Friday, August 19, 2011

A loving ode to the crappy Dempster el stop.

So what's officially the crappiest station of the entire CTA system here in Chicago? Well, my money would be on the Dempster stop up in Evanston, part of the purple line that goes up and down that notorious collegetown, one of only three suburbs to have actual urban el stops (the others being Skokie and Oak Park). I've had occasion to go up to Evanston more and more often recently -- several writers I deal with through my arts center live up there, as did my intern this summer -- and I also like bicycling up there quite a bit whenever I'm looking for a day-long excursion, because as a collegetown it's not only very bike-friendly and full of funky shopping, cafes, etc, but also pleasantly reminds me of my own college experiences in Columbia, Missouri, which is never a bad thing to be occasionally reminded of.

The purple line was first established in the Mid-Century Modernist era, back when everyone was overly optimistic about technology and public transit and the like, and so there are just way more stations on the line now than the city really needs to have; and with this one serving the older, poorer southern side of town, and with there being other stops just four blocks north and four blocks south of this one, I suspect that this will be one of the first ones to be closed if the CTA is ever forced to start making decisions like this, which I imagine is why the CTA hasn't bothered to do any kind of major work on the station since literally the mid-1960s or so. It's like a little time capsule, a little crumbling post-apocalyptic Beneath the Planet of the Apes time capsule, which is why I always take such delight in entering and leaving Evanston here.

Plus, I have to confess that I simply like the funky, sorta worn-down section of town that's around the Dempster stop -- you know, that place in every collegetown not actually near campus and full of all the trendy bars and overpriced boutiques, but the quieter one full of the hippies and slackers who were never able to pull themselves away from the town, with that sort of shambling yet antique look that you also see in the Lower Haight in San Francisco. It's always great on a Saturday to start a bike trip around here, do a little sightseeing first, then wind my way through the Victorian mansion district to the east and along the lakefront, up north until hitting the main downtown, then up through the Northwestern University campus, then west to the North Shore Canal Trail and a straight shot all the way back to Lincoln Square, close to where I live back in the city. If I ever was to leave Chicago for some reason, there's a good chance that Evanston is where I'd land next, and very likely in this Dempster area that I've grown to like so much.

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