Clark and Division

“Doors open on the left at Clark and Division.”

Something strangely comforting arrives in the CTA’s recorded message telling which doors I should expect to open.  I already know, of course.  The CTA voice speaks so soothingly often that, even sitting in my living room, I could tell you. And who needs to know what door opens? Being an urbanite, I’m quick enough to react to whatever breach appears and make it look like no event.

But the voice reassures me, pronouncing its truth so confidently my gratitude swells every time.  “Thank you,” I think, “something is certain.”  Say what you will about unseen trees falling in anonymous forests, those doors open on the left.  Even when no one is riding the car, in the absolute dead of night, the voice intones its declaration. I can hear it in my head.

“Doors open on the left at Clark and Division.”

Sometimes I say the words inwardly when I need an anchor, when nothing in the world seems unquestionable. In the face of life’s most insulting assault, in the middle of the murkiest ambiguity, after the weariest, most foolish errand, I know what will happen, what has happened, what may be happening right this second at Clark and Division.

Really, the voice only needs to say “left.” On the CTA, as with most of the rest of the world, the right is ordinary and left extraordinary.  So—after so many stations of right, right, right—the voice seems to celebrate its one allowed variation. Doors don’t open on the right this time, no sirree, and the voice brightens with broader implications—you may feel down on your luck or locked in the longest streak of unrelenting mishap and still, occasionally, doors may open elsewhere.

It’s all you can do to keep from repeating the message. If you could turn to your neighbor on the train and whisper comfort, “Doors open on the left at Clark and Division,” you might do so much good in the world.  Picture fellow passengers nodding resignedly, “Yes, yes” they might say, “Isn’t it wonderful. Left, left at last.  Clark and Division.”

Someday I hope to shake the hand of the Author, the voice tendering its glimpse into a surer world where all doors—left and right—are known, where we might expect destinations to be revealed, promises to be kept, and any surprises to be gentle and kind.

Remember, “Doors open on the left at Clark and Division.”


Filed under Chicago, CTA, Essays, Hope, Meditations, Urban Life, Work

3 responses to “Clark and Division

  1. Oh, if only all surprises could be so gentle and kind. Thank you for this lovely meditation on the incantory power of those recorded voices on public transit. xo

    I was only half-serious… maybe less… but I do find that voice oddly comforting, as if it were a parent consoling a child after a fall. Thank you for visiting–especially during the week when I don’t usually have time to add content!

  2. Quintessentially you David. You have given us much to chew on and delivered thoughtful content with your signature humility that is just the right amount of self effacement to let us all sign up with your point of view. I really liked the way you brought it to an end. Very memorable.

    So glad to see a new posting here.

    This week, I found time to post twice, and I wish I could always be so productive. Lately, I’ve been trying not to be myself, myself becoming, at this point, a little too familiar. I thought I might try to write about nothing (or only a little something, an automatic voice) and see what came out of it. And I hoped to be a little funny, a parody of my usual self.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it. Please keep visiting. Though I can’t add as often as I like, I try to post on Saturday or Sunday.

  3. Pingback: Writing Funny | Signals to Attend

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