Interestingly, O’Neill’s autobiographical play takes place from 8:30 A.M. to around midnight on an August day in 1912. My day started at 5:25 AM and ended around 5 PM at my house in 2008 with less drama.
The destination is the western suburb of Westmont. Google maps tells me this about the car trip: 29.7 mi – about 51 mins. But I don’t have a car and I’m trying to prove a point, remember?
I decide to sweeten the deal by arranging to visit a good friend in Hinsdale, two suburbs inbound on the Metra BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) Aurora line. He’s very generous and insists on driving me to my meeting and picking me up afterwards. He tells me to get off at Hinsdale and we decide that I’ll call him when I’m on that train. Here’s what it took to do this.
I needed to catch a 6:45 AM inbound North Line train. Not terrible, mind you, but I stayed up late last night prepping for this meeting and I’m tired when I get up. My bag is packed mostly and just needed the laptop and power supply. Cell phone, check. Notebook, check. Thermos of coffee and snack, check.
However, I try to squeeze in a short dog walk and just make the train as it slides into the station with brakeshoes smoking. This train is very busy which surprises me having been taking later trains around 8 AM. I still get a seat and work on my laptop offline. It’s on time downtown giving me about a half hour to walk the two blocks south to Union Station and buy a ticket to avoid paying a $2.00 surcharge when the station agent is open and you insist on buying on the train. I need to now catch a 7:45 train outbound for the reverse commute.
The track is posted but the train is not in yet but arrives soon. It is packed and a very long train. It takes a long time to empty out and the platform is filled edge-to-edge with commuters. I finally get on a lightly-loaded car of reverse commuters that include a woman in a Cubs outfit. She tells another woman her office has baseball Fridays and there are only a few Sox fans in the office. Office Space comes to Chicagoland. I heard Tom Peters speak once and he suggested “cross-dress Fridays.” This lady has “Crosstown Classic Fridays.” My vote is with Peters’ idea.
I arrive at Hinsdale on time at 8:19 AM. I note minivan taxis at Hinsdale lined up waiting for people like me. My meeting is at 9:30 AM so we have time for coffee and tea at good ol’ Charbucks. We leave before 9:10 and still get there by 9:20 with a leisurely drive. I’ll call him when I’m done, which I am by 10:55. In about 10 minutes he’s back but I ask him to drive me directly to the Westmont train station so I can see what the route looks like and if there are sidewalks. My experience in past suburban office park jobs has been that sidewalks don’t get plowed. Who the hell walks in the suburbs in winter? Me, I guess. Dope.
He’s already setting the trip odometer before I suggest doing it and it gives me a sobering number when we arrive: 1.8 miles to Westmont station. That’s a healthy walk, twice as long as my last walk to and from the train downtown. A quick bike ride, though, so we note the bike rack by the Metra station, which also happens to be in front of the Westmont municipal building and police station. I know some buildings don’t allow bikes overnight so we decide to ask if it’s allowed.
A very helpful woman greets us at the glass window inside the Westmont building. When we pose the question about leaving a bike overnight she is surprised at the question. “No one’s ever asked that. I don’t know but I’ll talk to someone who might have the answer.” And she went into the back room.
About three minutes later she came back with a large yellow lined Post-It note in her hand and said she had talked with the police department. I could do it but I would just have to let the Westmont PD know that I’m a reverse commuter, and tell them my name, address, phone number, and color and make of my bike. She gave me the Post-It with these items listed and the Westmont PD non-emergency number 630-981-6300. We thanked her for her help and she really was nice about it.
On the way out, we stopped by the rack and picked up the Pace 715 Central DuPage timetable from the rack. In the car to lunch, I looked at the morning northbound options: 6:53, 8:09, 9:21 AM. A little thin and no backups if you miss the connection. Any taxis here at Westmont? I didn’t have time to check. Hmmmm. The bike idea deserves consideration.
We have lunch - we drove to a place on Ogden in Westmont - and drove back to Hinsdale to his house to hang out and shoot the bull. A 2:55 PM Metra is what I’m aiming for so around 2:25 he drives me the short trip downtown Hinsdale. He is next to the historic stone Highlands Station but this train does not stop there.
Soon after we are on the platform the speakers crackle with unpleasant news: inbound train is about 25 minutes late. Wonderful. He says it’s trackwork. The station is filling up with families and younger people, especially young women. The Air and Water Show is on at the lakefront. They’re not driving, that’s for sure.
The inbound train finally comes and it is packed and very noisy. I give up on returning a phone call. Won’t hear it anyway, why bother. This is not your subdued commuter crowd with heads buried in Wall Street Journals and Blackberries. But nobody’s drunk…yet. That comes later.
I don’t have the margin I would like to make the 4:30 North Line train two blocks away at Ogilvie but that’s because I’m Germanic. I actually have plenty of time - more than 20 minutes - and buy a single ticket because I used up my 10-ride.
It leaves on time and is nice and quiet and gets to my stop on time at 4:51. I walk in the house at 5. I would probably only be starting my journey home at 5. When the days get shorter, this would indeed be a long day’s journey into the night.
I am sure I could not do this every day.