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The Morally Correct Commuter and the Great Age of Exploration

The great fear in Evanston was the arrival of Chicago-style liquor stores, but not the Morally Correct commuter on a journey of exploration.

I cast my fates to the winds Saturday, stealing Vince Guaraldi’s thunder and signature tune.  Having done my duty as a volunteer in College Park Saturday, I foreswore a call home to have Lillian drive halfway around the Beltway — and a teensy-but up 95 to pick me up. 

No, I was determined to Metro rail from the marches of Prince George’s to the far reaches of Fairfax before calling for a ride.  [I discarded the idea of a taxi, Uber, Lyft, jitney or “thumbing” to cover the remaining miles between Vienna Metro and the land of the “White Democrats,” the Post’s label for my part of Virginia. Its gates were not breached by the Ottomans, unless the Amphora Restaurant counts.

Hang the cost of the ride; damn the time it would take, I was exploring — via subway, in the same manner as I had as a teenager.  Yes riding the CTA from Englewood to Howard Street, the border with the exotic Evanston.

The very first North Shore suburb, dry as a bone, thanks to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union — not so sure though about that singular  religious bastion, Northwestern University’s scholars in dormitories, rentals and certainly fraternities swearing off “demon rum.”

Why ride the CTA’s el all that way?  To explore. And with time on my hands and tokens and a paper student ID … 

If this weekend’s adventure and the earlier rides weren’t  exactly Magellan searching for a short cut to the Spice Islands or Cook’s hunt for new lands to claim [and check out the whales for king and country].

Lotta money in nutmeg that shouldn’t rest in Lisbon’s coffers and blubber and oil in those days that rival France surely didn’t need. 

Best yet in Chicago, this ride into terra incognita — way above ground, below ground and way above ground again could be done for a single price, no matter what time of the day or what day it was.  

At other times, using the same uni-price CTA fare policy, the Morally Correct Explorer rode into one of Chicago’s earliest “railroad suburbs,” Oak Park.  Alas, Ernest Hemingway was not waiting for me when I arrived that day. 

If Evanston was the northern limit of CTA El exploration decades ago; its western terminus then was Oak Park.

Now, despite the immortal Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, there is little of an east side of town.  The El ran out of tracks near Jackson Park at 63rd and Stony Island with only hints of the chock-a-block port [under the city’s control on Lake Michigan now with ocean access through the Saint Lawrence Seaway].   

Since I trimmed trees on the northern edge of Jackson Park, this was terra cognita. No need to go there.  Plus at the Time, it was “Black P. Stone Nation” territory.

Although the center’s shuttle did not take me to Greenbelt, this weekend’s trip was going to begin in Metro terra incognita.  Yes, my journeys on the Green line have largely been confined to the short runs from L’Enfant Plaza to Nats Park in one direction or the Navy Memorial Archives/ Mt. Vernon Square/Convention Center in the other.

Nonetheless, the Green Line train was there within 10 minutes of my arrival at Terrapin Station.

There were no sudden stops in tunnel, no delays; but much of it underground — like Fort Totten. No riding high above the land and checking out its lay.  Because it was Saturday, early evening, hardly any people-watching opportunities.

The Morally Correct commuter, aka Explorer, needed to adjust expectations. Station names, though different, were not exotic. The eternal dusk obscured any individual identity they might have had. 

Only the steady rumble and sway of the train.

And yes, though there was almost nothing to view, the Green’s arrival was unbelievably synched as I went down the escalator and the lights were blinking and rumbling up was the Vienna special.

Exploration quota– minimally met; time spent from one end to another on Metro rail slightly less than one hour, so scheduling exceeded quota expectations; cost about $5, acceptable.

Total time from Conference Center to home, less than two hours because of a communications mix-up on the texting, cellphone segment of the journey at L’Enfant.

Having already taken the Blue from one end to another, the Morally Correct commuter does not have to fear next summer’s closing of above ground station.

But that last stretch of the Green to the terminus may be a bit too far when in the future College Park service dies for the summer.

There is still the Red to explore with faraway places like Shady Grove.  Could it be as exciting as the bazaar of liquor stores and bars, that stood  shoulder-to-shoulder on the Chicago-side of Howard, blinking neon temptations into the WCTU’s capital.

Today, Evanston is dry-no-more; and the great El run from Englewood to Howard is no more.

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