Jul 14 2009

Adventure in the Big City

This last weekend, we went to a cousin’s wedding in Chicago.  I’ll save my rant about cities for another time, and just talk about my adventure.

Since there wasn’t much chance of getting back Sunday morning in time for Mass, I needed to find one to go to up there.  I thought I’d avoid the horrid streets and take the train, like a real city slicker.  The Chicago train system has a good reputation; and besides, trains are just cool.  I found a Latin Mass that started at 7:30 that was close to the train route, and planned my route the night before.  That didn’t take long, since the church was next to the Blue Line, the same line I’d be getting on, so I didn’t have to transfer or anything tricky.

Chicago Train - photo by John Picken

Chicago Train - photo by John Picken

So I got up at 5:00 and got my maps and missal together to get on the hotel shuttle to O’Hare at 6:00.  I could have made the 5:30 shuttle if I’d hustled, but I didn’t want to be too early.  (Ha!)  The shuttle took me to the train station at O’Hare, where I boarded the Blue Line at 6:30.  After a few stops, it looked like I should make it right on time or a little late at worst.  Looking at the schedule online now, it says it takes an hour and five minutes to get from one end of the line to the other, and I was getting off one stop before the end, so that’s about right.

Then a guy came on the speaker and warbled something I couldn’t understand, but I caught the words “end of the line” and “everyone get off.”  When we pulled into the next station, they herded us off the train and down to the street to a line of buses, which they said would take us through the next several downtown stops, and then deliver us to a station where we could get back on the Blue Line train for the rest of its route.  They weren’t wasting any extra space, either; they funneled us on there until all the seats and most of the standing room were full.

The only problem was that a bus is a heck of a lot slower than a train, especially when it’s making lots of regular bus stops along the way.  By the time we got back to where the train was running, it was after 8:00, and I’d have been lucky to make it to Mass before it was over.  So when we got to a station where they said you could transfer to a Metra train, I hopped off.  I knew the Metra also had a stop out next to O’Hare, so I figured I could catch it back and avoid the bus.  I’d already paid for both directions on CTA, but it would have been worth it to pay again.

Union Station - photo by kawanet

Union Station - photo by kawanet

I guess the Metra is owned by Amtrak (maybe?), and is sort of a competitor and/or complement to the city trains (CTA).  They make some of the same stops, but they have different stations and payment systems, so it’s kind of weird.  Anyway, the Metra stop was at Union Station, about four blocks north of the CTA station where I got off, so I walked over there.  It’s pretty cool; one of those big old train stations with a huge concourse and an old, crazy guy walking around yelling about aliens or something, just like in the movies.

When I got to the Metra counter, I discovered that their line to O’Hare only runs on weekdays, so that was no help after all.  (Seems like they’d be smart to run it for the summer while the CTA line going that way is under construction, but I’m not a city planner.)  So I walked back to the CTA station, got back on, and made my way back through the bus detour, to the Blue Line train, to O’Hare, and to the hotel shuttle, getting back to the hotel about 10:15.  If you take out the walking time, I spent nearly two hours on trains and buses in each direction, and didn’t even get to my destination!

The reason for all this was that they’re doing construction on the Blue Line on weekends this summer, so they’re using buses to ferry people around that part of it.  Once I knew about it, of course, I started seeing the signs about it, warning people to plan for extra time.  I guess when they say “allow extra time,” they aren’t kidding.  If I’d known what I was doing, I’d have had to have left the hotel at 5:00 to even come close to being on time for 7:30 Mass.  That’s a little crazy, considering my destination was only 15 miles away by foot.  I think I could have walked there faster.

Despite all that, I still like trains.  It’d be nice to be able to sit back and read a book or work on a laptop or something while you’re going places.  The only way I’d live in a big city would be if my home and places I went often were close to the train.  Driving is just far too unpleasant to consider—but that’s a rant for another time.

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