Last month we rented a condo for four days in Chicago’s Old Town, a few miles north of the downtown Loop. What the owner didn’t reveal in the property description angered us.
“It’s under the el!” I wrote in my notebook.
Yes, the condo all but set directly under the city’s noisy elevated rail, commonly known as the el.
When we first sized-up the situation, thoughts of eating the $200 a night rent and fleeing to a quieter place immediately rushed in. A lawsuit crossed my mind. Surely there was a Clarence Darrow out there somewhere willing to hammer the condo’s owner in court.
But it was already evening. We decided to endure one night of hell under the Brown Line.
Looking at the Chicago Transit Authority’s schedule for the Brown Line, it is almost impossible to reach a precise figure on the number of trains, coming and going, that passes on the el each day. I used basic arithmetic to come up with a rough figure. That figure is 300 trains every week day, 22 hours a day, from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. That comes to about 14 trains per hour, or one every 4.3 minutes. The frequency is slightly less on weekends.
Our condo on Cleveland Avenue is a short walk down the alley to the Brown Line’s Sedgewick Station. It is the train you take to see a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. From our smudgy bedroom window, we could look up at the el from an estimated 20 yards away. There was no barrier from the sound, not even a tree in the nearby grassy courtyard.
At bedtime, Nebra pushed in the foam earplugs she had just purchased down the street at Walgreen’s. I plopped down on a couch with a book and the TV on.
At a 11:38 I began noting the times trains passed overhead. 11:40, 11:49, 11:57, midnight, and so on. I finally stopped at 1:39 and went to bed. Twenty trains had thundered by in two hours and a minute.
I dropped into the king-size and soon was off to dreamland. I was relaxed. I knew I had a two-hour respite until 4 a.m. when the trains started up again.
But a funny thing happened. I slept until almost 9, like a lamb. The trains had been going for five hours. The plan to abandon the condo vanished somehow shortly after we awoke.
We had breakfast in, worked on the Internet and eventually walked down to the Sedgewick Station and took the north-bound Brown Line train to Wrigley Field. We had tickets for the Cubs game with Milwaukee.
In the evening, we walked to supper at Thai-Aroma, a restaurant on bustling North Avenue. By then, the el sounds were imperceptible. No longer did a jarring rumble, rumble play with our ears. Back at the condo we had another good night’s sleep.
Far from an enemy, the Brown Line was becoming our friend. Not only did we travel to Wrigley, but also took “our” train to downtown twice, once on Friday and again on Saturday, then used it again on Sunday to transfer to the Blue Line on our way to O’Hare and the flight home.
As we packed up on Sunday to leave for Arizona, I marveled how we had grown accustomed to life under the el. The rumble, rumble had become no more than background noise akin to the sound of an air-condition in the house. You hear it only if you deliberately listen for it.
It is amazing how the mind can adapt to almost anything if given the chance. I don’t know that I would choose to stay under the el again. But I do know this. I am no longer afraid to do so.