Climbing the escalator out of the depths of Tower City, I dusted another afternoon commute on the RTA from my shoulders. The polished brass sidewalls of the mechanical stair are sumptuous, farcical. In the earlier days of my commute to work, before I discovered the joy of cycling, I would climb out of the Tower City Station every day. On most days, either the ascending or descending escalator would be out of commission. Sometimes, both were busted. The area in question would be secured by a waist-high curtain that apologized profusely but curtly for the inconvenience -- So Sorry, But None Shall Pass. The barrier would stay raised for the better part of a week, then would switch sides. It seemed that the Cleveland RTA was on a biweekly rotation. It was either easy to come into the city or easy to leave the city. One or the other. Sometimes, rarely, it would be as easy to come as it would be to go. But those times were few and far between.
I took the train to work today because it was blustery and the leaves were whipping about, collecting (as I’m so fond of saying) around storm drains and the corners of buildings. I felt introspective. Today was a day that was easier to come into the city than to leave. The up escalator was working; the one down, not so much. An old man with a cane took each metal step one at a time. Cane-stepstep-cane-stepstep-cane-stepstep. As we drew parallel, the old man and I, a line had begun to file in behind him. I turned to look back as one of the younger folk attempted to squeeze past. I didn’t catch the result of the push, because my journey had reached its terminus and I accelerated away from the mobile staircase.
Walking out the doors onto Public Square, I thought, as I did every time prior, This place should be a train station. I thought this because the place should be a train station. I realized, of course, that it was just that in a previous life. But still, it should be.
Public Square today was cause for celebration. The fences had been removed, the square was open for travel once more. I recalled when they sealed the place up in late July, put up fences as an inner boundary, then, a few weeks later, expanded the territory to secure a much wider swath of land. Commuters like myself were herded like cattle through a network of fences until we reached the freedom of Soldiers and Sailors, when Cleveland opened back up to us again.
That first day of the fences, back in July, I followed a man off the train. He had boarded at the E. 105 stop clutching a sheathed Black & Mild, which he carried up the marble steps (the ascending escalator being out of operation that week) and along the concourse leading out onto the Square. When we exited and were greeted with an endless stretch of temporary chainlink fencing, he turned and said, to no one in particular, “Man, this is bull shit.”
These days, as you climb out the RTA pit in Tower City, you are beholden a tremendous banner in the colors of our fair flag: RTA VOTED BEST PUBLIC TRANSIT SYSTEM IN THE NATION. ‘How could this have possibly happened?’ you ask, not actually realizing that you have never been late for work because of the train. The escalators, maybe, but never the train.
It should be said that I was surprised when I walked onto Public Square and found it open again. I utilized my old diagonal route past the fountain, through the intersection and into the tree-lined quadrant where all the homeless people hang out after hours. Naturally, I don’t take this way on the return trip at night. Too many homeless people. Too many variables. Plus, it’s Cleveland, and sometimes it’s harder to stay than to go, and the routes of ingress and egress are rarely in equilibrium.