an illustration by Megan Kirby of people on a bus looking out the window, each with a word bubble that reads out collectively Look Out More Windows
Credit: Megan Kirby

Last month, I had the misfortune of catching the Lunchables bus. Have you seen it yet? The windows and doors are obscured by a full-wrap ad that creates the illusion of a stack of crackers, meat, and cheese moving horizontally along the street. I boarded the Lunchables bus and found my window blocked by a slice of processed ham. This was LunchaBullshit.

I love to look out the bus window. Watching the world slide by along a bus route is a major pleasure of city life. And now, my view had been snatched away by this low-rent charcuterie. It’s not just the bus, and it’s not just Lunchables. Everywhere I look, there’s another CTA vehicle fully wrapped in another ad. And every time I see one, I want to scream.

A Twitter user caught the Lunchables bus meandering through Old Town in October.

I am not protesting every CTA advertisement. Put ads on the bus! Wrap the train interiors! Cover every inch of the station! But please, please, leave the windows alone.

I fell in love with the city from bus and train windows. Public transit drew me to Chicago when I was 23. I was always a nervous driver. After a few months of utterly failing to parallel park, I got rid of my car. The CTA could get me basically anywhere I needed to go. And I discovered there’s nothing more romantic than experiencing the city through a window seat: letting my thoughts tune in and out, listening to Lana Del Rey or just the hum of people sitting around me, feeling the bus vibrate under my ass while the world passed by outside.

Of course, I’m romanticizing here. Public transit keeps me humble. Sometimes there’s piss or fights or it’s pouring rain, and the bus ghosts me once again. But looking out the window softens those humiliations. It is so wonderful to see the world. So every time I board a vehicle with window clings, I feel utterly robbed.

When you sit inside a vehicle with window clings, you can arguably still see. If you press your eyes to the interior of the tinted image, you can make out a shadow world outside. The cling blocks the sunlight from getting anywhere near you. People and cars and street signs pass by like vague approximations of themselves, haunting in their ambiguity. If it’s nighttime and the bus isn’t announcing stops? Good luck figuring out when to pull the cord, buddy.

Being forced to live inside an advertisement is just modern life, but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it. How dare these various billboards obstruct my reality? I boycotted my nearby Walgreens because they replaced their functional refrigerator doors with digital screens that flash and shift and barely reflect the actual inventory behind them. When I am hungover and frantically searching for orange Gatorade, I imagine some Silicon Valley snake slithering through a pitch deck about “disrupting doors,” and my blood just boils.

an illustration created by Megan Kirby in black and white: Megan with a baseball hat and glasses, trying to look out a bus window and sees both the city at night and her own image staring back.
Our intrepid Inkling reporter tries to see the city through “wrapped” windows.

It feels baffling to defend glass windows—an invention humans have known and loved since 100 AD. I’m begging, please: let me stare through a pane of glass at whatever lies beyond!

I’ve considered boycotting every last flavored vodka and fast-food restaurant with full-wrap CTA ads. But the other week, I saw a Red Line fully swaddled in advertisements for Harry Styles’s Chicago shows. I felt a sharp pain resonating from the spot where I got a One Direction tattoo, and I thought, “Harold, my darling . . . how could you betray me?”

I’m afraid that soon, we’ll all just board a windowless box that transports us from point A to point B. Our only commute entertainment option will be to look at ads on our phones. I promise I am not some anti-phone zealot. I love my phone so much that I must force myself to take breaks. Which is why I keep my phone in my pocket when I have a CTA seat with a view. The trade-off is worth it.

When I defend my right to look out the window, I am defending my right to witness so much: front stoops, dog walkers, graffiti, rain puddles, industrial corridors, hand-painted grocery signs, school kids all in a line. The river! The lake! Bikers and joggers and drivers obliviously picking their noses! Your brain must cast a wide net to catch it all. You experience a different city when you ride public transit through it.

My favorite view comes when I ride one of the elevated trains through downtown at night. The glow of the skyscraper windows, shining rectangles suspended in the dark. My own reflection in the window, and then Chicago behind, like it’s all sliding under my skin. A deep calm spreads as I watch the city move within me and around me. How lucky, how wonderful, to be able to see it.

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