August 24th, 2009


Let Them Eat Cake

The following story is true. No names have been changed since I don’t know the names of any of the other people involved.

I exited the Purple Line L train at the Davis stop, as usual for a weekday morning. The Davis stop is the single busiest station on the entire Purple Line aside from its connection at Howard Street, particularly during rush hour. In accordance with that fact, the entire station was rebuilt a few years ago so that it might more readily accommodate such high traffic volumes. The stairway down to street level is wide and in good repair, and there are elevators between the track and street levels.

On this particular morning, after exiting the train and beginning the long trek along the platform towards the stairway, hemmed in on every side by my fellow commuters, I noticed a woman about 20 feet in front of me. She was similarly hemmed in, except that she was gingerly carrying a large decorated cake. It didn’t look like a wedding cake necessarily, but it was a multi-tiered affair with a considerable amount of hand-lettered frosting (though I was never at the proper angle or proximity to make out any of the words).

She was not a large woman. She stood no more than perhaps 5'4", rather thin, well groomed, wearing a simple off-white blouse buttoned all the way up to the neck, and a neatly pressed knee-length skirt. Going only by her appearance, it would have seemed equally likely that she was headed either to her job or to a religious service.

Having been substantially jostled on this very platform on more than a few occasions, I couldn’t help but be concerned for her chances of making it out to the street with the cake intact. Why hadn’t she taken the elevator down? She’d actually walked right past it! Why hadn’t she tarried on the platform for half a minute and allowed the throng to get ahead of her? Adding to her peril was the fact that she was compelled to walk a little more slowly than most of her fellow pedestrians in order to keep herself balanced, placing her at an even higher risk of being trampled.

As we proceeded, I tried to work my way through the crowd to get closer to her. I had the desperate thought that perhaps if I could get near her, I could help to fend off any sleepy/clumsy commuters who might not notice her precarious situation. Yes, I know this wasn’t my problem. It would have been completely defensible for me to simply shake my head, wish her the best, and put her out of my mind. Still, I thought that if I could do something simple to help her out, it would be a nice gesture on behalf of good citizens and cake lovers everywhere.

The density of the crowd, particularly as we made our way down the stairs, prevented me from getting any closer to her until we were down in the station. At that point, the crowd was able to spread out a little, taking some of the pressure off. As it happened, both the Cake-Bearer and I exited out the back way, so I kept my eye on her to see where she might be headed next.

I didn’t have long to wait. No sooner had she exited the station when another woman began to wave at her. This woman was standing next to a large sedan and immediately opened the rear passenger door. The Cake-Bearer carefully set the cake on the passenger seat, went around to the other side of the car, and got in.

I suppose that’s not much of an ending to the story. If this were the movies, certain rules would have applied. In the movies, you see, if a stranger suddenly appears carrying a large cake, it is a foregone conclusion that someone will end up wearing the cake. I can take some comfort, then, from this bit of evidence that my life is actually happening and I’m not merely a character in someone else’s movie.
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    Spirit in the Night - Bruce Springsteen