Take The Train

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 4.47.26 PMIt’s Friday night and we’re on the train from Chicago. We’ve just spent a great day wandering through the Art Institute with my brother, the professor. He’s in town doing portfolio reviews for potential graduate design students. There’s nothing better than going through an art museum with a man who’s spent his career teaching aspiring artists. I admire him and treasure the rare days that we get to spend together. I learn something new each time we have the opportunity wander and talk.

Our train car is slowly populated by people carrying musical instrument cases. There are guitars and banjos and penny whistles and contraptions that I do not recognize. They get on the train at various stops but it seems our car is the rendezvous spot. A woman named Kate joins them. She sits across the aisle and tells us that she is the singer of the group. They gather once a month and head north to Kenosha (our town) to play Irish music at a place called Pete’s. “Best fish fry in town,” Kate says as she offers us chocolate. We are now part of the family.

Just then, the man sitting in the seat adjacent to us opens his case and pulls out a banjo. A man sitting next to him asks, “Is it time?”  Banjo man nods and others pull their guitars and harmonicas and whistles from cases and pockets. A man with a penny whistle starts to play and banjo man picks up the tune. The guitars join. They know Kerri is a musician and Kate says to her, “We take requests.” They want Kerri to sing with them.

The train car is transformed into an Irish music jam session. Commuters tap their feet and applaud. A backpack filled with beer appears in the aisle. The conductor walks in and smiles. He was hoping the musicians would be on the train tonight. He accepts a chocolate, refuses a beer (“I’m on duty!”), and banters with banjo man. They seem like old friends though their entire relationship transpires on Friday night train rides to Kenosha. Banjo man invites the conductor to Pete’s and the conductor asks if they’ll still be playing at 1am when he’s off work. This is a ritual that they perform each trip. “Someday!” they both agree, knowing that it is not likely to happen. It would spoil the magic of their once monthly encounters.

By the time we reach our stop, the end of the line, perfect strangers are laughing together, sharing stories, clapping with Kate and the boys, sharing chocolate and beer, and feeling that their random choice of train car was not so random after all. The week of toil and work is transformed. I hear a man say to his seatmate, “It was a good week, I think,” and I wonder what he might have said had the musicians not opened their cases. I wonder if he’d have acknowledged the presence of his seatmate had the musicians chosen another car. Sometimes we miss the simple miracles, the seemingly small moments in which huge events occur. When was the last time in the harsh anonymity of an urban world that you put down your smart phone, turned to a perfect stranger, shared a chocolate, smiled and told them about your week? It seems so small but is in truth profound for a stranger to reach a hand across the chasm and say, “It’s nice to meet you.”

This is the power of the arts and our general inability to recognize the profound in the small moment is one reason why we misunderstand the purpose of the arts. People go to war because they cannot find a way to reach across the chasm and touch the humanity of their earth-mate. A car full of commuters went home less lonely on Friday night and a few were swept by the music into a place called Pete’s where they ate some fish fry, drank some dark beer, and celebrated nothing more than being fully alive.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi David,

    Your post added a lift to my day, David. Thank you!


  2. What a joyous trip, thanks for the concert and chocolates

  3. Oh wow! Lemme on that train!! I have been known to pull out my harp at random times, like in airports and bus stops… and our ferries often have musicians jamming. YES to the power of music!

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