15 April 2015

Incident on the CTA

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I went to Chicago to visit our favorite offspring.  We knew it was going to be a late arrival, but it turned out to be later than we thought, because the plane that was supposed to become ours was delayed by a medical emergency.   After the paramedics got the person off the plane, and then everyone else deboarded, there was more of a wait while they replaced the medical equipment that had been used.

And as a crime writer, naturally I was wondering what happened to the poor soul.  Another story I will never know the end of.  None of my business, I know.

By the time we picked up our bags at O'Hare it was after 1 AM.  We climbed into a metro train and headed toward the kiddo's apartment.  A few stops later a man got on board.  He was in his thirties, leather jacket, looked like he might have Irish ancestry.  Ignoring the half dozen people in the car he sat down, flipped open his phone and made a call. 

"Yeah I'm on the Blue Line. Meet me at Addison. I had to take the train cause the law was circling around. I'm at Addison. I'm getting off. Meet me here."

And off he went.

Oddly enough, my first thought was not writerly, i.e, why is he running from the cops?  It was readerly: If this  was Detroit I would think I was in an Elmore Leonard novel  Boston: obviously George V. Higgins.  But who writes books from the criminal's point of view, set in Chicago?  Brian suggested Sean Chercover, but I have not had the pleasure.

My second thought was: Maybe this was that guy's elevator story.  If you aren't familiar with the concept, watch Peter Bogdonavich retelling what happened after he interviewed Alfred Hitchcock in a hotel in New York City.

After that, I admit I started thinking like a writer.  But I felt I didn't have enough background to build a story about it.  On the other hand, my friend Andi Mahala Schechter promptly suggested he was dropping off a ransom payment.  I dunno.  Felt like he more sinister than that.  My sister Joann Scanlon asked if I called the police.  And told them what, I replied.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, and I'm okay with that.  Have you ever felt like you walked into a novel?  By whom?


  1. Rob, I'm not to embarrassed to say I've done the same thing in days gone by… elevators, restaurants, subway. I've long thought of writing my escapades with telemarketers.

  2. Not only did you step into a novel, Rob, but you stepped into several great openings for novels.

    And Leigh, I'd love to hear your escapades with telemarketers. I have a few of my own...

  3. I think we've all walked into a story of some kind - I know the story in the little Italian restaurant in the Appalachian mountains was straight out of "Prizzi's Honor", where my father complained, loudly, about the food, and the manager came out (tall, thin, Italian), looked at him and said, "I don't have time for this shit. Get out of my restaurant." And we went.

  4. Actually, that's what I do, Rob - I write books from the criminal's point of view. My Goddaughter series is about a reluctant mob goddaughter who masterminds heists. (She wants to leave the family, but keeps getting hauled back in to bail everyone out.)

    It's not a series I could have written as a novice writer. To create sympathy in the reader for characters who are obviously outside the law is tricky. My books are high comedy, so not darkly realistic.

  5. That guy reminds me of my character, Seamus Tyrrell. Fun piece, Rob.

  6. Thanks for the comments, all. I should have mentioned James Thurber's "The Lady on 142" in which you can find in the book I edited, THURBER ON CRIME. In it, the narrator and his wife overhear a train stationmaster say, on the phone, "Conductor Reagan on 142 has the lady the office was asking about." The narrator spins out a long dark spy story out of this mysterious announcement. Hilarious.

  7. Uh, for "in which you can find in the book I edited" Leave out the first "in."

  8. I used to live in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. One day my daughter, who was about 7, and I got on a Metro train downtown, a guy was on the train who had been stabbed & was bleeding. A Metro policeman asked what happened, where was the perp, etc. The man cussed him & ran from the train just as the doors were about to close, dripping blood as he ran. I checked the newspapers but never found out what happened.

  9. I love "The Lady on 142", and "The Catbird Seat", and, of course, "The Macbeth Murder Mystery." Thurber was one of the best short story writers ever.

  10. Was just reading about the 1976 disaster movie spoof "The Big Bus," so my thoughts on this are a little weird!


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