It was a couple weeks ago when I slowly boarded my commuter train to head to the office (shortly before 5AM after all, so nothing in me was fully awake at that point) and no sooner did the door shut behind when I instantly regretted getting on board.
The conductor announced over the PA that there had just now been an accident ahead of us and that we may experience an extensive delay. Having commuted well over a decade now, I just shrugged it off, found my seat in a barely occupied car and went to sleep; sun had not come up yet. Things started to be a bit more serious when the second announcement came in several minutes later, informing us that it was a fatal train accident involving a pedestrian on one of the suburban RXR crossings. My line has three tracks, barely any hills or curves and runs straight east to Chicago, through many crossings and densely populated area. Trains easily rach 70 mph when running express in the middle track and it takes well over a mile for a train to come to a full stop in an emergency. These incidents usually take at least 2-3 hours, because the whole area becomes a crime scene. The coroner has to be called in, the entire area secured, investigated and cleared, before the traffic can at least partially proceed. Sure enough, we were stopped shortly after and the conductor and engineer navigated the train onto a side track at the nearest station (I think it was La Grange) and offered all passengers to get off the train and find an alternate way to either reach their work, or go back home.
Without disrespect, or trying to be jaded, these accidents sadly happen on an annual basis and I am used to sitting it out on the train, offering a silent prayer to the family of the person who just tragically lost their life. In the past accidents (going years back), several disgruntled passengers would hurtle out the train while uttering spicy language under their breath, but most people would just sit and either start feverishly texting, or go back to their Netflix binging, ready to wait it out.
However, the pandemic has done a number on all of us! Not only are there not many people going back to the office, still (!), but those who do commute these days clearly resent it and look for any alley to not have to. After the announcement was made, the entire train car cleared! Nobody hesitated even for a moment, they all just got up and vanished. I was literally the only person remaining in the entire double decker train car, which can easily handle 250+ passengers on a busy day. The only one…
I did a quick scan when we finally reached Chicago there were less than 20 of us left who boarded off.
So, after being stopped, I texted work that I was going to be late, shut off my phone to preserve the battery, which barely hovered by 30% and started thinking what to do, now that there was no music or audiobooks to listen to. There was the open eye meditation I practice every day, but that takes mere minutes, not three hours. What to do while being shut in a train car by myself, without air conditioning on a hot summer morning in the middle of Brookfield?
Then the meditation results quickly kicked in and the idea instantly popped up in my head: “you have your GR in your backpack, blank SD card and two fully loaded batteries. You’ve always wanted to take some pictures of the train interior, but never could, because of other passengers giving you dirty looks. Now is the time. Get busy.”
Yep. I went to work without hesitation. So here I was, stuck on the train by myself, walking around the car back and forth, up and down the stairs, taking over 300 pictures for almost 2 hours, then spent another hour reviewing them on camera. As is my habit, all shots were JPEG and in Ricoh’s fantastic high contrast film simulation with added grain. If you’ve ever pushed your Tri-X 400 film to 1600, you’ll know exactly what that film look is… I love it!
I’ll make some posts dedicated just to these interior pictures of our Chicago’s suburban commuter double decker rail cars manufactured by Nippon Sharyo and owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe line. As old and grimy and worn these cars are, all that stainless steel provides an excellent subject to study.
Although my despair was nowhere near what the family of the lost person must have felt, I did my best to go and start looking for beauty in that sadness and bring it forth. How? I honestly do not remember. I have little recollection of the rest. Once I start shooting and get in the zone, the “me” recedes into the background and the creative part, “much bigger me” steps forth while the “me” observes from the back seat. I’ve learned through lots and lots of meditation that creativity is not something you do or practice or push. Creativity is something which you get out of its way, step aside and give it free reign to do what it does best. It’s impossible for me to explain. It just happens. The only thing required from us, is to allow “it” and for the rest of events we are not required. “It” surprises me every single time and truth be told when someone asks me to explain details behind most of my best shots, I have no idea.
May the family of the perished person be blessed with healing, swift and complete recovery, material support where needed, and be comforted with never-ending joyful memories of the one they lost…