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March 6, 2014

Vignettes and Hyperlinks: Jackson Park Duress

My preferred method of transportation to downtown is the Metra. Sure, it's a bit of a walk, and it's an extra 75 cents, but it's faster, and when I'm on the Metra I feel like I'm traveling in sleek, modern, and sophisticated style. I feel important on the Metra. But unfortunately the Metra runs less regularly than other forms of transport, so on Tuesday, when I uncharacteristically went downtown for the first of two days in a row, I found myself on the #6 bus. I sat there, early in the morning on the way to meet my aunt for breakfast while she was in town, and I thought, as I sometimes do. On this particular day, I was contemplating how, like everyone else's, my life arrives in peaks and valleys, undulating through time with little predictability. As you can imagine given this post's title, I've been in a bit of a valley these past couple of days, and there's no better place to contemplate one's existence than on the bus.

Transportation inherently brings with it constant change in scenery. But on a bus, this change is twofold. Not only do the stories and the landscape on the other side of the window change, but also the emotional and personal landscape of the vehicle itself. As people get on and off, their stories enter and exit my own. There's one dude in the back row right now. He's been talking since I got on. I think he's talking with a friend, but he might just be engaging whomever he can; I don't know, I haven't looked. I wonder if he just hangs out there, at the back of the bus, talking. Does he just ride the thing around and around, following the arc of the lake and the river again and again? Who is he? How did he get here?

When I'm in a valley, I often question the motives behind my continued conviction to finish college. I am an economics major who does not intend to go into finance, a film minor who doesn't plan to become a filmmaker any time soon, and a college student only mildly interested in academia. When the curvature of my consciousness approaches a decidedly depressed slope, I tend to focus on these facts, forgetting how I've changed and improved over the past six quarters. I lost my way at some point toward the end of fall quarter last year, and I really have yet to find it again. But as my surroundings keep changing and the land moves up and down, I learn things about myself I never would have otherwise, and gain skills I never thought I'd need.

On the way back from breakfast, I keep nodding off. I'm not ashamed to sleep on the #6, but I prefer to do it with the assurance that I have friends who will rouse me when it's time to leave. But today I'm alone, so I'm fighting—as so many have done in Sosc and Hum—to remain aware and awake enough to understand what's going on. My head bobs up and down as I float in and out of consciousness. The dude in the back is no longer there, although this is probably a different bus than the one I took towards Chicago. I imagine him somewhere in front of and behind me on this route, going round and round.

I'm lucky enough to be awake when we get to the 53rd Street stop, and I exit, out of the dreamy, determined route of change that the #6 brought, and into the very real, very harsh, and very slushy world of Hyde Park. It's rather hard to fall asleep standing, so my head is firmly above my shoulders, at least literally. Nobody's talking. Everything is the same as when I left. The bus moves on, and I slush forward through an unchanging deluge of brown margarita mix.

I want to be back on the #6. I want to move around and around through and with the scenery, seeing the new until it all becomes the familiar. But that cycle would eventually repeat itself (repeat itself), and I'd be left exactly where I am now, $2.25 poorer and a whole lot of minutes older. So it's probably best that I've returned to where I began, to where I usually exist, where I can become better and grow deeper.

As I get off the bus I am reminded for the umpteenth time just how flat Chicago is. I look down 53rd Street and I try to see a hill or a turn, to no avail. I try to see anything but the straight, flat, unending line that is in front of me. But I can't. So I start walking.

Liam Leddy is the blogger behind Vignettes and Hyperlinks. He is a second-year in the College majoring in economics.

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