Jack Meyer and his dog, Sarah
Jack Meyer and his dog, Sarah Credit: Andrea Bauer

A Red Line train rumbles overhead every few minutes, casting flickers of shadow and light onto the garden below, where Jack Meyer sits sipping a cup of coffee alongside Sarah, his golden retriever. Meyer lives in the house next door, but he leases this grassy hangout from the Chicago Transit Authority.

Meyer, 78, bought the el-adjacent Boystown apartment building 35 years ago. Back then, the space under the tracks was a graveyard for abandoned cars and transients’ makeshift living rooms. When the CTA offered use of the site, Meyer jumped at the opportunity. “Years ago the CTA encouraged people who had property next to it to grass it in,” he says. “I had a landscaper take care of the ground, and over time I added everything else.”

Aside from a parking prohibition, the agency placed few restrictions on how Meyer could use the land. With a friend’s help, he created a New Orleans-inspired haunt. He draped beads from past trips to Mardi Gras on the CTA support columns. A disco ball spins in the wind. Meyer spruced up the surrounding fences with found art. The rusted steel beams now serve as flower boxes and support bird feeders and decorative flags repping gay pride and the Cubs.

“It’s just lovely to sit here and relax. I come out and have coffee in the morning, a cocktail in the evening,” Meyer says. Occasionally he has friends over for barbecues and parties, but the ambient noise limits conversation. “Sunday is best because there are the fewest trains.”

There’s a definite drawback to having a yard on CTA property: sometimes the agency comes in and tears it up. Several years ago, the garden became a construction site for two years during track renovations. “I always cross my fingers that they don’t need to come in, but it’s theirs and they have a right to,” Meyer says. “They had to come in after the yard was put back together, and they were very considerate. They appreciate me taking care of it.”

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