Week 4, Day 2

Things were (are?) a little tense in Chicago. On the way home, I witnessed two near acts of violence.

The first was in the downstairs food court of the Thompson Center, also known as the State Building, since it houses the Governor’s Office and the State Board of Education. It is also home to such auspicious tenants as Taco Bell, KFC and in my case, Sbarro. I ate a light lunch (they serve excellent chicken noodle soup in the cafe at Accenture), so I was a bit peckish come 4:30. I grabbed a slice of New York style, since I find Chicago deep dish style a bit heavy for my tastes.

While I was paying, a man in his mid-twenties started making quite a racket behind me, dropping F-bombs about every third word at the top of his voice. He was yelling at another man who was similar in age, but another race (I will not specify race in either story, although both involved interracial altercations, the races were different in both stories – no pattern other than more than one race involved). That man was assiduously attending to his food, completely ignoring the tirade leveled at him, although also clearly aware of it (everyone in the area was).

It was also clear that this is not the sort of thing that happens here often. All the workers stopped what they were doing to watch as the row escalated. Soon the man was slapping the table tents (those acrylic things that hold suggestions for dessert, etc.) off the tables and across the floor. It was clear the yelling man was doing everything he could to intensify the situation, short of striking the eating man. Eventually, the yelling man stormed off and up the nearby escalator. The eating man got up, picked up the scattered items set them back and left. I don’t understand much Spanish, but it seemed as though some of the employees were surprised that the police had not come (there are generally guards just upstairs, screening building visitors via a metal detector).

The second incident happened at the other end of my ride on the Orange line. I got off the train and descended the stairs to street level. I looked up at the sign which tells when various buses are due to arrive. I take Route 8 – Halstead, northbound toward Broadway in the morning and southbound toward 79th Street in the afternoon. The line for 79th Street said “Due”, which means it was here now, just to my left. I glanced out, and saw a bus bound for Broadway, and just behind it another bus for Broadway. I went back toward the first to make sure I had read it right. There was a man in the doorway of the bus absolutely screaming at the driver, who kept repeating “You need to leave the bus,” quite vociferously. Having verified that the first bus was headed to Broadway, I headed back to see if there was a third bus. There was, just behind and to the right of the second bus, out of my line of sight. As I walked back to it, it pulled around the first two buses and started off. I quickly turned to see if I could catch it as it was stopping just in front of the buses to pick up a couple of passengers who had scurried to head it off.

Just then, the man stepped off the first bus, and the driver closed the door behind him. He turned back toward the door, shouted something in another language and hit the door, smashing the window in the door. He turned away from the bus just as I was passing by. I very sedulously maintained eye contact with the wall in front of me, not wanting to attract his attention. The diversion caused me and a couple of other people to miss our bus at the makeshift stop. The next bus was in 12 minutes. Not a huge wait, but I didn’t really want to hang around that station for long – bad vibe.

Suddenly, a solution popped into my head. Way back when I started taking this bus, for the first couple of weeks, I noticed that the announcer voice on the bus (the drivers don’t announce anymore – CTA has hired a professional) said “Green” at almost exactly the same point as we left the station, just before the bus pulled out into traffic. The LED sign in the bus also said “Green”, so I knew what I heard was accurate. I was perplexed about this for almost three weeks. I even went as far as asking the CTA employee at the station, who said “I don’t know. Ask the driver, they’ll know for sure.” The driver had no idea what I was talking about, although he certainly had heard it many times a day. I was left to my mystery.

About two days later the answer came to me. It was just like all the other announcements: it was the name of a stop! I looked at the cross street for the first stop and sure enough, it’s Green Street, and just across the crosswalk in front of the station.

So we walked over there. Given the heavy traffic, and the fact that we were stopping it by using the crosswalk meant it was no competition as to who would get to the stop first. I flagged down the bus but (it normally doesn’t stop there, since it picks up everybody across the street), and we got on, still thinking about how upset that guy must’ve been to break a bus window with his bare hand.

On the other end of the spectrum, in my classroom, the girls were working on making a piezoelectric buzzer on their robots play a song this afternoon. Most groups were successful, we got Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Firework by Katy Perry, and the Star Wars theme, among others. One group didn’t quite make it as far, but they were working on a secret project. At the end of the day, we had a recital of the robot songs. In this last group, while they hadn’t managed a whole song,  had gotten their bot to play a small set of notes over and over, like a beat, so they wrote a rap to go with it. Then they performed the rap! The chorus went something like “Syntax error, we have to  try again, syntax error we have to try again”. They wrote four verses and mentioned many of the students in the class, and the TAs and I were in the last verse! Then there was the shout out section: “We say syntax, you say”, “ERROR!” Geekiest rap I ever heard. They are going to work on perfecting it for graduation.



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