Jottings: Close encounter in a distant land
Life is interesting. We encounter people everywhere we go — some become lifelong friends, some are work colleagues, many are acquaintances. There are some we smile and wave to like the walkers and runners we see regularly. Then there are countless others we notice — at the park with our kids or on a pre-Covid daily commute. We pass them like ships in the night.
Many years ago, I lived in Chicago — a city of great people, diverse food scene, amazing arts and culture, two baseball teams (go Cubs!), a hockey team, and of course, the Chicago Bulls!
One of the lesser-known aspects is Chicago's great public transit system of buses, the "L" train system in the city and Metra commuter rail connecting the suburbs to the city. The "L" gets its name because large parts of the train system run on elevated tracks.
As a young adult, Chicago was a great fit. I lived in the far north side of the city and commuted downtown by the "L." It was my time to read or listen to music and people watch in between. The train made several stops, one of which was the Belmont station where two lines converged so commuters could switch trains. Every day I would watch the choreography of people on the platform. I saw the same people regularly at the Belmont station — people I didn't know and never had the occasion to have a conversation.
This had been my daily commute for about a year and a half when I took time off for a well-deserved vacation. With family members, I headed to Greece, the birthplace of many firsts including democracy. I could wax eloquently about Greece — its people, culture, natural beauty, food, etc. but alas, I'll have to leave that ode for another time.
First on our list to see was the Plaka, the old historic neighborhood around the northeastern slopes of the Acropolis. We planned to head up to the Acropolis and ancient Agora, including the Parthenon and other ruins. Athens in August is sweltering. We set out early that morning to beat the heat and crowds. A fair number of people were about — both locals and tourists — but not enough to mar the intoxicating excitement of a dream come true — being in Athens, a city I had read and heard so much about.
Coming out of my reverie I looked up to see a vaguely familiar face in the crowd walking toward me. The man stared at me. I stared back. We walked past each other. We turned around simultaneously with puzzled looks on our faces. Racking my brain, I desperately tried to place him. I knew I had met him. Clearly, he knew me from somewhere too. Who was he? Where had we met? Then it came to me like a lightning bolt! I swiftly turned around to walk toward him only to see that he was walking back toward me.
In unison we said: "Chicago, Belmont train station!" I didn't know the man, I'd never spoken to him, but on my daily commute to work, I would oftentimes see him at the Belmont station waiting to board the train. Like me, he must have been observant, filing away the faces of fellow passengers. We spoke then, marveling at our chance encounter and the fact that we recognized each other in Athens. We shared that we were both in Athens on vacation. We joked that we would see each other next in Chicago — at the Belmont train station.
In the ancient city of Athens, where the gods were forever playing tricks on humans, two strangers from Chicago spoke for the first … and last time. For on my return to Chicago, I bought a house in the suburbs and my daily commute changed — from Chicago's "L" to Metra, the commuter rail system serving Chicago and surrounding suburbs. The Belmont train station was no longer part of my daily life.
Life is interesting …
Lilisa Hall is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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