Around the time of eighth grade graduation, everyone kept telling me how it would be so new and exciting at high school. Teachers and family members alike informed me of how I would be on my own, and that it would be very easy to fail if I was not careful.
Initially, my mother did not want me to attend Whitney Young, for she was afraid of the dangers of public transportation.
“It’s not safe for young women.”
“You have to go underground through those tunnels. Who knows what freak or pervert is hiding out down there? Who knows what may happen?”
My grandmother wasn’t much help either. According to her, I would probably end up raped and killed in the first week. It appeared as if I would not be attending my high school of choice ever since the sixth grade. They wanted me to go to Morgan Park- the closer neighborhood school that everyone went to. It just wasn’t for me.
I told them I felt confident enough in the fact of being a careful, intelligent person, and would be fine. Finally, they relented- with warnings of course.
“Never talk to strangers.”
“Never, ever sit in the back of the bus.”
“Always keep your emergency money hidden in your book bag.”
“Don’t you dare take a nap on that train! You might get robbed or God knows what.”
The first day of school though, I was terrified. My previous knowledge of public transportation consisted of two trips downtown on the Metra, and a few bus rides all within a mile of my destination. That first day, I rode the local bus at seven o’clock in the morning to the Dan Ryan, where I proceeded to head downtown and to the West side.
I thought that with my head phones on and favorite CD, I would be able to let everything else fade away. Of course I was wrong. Who knew that there would be so many loud, interesting people on the train? All with a story to tell, looking for hand outs, wanting to express their creative sides?
Nearly all of them began with a mere “May I have your attention please?” And ended with “May God
bless you, my brothers and sisters.” Like other passengers on the train, I soon became cynical. Besides, it was too early in the morning to be hearing all of that.
“Got any loose change, my sister?”
“No, well, not for you anyway.” I’d reply to myself. They never got a response from me. I just ignored them or feigned that I was asleep. [One incedent, actually, an old woman gave a begging man her loose change. He threw a hissy fit and yeled at her “This ain ‘t enough!”]
Before that, I always thought of myself as a “humanitarian junior” of sorts- always wanting to help people. But in that first year, I was just plain annoyed. In my annoyance, it also made me somewhat intelligent in the environment (though not intelligent enough), since I never participated in its activities. Even though some were intriguing with their special deals of CDs, batteries, phone cords, body oils, candy, and bootlegged DVDs.
I wish I had kept my cynicism throughout the duration of high school, however, for in junior year, I finally let my guard down. I allowed myself to be cheated, bamboozled, hoodwinked, and stolen from. Several people were on the train that afternoon, on a day I got out of school early, no less. Three of them were working together. If I had paid attention and looked closely, I would have noticed that fact. The woman who was sitting close to me immediately got up and left as soon as she saw them- moving to the other side of the train (why didn’t I pick up on that?). Why she did not warn me- an innocent to this type of situation, I do not know.
There was a man playing a simple game of three bottle caps. He said to “find the red ball.” The man was his first challenger, and he lost. Twenty bucks. But it seemed so easy! The woman played next, won once, then lost two times after. I kept thinking to myself “How could you not see that?!” In reality, I was the blind one. In my naivete, I took the challenge and guessed right.
“No, no. You didn’t put up any money for this round.” Put up money next time, and I’ll double it.”
What can I say, I had “IDIOT” written in big, bold, red letters on my forehead and lost forty bucks that day. He switched the ball on me and cheated me! Then ran off the train. What could I do? Well, I cried. I never cried so much in my life, I think. And I was going to buy me a new outfit with that money! But life’s lessons are always the hardest. I guess the moral of this story would be “DTA- Don’t trust anybody.” Especially your gut instinct when you believe you know it all, and really know nothing.