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It was a pain but Huan rode the Blue Line train every day to his downtown Catholic high school in Chicago. Often running late, he hopped on at the Cicero stop, transferred to the Red Line on Jackson, and got off at Chicago Avenue. Aside from the Jesus reason, his parents didn’t want him joining a gang at the local school and so commuting was the price for their sins.
By his sophomore year, Huan had his routine down. On rotation, Tupac or Bone Thugs on his Discman as the wheels squealed towards the big city. And like all teenagers in Chicago during the nineties, he was always tired from staying up watching Jordan and Pippen followed by hours of homework. He would mimic Jordan’s latest spin as he jumped on the train and fall asleep with his head nodding against the thick window like a woodpecker.
People that ride the train know the experience. It’s a gathering of people from all sidewalks. The short cleaning lady, the dirty construction guy, the alcoholic bum, the shit for shit bag lady, the dude, sexy girls with big earrings, and simple stank-ass people. And everyone trying to avoid each other.
Huan’s boys and Benny usually ran late too, hopping on at Kedzie and California and running through the urine-stained tunnel on Jackson.
His two brothers, Chino and Chuey, had taken the same trail years prior. At some point, everyone who rode had a story to tell.
Some had been in fights, some with police, getting robbed, meeting girls, getting flashed, and so on. But sleepy Huan usually slept and so he hardly had tale to tell other than the funky smells.
But one particular ride caught him completely off guard. On an evening following chess practice, he boarded the train as usual. He was alone, his friends having skipped to get stoned. After doing a killer crossover to the Blue Line, he settled into his seat against the window with his backpack at his side. He took out West Side Connection’s newest album, Bow Down, and pressed play.
“Bow down when you come to my town, bow down when we westward bound, cuz we ain’t no haters like you, bow down to some niggas that’s greater than you.”
Before the song was done, he was damn near drooling.
Few people were riding on Huan’s train car and as the train snaked out of the underground past the medical district and 18th Street, it pretty much emptied. All the while Ice Cube’s jabbing his ear, “…where we goin’, westward ho.”
Like roosters and those that awaken without a clock, Huan briefly opened his eyes three stops prior to his stop. “Almost home, ten more minutes” he thought. The train rattled on and he closed his eyes for a second before he heard a commotion.
What the fuck? He squinted around looking for the asshole. The only people in his car were a bird-turd-cracker sitting in front of him and a hollering nigger a few seats in front facing them. The negro was talking shit all crazy. “Who the fuck is he hollering at?” he thought. Of course, Huan wasn’t wearing his glasses and could only imagine it was the honky in front of him.
“…no more jobs cause you fucken wet-backs take ’em all! You the problem!” Huan’s heart skipped a beat as he sat their wondering “what the fuck, is he talking to me?!” The blue-eyed devil made a half turn but quickly rotated his head and said, “Why don’t you leave the kid alone?”
The black guy jumped out of his seat and nearly stood over the white guy. ”Why don’t you make me bitch?…defending this poor-ass spic.” Scared, he stared up at the Afro-American who now had his fists clenched. He saw fury in his eyes, but also despair and suffering. Huan also felt sympathy for it was people like him whom his māma had taught him needed praying for.
As the African-American man continued to hound on, Huan braced himself thinking “Awww shiiit,…here it comes.”
The white man was about to speak before he was silenced with over-hand punches straight to his face. Sitting, the white guy had a Mayan zero chance of a fair fight, one man versus the great wave off Kanagawa.
Thud, thud, and fucken thud the punches drummed on like a sound track while Huan winced with the beat.
“Kostner Avenue” the conductor said as the train rolled to a halt. The man landed one more blow, shot a stare at Huan, and ran out the doors before they clapped close.
“Cicero Avenue is next.” Huan could hear the man in front of him whimpering. “You alright?” The bloody mess turned around, “Why didn’t you help me? What the fuck?”
“Damn, I’m sorry, I was…”
“If it was me, I would’ve helped you.”
Huan apologized once more before shuffling out in shame. It felt like the longest walk home for him. And maybe to save some pride, he settled on the thought that the white guy deserved the beat down. “After all, he should’ve minded his own business,” he though. And just like that Huan felt a little better.
When he got home he told his māma the turn of events. She replayed the turn of events in her mind while preparing a cup of tea.
“Did you even get a chance to say you weren’t Mexican?” Huan’s mom asked.
“No,” shaking his head, “I didn’t wanna disappoint them.”
Tito Gonzalez is a Cicero punk with a rosary, basketball, and a pen.
Featured image: Tripp/Flickr