A Convergence Project by Journalism Students at Roosevelt University

Sounds of life blend at neighborhood L stop: Hustle and bustle and peace and quiet

By Todd M. Freimuth
The metal shutter door of the Granville L Newsstand rattles open and echoes off the walls inside the small train station’s entrance. At 5:30 a.m., Feroz Sundrani’s day begins by organizing newspapers and tidying up the small shop his uncle rents monthly. He slides open the doors to refrigerators and quickly stocks assorted beverages before letting them slowly hiss shut. There are a few still moments before the station comes alive. Shortly, though, the early morning tranquility shatters as the rush hour commute begins around 6 a.m. Soon groggy commuters approach the stand and pick up their papers before they chime through one of the station’s three turnstiles and pack onto the elevated platform.

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Sundrani and his wife have worked at the newsstand inside the Granville station located in the Edgewater neighborhood for two years. Their family relies on the station to help support their family, they said. The Granville station has been part of the neighborhood for more than a hundred years. Life on the North Side neighborhood has become intertwined with the Red Line L, which snakes through the city’s heart from north to south.
The station represents a kind of crossroads of life for the many people who pass in and out of the station, not the least of those being the Sundrani family. The station’s vitality comes from the lethargic pace of the neighborhood and not just the rackety clanging of the trains that stop through. In 2012, an average of 3,500 people entered the Granville station daily on weekdays to board the red line in 2012 that helped contribute to the city’s busiest rail line, according to CTA ridership reports.
The station was first used May 16, 1908, and has gone through several upgrades throughout the years starting in 1921, according to www.Chicago-l.org, an informational website that monitors and records Chicago’s rapid transit system. The most recent upgrade was the summer of 2012 when the station refurbished the interior with new lighting and signage.
As rush hour comes to a close around 8 a.m., the station’s buzz subsides and Najima Sundrani tidies the newsstand before she begins to type to friends abroad on her iPad. Until the rush picks up again in the afternoon, her day is somber and quiet, she said.
During the late morning into early afternoon, the neighborhood’s station winds down from its morning rush. Occasional window shoppers chat and laugh while they saunter by small shops along the street. A police car’s siren wails and the car burns out from Loyola University and the Chicago Police Department’s joint security station next to the station entrance.
The joint security station, which houses campus security for the dormitories a block north of the station and Chicago Police personnel, was opened March 2006. It was the first public-private partnership to reduce crime in the neighborhood, according to Loyola University.
But even with the occasional hectic commotion, the area remains mostly quiet, allowing locals to steal a few moments of serenity between the neighborhood’s rush hour hustle. Among them is Jon Lancaster, a Granville resident. Outside the dimly lit Gino’s North bar and restaurant, a door down from the station’s entrance, Lancaster steps into the afternoon sun. He steadily slaps his cigarette pack against his hand’s palm and removes a loose square. He struggles lighting the cigarette against howling wind that rustles dry leaves off of trees and crack on the concrete.
“I prefer day drinking,” he says whilst pulling from his lit cigarette. “I like to have my peace and I enjoy the silence before the Loyola kids come out.”
The neighborhood’s light afternoon’s traffic and calm atmosphere are ideal for relaxing just a few blocks west from Lake Michigan, he said. Lancaster bartends most evenings and values these laidback afternoons when he seemingly has the neighborhood to himself, he said.
Soon though, the area awakes from its mid-afternoon siesta as residents return home from work and their business downtown. Starting at 4 p.m., the rumbling baritone of the L becomes more consistent. Trains come and go every three to six minutes and drop off riders who filter into restaurants by the station or down residential side streets. Crowds gather on the sidewalks and talk loudly in front of bars as Granville Street’s shop’s clattering security cages signal the working day’s end. For a few select hours the hustle of downtown has moved up north.
Night falls around the L stop and the crowded sidewalks clear leaving only the wind and the steady rumble of the train. Throughout the night, it moves people from one side of the city to the other. Although the street is empty, the evening is not over yet. In fact, inside Sam’s Chicken and Ribs restaurant across the street from the L entrance the evening has just begun.
“Mhmm, yes sir, mhmm, okay, 10 minutes,” says the owner Madhuker Talari into an old, corded telephone. He hangs up and yells into the kitchen before turning to a new customer and quickly scribbles another order. The phone rings again and he quickly tucks it between his shoulder and ear. His cash register rings open and shut above the crescendo of customers looking for late-night food.
Crowds of Loyola students and neighborhood regulars stream in and out through the night hours into the early morning until Talari closes at 4 a.m. Sam’s restaurant has been very successful serving this particular neighborhood’s night owl niche, said Talari. The busiest times are often in the early morning when the area around the L is quietest and the other restaurants have closed, he said.
“My most busy times are around one in the morning, sometimes later,” he said.
Talari, an immigrant from Hyderabad, India, has owned the restaurant for 10 years and supports his wife and two kids with the profits, he said. His wife occasionally gives him trouble for staying out so late but ultimately understands his business, he said. He says he is happy with the steady business in the area and attributes part of his accomplishments to students returning from bars and a strong police presence. It is a risky business to enter due to crime and unpredictable clientele, he said, but is very happy to have it.
As the last customers leave the restaurant and Talari locks the door, the neighborhood surrounding the L station falls silent and still. Foot traffic finally stops and the neighborhood sleeps. But in a few hours, the Sundranis will open their newsstand,  the commuters will return, the station and neighborhood will reawaken and the Red line train will roar and snake through the city.