Night Owls: Riding the Late Train

Since I’ve started grad school, I’m taking a late train home two nights a week. These trains are a completely different experience than the usual 5:17 express train. Depending on whether I go out with classmates for a drink (which happens the occasional Thursday) or go straight to the train translates to a completely different cast of characters.

Earlier Late Train

Mostly work- and class- weary riders: Overall, this train is pretty quiet, with many people coming from grad classes. These are mostly professionals who look tired. They tend to either zone out with ear phones or frantically work on their laptops, catching up on either work or school, a glazed look on their face.

Drunk middle-aged dude: More common on Thursday nights, there’s inevitably one overly chatty, drunk middle aged guy in a leather jacket, trying to act 15 years younger than he actually is. He chats up the conductors and tries to flirt with some of the women. He tends to slur his words. Often he makes a quick call to a wife, asking her to come pick him up from the station.

Giggling Teenage Girls: I don’t know how high school age girls always manage to be on this train, but maybe they’re actually college freshman. Regardless, there tends to be a group of 5-8 giggling, shrieking girls, taking pictures of each other, texting each other, and excited that they just spent the day in the big city. (These are likely the same people who walk five abreast down the sidewalk at rush hour.) Try to avoid the car they’re sitting in.

Loud Talker: Every train has at least one person who shouts their end of a long, inane, deeply personal cell phone conversation. This is more often a woman, but men are guilty, too. When they start rattling off credit card numbers, I wonder who else is listening.

McDonald’s Eaters: After 7 PM, the closest thing to food at Union Station is McDonald’s. (Unless it’s closed, which has happened twice recently, leaving your late night dining options Mrs. Fields cookies or beer.) I think I’ve finally figured out when to eat what so I’m not ravenous as I hit the train, but inevitably, there’s at least one person who boards with a bag of fresh, hot McDonald’s fries.

Later Train

The later train has all of the above groups, but they tend to be rowdier. There are more drunks and gigglers, and fewer students and office workers. During baseball season, there are also hoards of very drunk sports fans. There’s also usually at least one very annoyed single mom with a gaggle of young children who are cranky at the late hour. She usually either lacks patience for them and yells at them to sit still and shut up, or she ignores them entirely while she talks on the phone.

The later train is worse in many ways because it only has two cars open (versus three on the earlier late train), so there’s less room to hide.

What other characters have you seen on the late night trains?


7 responses to “Night Owls: Riding the Late Train

  1. Hahah, that is an accurate description. I don’t know if they still have it, but some trains used to have a booze car in the evening, and unless you like a car full of middle aged, loud, and slightly buzzed workers that is not the car for you.

    • Sadly, they ditched the Bar Cars in a cost-cutting move a couple years ago. But you can still buy the oversized beer cans at Union Station, so there’s inevitably some guy holed up in a corner, drinking out of a paper bag. Usually he keeps to himself, though.

  2. Just be glad you’re on the Metra, and not on the Red Line – the ride is ALWAYS interesting after 7pm, and the later the hour, the smellier it might be. 😉

    • Oh, the Red Line! Such fond memories of heading back to the South Side very late at night when I was young and dumb. The sunflower seeds, the chicken bones, and the homeless guy who removed his shoes and socks to clip his toenails. And oh, the smells. The interesting thing about Metra is that since they run on a set schedule – only once per hour after 6:30 – you start seeing the same people. I give them nicknames, like “Divorcing Diva” for the lady that was (loudly) chronicling every stage of her ugly divorce on her cell phone.

  3. You forgot about the “Deaf Napper” who falls asleep before the train leaves the station and sleeps through at least 13 instances of “pop-song-as-ringtone” and myriad chirps, beeps and boy-oy-oings only to magically wake up refreshed and ready to go as the train approaches his/her (usually his) stop.

    • He rides my line too! Luckily he doesn’t seem to be a regular. I wish I could sleep on the train, but I’m afraid I’ll sleep past my stop. Though I only live about 4 miles from the end of the line…

  4. Pingback: Trains, Abraham Lincoln and a Taste of History | The Adventures of Elginista

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