic, because they were also badly painted, narrow structures that I never could get my suitcases through when I had to go to the airport. But no more.

On Friday night, September 15th at 10PM the demolition started. Flyers were posted on all the doors in the neighborhood warning people to keep their windows closed during the construction and that the station would be closed for four months. Around 7 that evening I trod on the station for the last time. I was going to take my camera but I thought, “Oh, I’ll do that tomorrow, they’ll still be up”. On the station CTA workers were posting up signs in Arabic that I only could assume said “Don’t wait for trains here, you idiot.” You think that you wouldn't put up signs telling people the station is closing two hours before the station closed. However...

When I got home at ten the spotlights were up and men in hard hats and Tom of Finland work boots started BANGING and SAWING and TEARING.

I stared for several minutes as one of them chopped up the station’s bench that I’d sat on countless times. I remembered the many nights just jumping on the train after midnight to go to boy’s town on a whim. Within minutes it was gone and thrown in a pile. I turned away and closed my windows, as warned in the flyer, expecting the dust to start flying. And it flew… and flew ALL NIGHT LONG. I tried to go to sleep at around midnight, but each time I drifted off, the crane would start its long, loud moan, and then I’d hear a crash. I dreamed all night long about people banging shoes together. I don’t think I slept for a solid ten minutes that night. At around 5:30 the banging stopped! I got up and look at the clock, “They must be done for the day”, I thought. I fell back into a deep sleep and then heard the load moan of the crane and a crash as a load of wood was dumped as if from a long way up into a the metal dumpster. The sky was pink, I’d given up. Standing in the window I watched them as they pulled the wooden slates from the roof of the enclosure. The rest of the morning I was in a daze.

I left the house for several hours that day, but had to return because I had planned for a small party that night. I was shocked by how fast they were demolishing the station; they were three-quarter completed by six o’clock with only the main station’s shell standing. It was around that time I noticed that my coffeehouse neighbor had planned a party in the back patio. My coffeehouse neighbor and I have not been on the best of terms these past few years. One of the reasons he bugs me is his complete stupidity about some common sense things. Like don’t plan a children’s birthday party the same time that they are going to tear down an el station. As the saws continued, shingles were thrown and the windows smashed ,twenty feet away there was a party of pre-teen Latinas in their pink party dresses having cake. The most harrowing moment being when the crane lifted a side of the building they were demolishing and pulled it high in the air, and then slowly swung it breezily over the patio to the screams of children, mothers pulling them out of the way. Nothing says Happy Birthday like nails being ripped out of wood!

By midnight the pounding had stopped I looked out my window and there was nothing but track. It was dead quiet, and dark. The trains just zip by now with just a toot… as if to say "Goodbye old el station… We hardly knew ye…"

For some history of the Francisco El stop click HERE.

1 comment:

mrpussypants said...

Why should I ever bother to visit Chicago again? Where is that city that Ms. Warren wax sooo poetically about? Say it isn't so, John! This is just a Photoshop prank of yours, right?!

We are living in the Age of the Thing and that's Bad.