Random Encounter

Ever since I found out passengers are allowed to drink beer while riding Chicago's double-decker Metra, I've wanted to take it for a spin. On the top deck. What can I say, sometimes it's the small pleasures. Even though I made that discovery about four years ago, it wasn't until four days ago that a deposition out in the burbs occasioned my first ride.

I stepped up to the platform feeling confused about ticket procedure. Did I need one? Would a cool conductor come by en route and accept cold hard cash? I decided to ask a blond kid cheerfully perched atop a newspaper stand how it worked. Instead of answering me, he insisted I stick with him - I could use his ticket, and he would get a free ride (I'd see). Awe, how sweet. And potentially delusional. The train rolled up, and figuring it had been awhile since I talked to a harmless young aspiring fratboy, I decided to take him up on his so-called offer. We sat up top (sans beer, I'm sorry to report), and the conductor came by a few minutes into the ride. True to his word, the conductor took the kid's ticket for my ride and said "I gotcha" when he flashed a badge.

He could have passed for 18, but the harmless aspiring fratboy was, in fact, a 25-year old "80% disabled" Iraqi war veteran. He was a genuinely friendly guy who humored my predictable inquiries (I'm a little ashamed but couldn't help myself). Yeah, he killed many, including an Iraqi midget wielding a grenade launcher and didn't emote one way or the other about it. Yeah, he lost many friends, but only half as many as other troops, since his troop was better prepared. The war is behind him now, and he's pretty much "set" for life with his disability check. A couple shots in the back left him physically struggling. As for the mental side... well, a few weeks back he woke up in the middle of the night outside and dressed in his soldier gear (classic PTSD). But... he has a wacky girlfriend, a pet, and plans to go back to school (on the Illinois house, just like the Metra ride).

Did I mention that his pet is a raccoon? Named "Chuckles." He laughed hard when I responded to that bit of info by playfully saying "they really did fuck you up, didn't they?" The war took his back, his friends, and some of his sanity, but he still seems to have his sense of humor.

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