There are situations in life that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Situations so terrifying, so potentially traumatizing that the thought alone is enough to keep even the bravest people awake at night, sweating through their pajamas.
I face one of these situations almost every day. For five out of seven mornings, I look fear square in the eyes. Those cold, metallic eyes.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce: The Gates of Wrath.
Not every El station has one of these monsters. For the Red Line at Belmont, and all the unlucky others, this is the difference between starting your day off on a relaxing note, cup of coffee in hand vs. a step right up! carnival game. Price of admission: $2.25. Grand prize: your dignity still intact.
There are few sizzles greater than this human cheese grater. A quick refresher, sizzles are ordinary situations in life that cause inordinate amounts of stress.
Prime sizzle examples: parallel parking or escalator etiquette.
Here’s how it works. Gather in a line of people. Scan your Ventra card and hope the Gates are gracious enough to put more than three seconds on the shot clock.
Nine times out of ten you luck out, but there’s always that one time you get right in the middle and the bars stop. Push forward, nothing. Push again, nothing. You can feel this collective sigh of frustration behind you because above is the sound of the train coming down the tracks.
Everyone’s late because I couldn’t out maneuver the Gate.
It’s all enough to make me a single-issue voter. If the next Chicago mayoral candidate launched their platform with, “And on Day 1, I will tell Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this metal wall!” I’d be all in. Sold. Rest of their stances? Doesn’t matter.
Here’s what not to do…
When you get caught in this spot, it’s easy to panic. But, like being caught in quicksand or getting your leg tangled up in a hammock, the struggle only makes things worse. Don’t keep pushing on the bars. Stop. Gather your breath.
The second mistake, which I’ve also done, is retreating for the rescan. The odds are stacked against you here because, best case scenario, you’re still losing money. Worst case, you come back, rescan, turn around and get caught by the gates again. Or if you have a monthly pass it won’t scan again since the card will assume you’re buying for someone else.
So what do you do?
Until last week, I would have said there’s nothing you can do. The Gates of Wrath are undefeated.
Then I saw an absolute work of art. A transit masterpiece. I’m standing at the back of the line and the man at the front scans his Ventra card, but it doesn’t register. Not a good sign. If someone is already struggling with the scanner, you know it’s about to be a bloodbath. Attempt three works, but he’s rattled and, sure enough, gets caught by the Gates of Wrath. He starts to struggle, looks over his shoulder with that familiar look of fear. Help!
The woman at the scanner simply puts her hand up in the air. “Stay,” she says in this calm, reassuring voice. You can tell by the look in the man’s eyes, “Stay? What do you mean, stay? I’m dying here!”
She scans her card. The Gates release. “Now you can go,” she says and not only does the man go through, she gets through as well, all on the same scan! She double dipped the cheese grater!
The atmosphere at the Belmont stop was, I don’t know how to even describe it, probably the same sense of awe and wonder for those in attendance at Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point basketball game or Abe Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. We all knew we had witnessed greatness. Someone had finally defeated the Gates of Wrath.
Is it repeatable? I don’t know. Maybe that woman had otherworldly grace and trying to duplicate what she did would be like watching the Nutcracker and saying, “See, that doesn’t look very hard.” Next thing you know you sprain an ankle, pick up a set of crutches and if you thought the Gates of Wrath were hard before…
Thought I’d break up the Month of Stallone after pouring four Rocky posts out there last week. Next Monday I’m going to post about Sylvester Stallone’s secretly great writing advice, then the week after that it’s either going to be a celebration of Sly’s first Oscar or an absolute berating of the Academy for getting it wrong. And that’ll be it, only two posts left in the Month of Stallone then back to regular Medium Rare advice on all the tough topics in life like the one you read today.