The 19 people you'll see on the CTA

All kinds of bizarre people ride our buses and trains, but these are the most common characters you'll see—and attempt to avoid

Photograph: Erin NekervisYou cannot inch far enough away from the close sitter.

At some point after you move to Chicago you'll be forced to wonder what lawless, social-norm-eschewing crag of the earth some of your fellow CTA riders emerged from. They don't notice when their backpacks hit you in the face. They consider their commute a fine time to clip their nails (getting hit in the face with an errant nail shoud be a Chicago rite of passage). Read on and see if you recognize these CTA-riding archetypes. And if you observe your own traits in these characters, well, that's the first step on the road to recovery.

RECOMMENDED: Chicago transit guide

1. The close sitter Look, we all know the seats on the new El cars pack us in like sardines, but if we are swaying side to side with each of your inhalations and exhalations, you are sitting too close to us.

2. The student Completely unaware of how big her backpack is, she refuses to remove it when standing, guaranteeing you'll get smacked in the face.

3. The dirty-laundry divulger Why, yes, the bus is the perfect place to have that long conversation with your friend about your ex who cheated on you. And kudos to you for not caring who hears all of the details.

4. The jerk This guy isn't about to give up his seat for anyone at any time. Rush hour and you're pregnant? Too bad. It's 2014 and he has finally found the time to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

5. The dude who visited Chicago once before Argues with locals about the best stop to get off to visit the Museum Campus. Makes outlandish statements about having discovered Chicago's best hidden-gem Mexican restaurant, Uncle Julio's. Openly embarrasses the Chicagoan he is traveling with.

6. The long-hair lady Totally oblivious to the fact that her butt-length, greasy hair has crept onto your shoulder and is making its way around your neck.

7. The sleeper She dozes off as the train pulls away from the station, and with each jerk of the car she is closer and closer to resting her head on your shoulder, until it finally happens and you die inside.

8. The spontaneously paralyzed person He ably walked onto the train with his own two feet and sat next to you, but when you say "excuse me" to get by him and off the train from your window seat, he suddenly can't move, forcing you to hurdle him like it's a damn track meet.  

9. The guy with no headphones Yes, the Blue Line is the perfect place to showcase your eclectic taste in music. Good for you for not feeling confined by societal norms to plug headphones into your iPod and keep your music to yourself. 

10. The dude who bought hot wings And now the whole car smells like hot wings.

11. The tourists Armed with maps and cameras, this bunch loves to (mis)count the number of stops until their destination. Oftentimes they'll refuse to take a seat in order to have a more "authentic El experience" and inevitably knock someone out when the Brown Line rounds the corner at Sedgwick.

12. The groomer This rider both disgusts and amazes us. Clipping your toenails on the Blue Line? Totally gross. Applying eye liner without stabbing yourself in the pupil on the Brown Line? Bravo.

13. The kid This type usually comes in two varieties: the kind who howls the entire trip next to his oblivious parents, and the kind who turns around in his seat to stare at you, which is cute for about 60 seconds but soon becomes deeply unsettling.

14. The bro He's likely headed to a Cubs game and he's definitely already drunk. He'll probably try to do pull ups on the bars that hang from the ceiling of the train. This dude still seems to have an unlimited supply of Four Loko and loves to give high-fives.  ​

15. The big spender This is the bus. Don't expect anyone to make change for your $50 bill. Also, if you have $50, why are you taking the bus?

16. The bag lady Either she's preparing for the next snowpocalypse or just a literal shit storm, but she's managed to buy all of the toilet paper at Jewel. Now her 10 bags are taking up the six seats next to her and your feet are killing you. Thanks a lot, bag lady.

17. The American Idol contestant She believes the world's her stage, and she isn't going to let a pesky commute stand in her way of her practice time. 

18. The annoying MC A close cousin of the American Idol contestant, he likes to put a beat to your ride. You'll find yourself singing "Bitches at Belmont" all night long.

19. The Larry Craig Sir, by spreading your legs wide open and taking up three seats, are you trying to communicate that your package is so large that pressing your knees together would cause you great discomfort? Because what you are actually communicating is that you're an asshole.


Saoirse K

also the packed lunch buffet " is that your sandwich,?" no mines peanut butter and jelly, thats hers, can i have my soda now?

Saoirse K

they forgot one i saw on a recent trip to chicago, "the no insurance med whiner" who will tell you how he has a sore leg and cant afford his treatments then show you said leg causing you to throw up in your mouth, and all before ten am, thanks med whiner *true story on my second day in chicago* and being irish, it amused me

Nikki S

@Saoirse K Blue line? If so, that asshat's been at it for the entire 3 years I've been here; people actually give him money just so he'll get his infected meth wounds away from them :/
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Drue F

The trains are rolling,  insane asylums

Ron J

20. The closet stripper who can't help but grip the pole, standing with ass out and legs slightly splayed, swaying seductively to the rocking motions of the train car -- purely out of habit and/or lack of self-awareness.


The parent with a Stroller the size of a SUV, that has everything but the kitchen sink in it. Then expects seniors and people with disabilities to move out of the Priority Seating area, which by Federal Regulations is intended for people with disabilities (of all ages). Or blocks the aisle so no one can get by the Stroller, or has to pole vault over.

Hillari H

@AbilityChicago I saw a woman actually make an older gentleman move on the bus yesterday.  I thought the situation was not cool at all.  Bus drivers seldom speak up to passengers about the strollers -- most of which don't fold up anymore.  

Nikki S

@Hillari H @AbilityChicago This absolutely drives me bonkers. Great, you had a kid; that doesn't entitle you to an entire row on the bus-especially when there are actual disabled and elderly people. Fold your damn stroller and stop being an entitled jackass.

Kyle M

left out the person who goes from train car to train car with their sob story about needing money so they can make a bus transfer. Or the creep who comes up to you smelling like piss and asking if you want a bag of cocaine on the blue line.

Gene K

I love the people who all stand in the doorway when the rest of the car is empty and make sure no one can get by without pushing them out of the way.

Jen P

@Gene K I call these people the door straddlers, and I think they are asking to be stepped on.  Sometimes they are Cubs fans who are desperately afraid that the El doors will not stay open long enough for them to get off the train at Addison. 

Hillari H

@Jen P @Gene K You noticed that too?  I have no respect for Cubs fans taking up space on buses and trains to watch their team lose again.  The Cubs fans who are obviously from the suburbs are just as bad.

Dan K

The flip side to number 8, "The spontaneously paralyzed person", is "The expects you to be able to move in a split second person." He waits until the bus or train is already stopped, and then decides he has to get off, at this stop, and says, "excuse me" to get by, expecting you to jump out of the way instantly, even if you are holding a bag or a drink or the bus or train is crowded, forcing himself to hurdle you like it's a damn track meet.

Just plan ahead by a minute, and get up at the stop before yours, to make sure you, and the person sitting next to you, have enough time.

Of course, with the new train cars with facing seats, neither is really an issue any more on trains.  But on buses, this happens to me all the time.

The other one I love is the people who all try to get on the train before anyone can get off.

Scott K

@Dan K Why would you be holding a drink? Surely nobody eats or drinks on CTA vehicles.

Hillari H

@Scott K @Dan K I had a bus driver attempt to tell me not to eat.  I showed her my medical ID necklace and reported her to CTA.