The death of a Chicago rite of passage?

When I was a kid, my friends and I all had full-system CTA rail maps. I'm not talking about folding maps that tourists carry or even printouts from the CTA's website. No, I'm talking about the maps that were actually IN the train cars.

For those not familiar with Chicago's public transit system, in each train car are two maps. One is a map of the line you're riding and the other a map of the entire CTA rail system. And it was a rite of passage for Chicago kids back then to successfully steal a map from a train car and take it home to put onto your bedroom wall. I still have mine, though I stole it years ago. I keep it clean and someday will get it framed.

But the CTA has taken much of the appeal of that rite of passage away. If you're in a new L car, most likely on the Red Line, take a look at the maps. They're still fairly simple to take out of their holders, but the CTA has divided each map into two separate pieces. So if you steal one, you have to steal the other or you're left with half a map. And that can take you a little extra time, which isn't good if you're trying to move quickly to avoid being spotted. Plus, the maps nowadays seem to be made of a much more flimsy material than the maps from when I was a kid. So even if you feel like you can get it out of the holder, it's much easier to rip.

Obviously, the CTA has every right in the world to defend its property against the likes of punk kids like me. But it's still sad. Stealing those maps was a wonderful shared experience. Nobody stole a map alone. Besides the thief him/herself, there was usually a lookout who made sure you didn't get spotted by cops or angry CTA employees. You had to have a couple friends around you as you carried it off the train and out of the station to make sure nobody at the station exit saw you.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: For the record, I'm not denying that stealing CTA maps is a crime. It totally is. And I believe kids who are caught committing said crime should be punished, as I would have been had I been caught. But I still believe to this day that my crime was worth the risk.

Long story short, stealing those maps was fun. But the maps in the new L cars make having that fun a lot harder and I worry that it will keep kids who would otherwise engage in the aforementioned (relatively) innocent mischief from trying.

And if that happens, that would truly be sad.

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Filed under: Ruminations

Tags: Chicago, CTA, L, Red Line, train

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