What if: Tired students sleep through stops, end up (way) downtown

Jeremy Gordon

Marcel Proust wrote about waking up and not knowing who or where you were, but you don’t need to read his books to experience that feeling. It could happen as easily as boarding the El, dozing off and waking up where sheltered suburban students often fear to tread: Chicago’s South Side.

To outsiders, that part of the city is Chicago’s more dangerous half, and it’s not all legend. According to the 2006 Chicago Police Annual Report, the majority of violent city crime happened below the Loop. The CTA isn’t exactly the safest mode of transport, either, with more than a thousand crimes reported on trains since last June.

That said, students unfamiliar with the CTA and their surroundings make easy targets for nefarious riders. “I’ve had weird but not scary experiences, when strange people would start conversations with me, but I kept my humor and it was fine,” says Benjamin Goldrich, a Weinberg sophomore. “However, I’ve never ridden the Orange line or the far south Red line, which I’ve heard can be scary.”

When you’re commuting on little sleep, sometimes the CTA can be a little too comfortable. The angling of the seats makes it easy to recline, prop your knees up and pass out. “It’s just easy to fall asleep if you’ve been at class or work all day, ” says Medill sophomore Tessa Miller, who has nodded off a few times. Crime, and sleep, are more likely to happen on the CTA at night, when there are fewer riders. “Too often, in odd hours late and early, many of these cars are either empty or [contain] only one or two other people,” says Chris Spencer, Northwestern police secretary. “You don’t want to get caught alone in an El car with some wacko.”

But the South Side isn’t automatically the most dangerous place to wake up. Don’t get comfortable just because you’re north of Wrigleyville, says NU police assistant chief Dan McAleer. “It’s not so much the location as the environment you’re in at that location,” McAleer says. Music sophomore Rachel Saul can relate. She’s slumbered on the CTA, but has yet to sleep through her stop. “When that’s happened I’ve worried about my stuff getting stolen, not really about my personal safety,” Saul says. “Except for once, when I woke up next to a guy wearing a ski mask!”