Editor's Note – While the following rant will is focused on a person in a wheelchair (I will call her "Doris" since "wheel chair lady" sounds ruder than intended), I am not putting the blame on her (though her assistant should take a little heat. He should have recognized he was dealing with someone with an entirely different kind of "handicap" and acted accordingly). Rather this is about the Chicago Transit Authority's (CTA's) inability to handle what you would assume to be a routine situation: A passenger in a wheelchair. And why that situation made me 30 minutes late getting home Friday night.
It's Friday. I have a big I.T. conversion project that I'm in charge of that is scheduled for 4 weeks away, so there's a shit-tonne to do. Oh, almost all the REAL work is done. Now I need to spend 4 weeks documenting how the 8 hours of the conversion will go. But actually, everyone is going to want everything 2 weeks before hand, so I really only have 2 weeks. Oh, and we can start some of the pre-steps at the end of next week, so I need to churn out detailed steps for people who already know the detailed steps and can do it in their sleep. So, I'm putting in some extra time and didn't leave until about 5:30, hoping that some of the 5:00 crush would be gone, and I'd have a relatively easy commute home.
I get to my subway station, Monroe, and it's slammed. Jam packed. Having been to this rodeo before, I hopped a train going the wrong way, so I could get on at a less crowded station, and maybe get a seat. I went two stops south, and still no train, so I pulled out my cell phone. The CTA has a "Train Tracker" website that will give you estimates of when the next train is due into the station. It listed the next two trains as "Delayed" and then a third was due in 7 minutes. So obviously, there was some kind of issue with a train, probably at the next station down the line.
A quick aside. As the train pulls into the station, they will announce it with a pre-recorded voice, like "This is Harrison" or "This is Monroe". Whenever they announce "This is Monroe" I have a vision of Jim J. Bullock saying, "No, THIS is MONROE, BITCHES!"
And if you got the joke from the picture, without having to click the link or Googling to find out that Mr. Bullock played Monroe Ficus on Two Close For Comfort, consider yourself either old, or extremely hip and knowledgeable.
Anyway, back to the story: The train finally showed up in about 7 minutes. My plan paid off. I got in and got a seat. While I was hoping they would announce the train would run express to get things back on schedule, that didn't happen. As the stops are made, more people pile in and pile in. But finally, we get to the Belmont stop, where I need to transfer trains lines from the Red line (which runs basically north/south) to the Brown line that zigzags in a northwesternly direction to my neighborhood. As I get off, they announced over the PA that the train would be sitting for a minute, and a CTA worker went up to one of the train doors and inserted a wheelchair ramp into the doorway, and Doris rolled off the train, trailed by a guy, most likely a husband, but not to assume too much on their relationship, I will just call him "Roy".
"Ah," I thought, "that explains the delay." I also thought, "Please don't transfer to the Brown line, I want to get home." (Probably going to Hell for that, but they could have been getting off at that stop, or transferring to a Purple line train, so the odds were 3:1, right?) They transferred to the Brown line. The next train was again, in another 7 minutes then another 5 after that, and during that time, all the Red line trains that had been backed up behind my delayed train kept dumping off more and more people at this extremely busy transfer point.
When the train finally showed up, probably 200 people tried to get into the 8 cars on the train. They all shoved their way in, and then the CTA attendant puts the ramp in the doorway for Doris, and the great shuffle starts. All the people standing in the vestibule need to either get off the train or get out of the way. And there's little room to get out of the way. Then the old Asian gentlemen (70? 80?) has to get kicked out of priority seating (reserved for the elderly and people with disabilities) because that seat needs to fold up so Doris can take the spot. (Some sitting did give the old man their seat). Wouldn't this had been easier if you boarded Doris FIRST instead of LAST?!?
Now, it's right in the middle of this that the train operator starts trying to shut the door. With her co-worker still on the train, and the ramp in the doorway. So the doors keep slamming into the ramp over and over, and finally she gets on the intercom and starts yelling at people to get their packs out of the doorway, and that there is another train right after her. (So, the 5 minute later train has caught up to us.)
Finally, Doris is set, and the CTA station worker takes the ramp away and off we go.
For those of you unfamiliar with the L trains in Chicago, there is a slight height difference and a small gap between the train and the platform. See the picture below. It's a about 3 inches high, and maybe an inch across. This will come into play soon.
During all the slamming and banging and the door chimes announcing "Doors closing" and the driver yelling at people to let the door close, Roy pressed the call button for the operator, and told here that they were boarding a wheelchair. She asked what car, and he told her the last one. "10-4", she replied. I'm now dead certain she has no idea what that term meant. The doors keep slamming on the ramp, and the chimes kept dinging. During the chaos, I texted Cora, because I usually do when I transfer, and she walks to meet me, usually just over half way. I warned her that I may be late.
Finally, the CTA guy takes the ramp away, and we depart. I say a small prayer, hoping that Doris and Roy are going to the end of the line. (ie - "Let me get the HELL OFF THIS TRAIN before we go thru that again.)
My God has a wicked sense of humor.
A handful of stops later, Doris's assistant again pushes the call button, and notifies the operator that they will be getting off at the next stop. Once again, she replies, "10-4". When we pull into the next station, the train doors open up, and the doors that Doris needs to go out have a huge box about 4 feet in front of them. And the ramp that the station attendant has is 5 feet long. So it won't work. Doris's assistant then gets on the call box again, and tells the idiot operator that they can't get out, and to pull the train forward a little, but not leave the station. (Here's where I toss a little blame on Roy. Sure, the ramp would be nice and smooth. And in a perfect world, wouldn't be necessary. But this isn't a perfect world, and this operator is obviously an idiot. If this were Cora and me, sorry, I say to my wife, "Hang on", pop a wheelie, and out the damn door we go.)
"10-4", the operator responded.
The doors close, but instead inching forward 5 feet, the operator starts accelerating like she's heading to the next stop!
Back on the call button, Roy and a chorus manage to get her to stop just before the final car cleared the station. And now, the guy with the ramp is like 50 yards down the platform. A couple of guys had all they could stand, and took the initiative. They
hurled Doris's ass off the train assisted Roy in getting Doris off the train and onto the platform, to the cheers of their fellow passengers.
When my train finally arrived at my station, I hugged my wife. Sweet freedom!
And I hope Doris and Roy had a better luck the rest of their journey.
So, a word of caution to anyone in a wheelchair who plans to ride the CTA trains. Just because they are wheelchair accessible does not mean they have the vaguest idea what they're doing. They only got their job because they have connections.