The other night a couple of coworkers and I were headed north for drinks with Reader proofreaders past, present, and soon-to-be history. There we stood in the Red Line subway station at Grand, next to a corroded metal support with a shallow brown puddle of mystery fluid beside it. The train arrived with a screech.

My colleague Jerome is kind of claustrophobic, and he doesn’t much enjoy traveling underground. As we stopped and the doors went through their routine of closing, opening, closing, then opening again while the canned CTA message about how improvements are under way blared, he grumbled, “Man, just get us out of this tunnel,” then alluded to the National Transportation Safety Board’s scathing recent report on last year’s Blue Line derailment. “Makes you feel really safe, doesn’t it?” he said.

Finally, we reached Fullerton where the night sky surrounded us rather than rust-streaked walls, and who should board the car but Ron Huberman, the former Daley chief of staff who replaced the much-hated Frank Kruesi earlier this year as president of the CTA (the mayor, by the way, continues to defend Kruesi). Huberman’s a lot more buff than he looks in a suit, and his fierce expression gave him the look of a Guardian Angel. He prowled the length of the car, made some notes on his Blackberry, stalked back, and sat down by the door. Some people go crazy sighting Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Me, I haven’t been so psyched since I saw Lisa Madigan eating lunch with her family at Los Nopales. (She looked tired and a little crabby.)

Jerome approached Huberman, confirmed that it was he, and remarked that as a long-suffering rider he appreciated the CTA head checking things out for himself. Huberman’s job can’t be much fun right now, what with the failure of the state legislature to pass Julie Hamos’s transportation bill and the prospect of doomsday cuts, averted only through November. “Does it look cleaner to you?” Huberman asked.

Well, no. My stop at Morse still smells like piss, and I will never understand why they paint the stations white–as my colleague Whet noted this morning, it’s asking for grime, like putting white carpet in your living room. Last Wednesday, after waiting more than 30 minutes at Morse as five north-bound trains passed, I had to pay $25 to cab to work on time. But at least Huberman was on the job–the mayor almost never rides public transport. We wished him luck.