Commuting and Uncategorized18 Aug 2008 08:14 am

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.

Commuting and Uncategorized and travel18 Aug 2008 12:16 am

Today is a combination of relatively last-minute trips into the Loop, firmed up mid-morning with just enough time to catch a 10:57 Metra train inbound.

First stop: near West Side along the trendy Randolph Street corridor, which is now more sushi than sides of beef as in the days when produce and meat markets dominated this area. There are still some food vendors left amidst the upscale dining and I picked my way past sidewalk dining where the next storefront was a meat wholesaler where guys were unloading large pieces of beef from the back of a white Ford panel van. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk to an old colleague’s office from the Metra station but I had stopped first to pick up a Metra schedule for the Aurora train for a Friday trip. More on that later.

Lunch outside is a relief from sitting at the laptop all day Tuesday sending emails and making phone calls. We catch up on each other’s web work and chew on our shared past personalities as much as we chew on our lunch. Let’s say the lunch is way easier to digest.

My next stop is only at 3 PM so after wrapping up around 1:15 PM, I walk back to the Metra station to get out of the impending and then arriving rain and make some calls. The repetitive electronic voice announcing each track is enough to make a Marcel Marceau scream in mid-act. I walk to my appointment.

This one ends with enough time to leisurely walk back to the Ogilvie station and settle in on the 5:43 PM train about 15 minutes early. Nice.

My wife, meanwhile, is on her way back from Washington, DC. She calls me to tell me that our friends at United are going to plop her into O’Hare at 6:55 PM. Obviously, I will not be driving to pick her up so I encourage her to take a taxi and be ready to pay about 42 bucks for the privilege. She wants to know the alternative, so I tell her that I think the Cumberland station will offer her a Pace bus to Evanston, which means riding the CTA Blue Line inbound a stop. She sounds like she’s game to try it and she’s a big girl with a big idea and I suspect she will not take the taxi. Funny how you get to know somebody in a marriage.

What she does actually is to take the O’Hare People Mover, a rubber-tired elevated train, to the remote parking lot where she picks up Pace bus Route 250 - Dempster Street which originates at the O’Hare Kiss-N-Fly ATS Station. She is actually in progress when she calls to report this but assures me she will at least take a taxi from the Davis Street El station in Evanston.

Despite my having arrived home from downtown, I have enough time to walk the dog and make fish tacos from scratch including making another walking trip to Dominick’s to get some additional vegetables I need and setting the table before she gets home well after 8:30 PM. Her bus trip was almost as long as the flight from DC and indeed, the timetable allows the trip about an hour:

Take PACE BUS # 250
Depart at 07:25 PM:
Arrive at 08:27 PM:
Partway through the trip home, she was doubting the wisdom of this method, but she certainly pioneered an overland route from O’Hare I had never thought of. Perhaps the next time she can try the Conestoga service.
Commuting and Errands10 Aug 2008 12:26 pm

My transportation needs have changed from mostly routine to mostly discretionary.

Almost headed into Chicago this morning with neighbors to try for same-day $20.00 theater tickets only to find out that they got sold out fast at 11 AM. Mission cancelled after the confirming phone call, I head back to the house and reschedule a haircut from 6 PM to 4 PM.

The temperature and humidity climb all day, making me debate whether to ride my bike into the Clybourn corridor of the city or take the train. There’s no compelling time advantage of the train given midday timetables, so I bike. Out of deference to my friend and former neighbor who cuts my hair, I take a shirt change. When she tells me to “smock up” she asks if I rode my bike and I tell her “yes” and that I brought a shirt change.

“That’s good, you’ll feel better,” she says.

“So will you,” I respond and she laughs.

Afterward, I decide to prep myself for the hot ride home with a smoothie and make some job calls. That done, I ride home in the afternoon heat with a favorable tailwind and make great time, many times exceeding 20 MPH on straightaways like Elston Avenue and upper Lincoln Avenue. I forgot how jammed up city streets can be at high rush hour because I often rode home after peak in the early evening.

Some tanned middle-aged guys are riding up Kedzie by Thillens Stadium. They are in sleeveless T-shirts without helmets and are on knobby-tired mountain bikes. I pass them but not long afterwards, one of them, tanned #1 man on mountain bike, charges by me at a good clip and goes through the changing red light at Pratt Blvd where I stop. Shit. Is this testosterone at work again? This happens a lot on the bike, even to my wife. I just like to ride as fast as possible but I think some guy cyclists see this as a challenge. Add two more wheels and an engine and you get, ta-da! Road rage! Comforting thought, that.

Tanned #2 man on mountain bike and another different commuter cyclist get caught along with me at the long light at Touhy Avenue. The sun is still high and hot in the Western sky. Both westbound lanes of Touhy are bumper-to-bumper. Eastbound is not much better and gridlock threatens. I find myself engaged by this parade of cars. Tanned #2 man on mountain bike turns with a smile and comments on how long the traffic light is. “I’m glad we’re not driving,” I respond.

I’m also glad to take a shower when I get home.

Commuting and Leisure and Uncategorized07 Aug 2008 11:14 pm

For a brief moment I entertain the illusion of a normal commute: I’m heading downtown on a morning train.

I’m hoping to spend only half the day cleaning out my office, tying up loose ends, and saying my goodbyes but I should know better: I end up taking a rush-hour train back home after I do the old routine walk across Wacker Drive. The old normal is the new abnormal.

They’ll send me a box of stuff from my office that I don’t want to carry on the train. I discover once again that you can carry emotional baggage on any vehicle.

The weather’s warm but mostly sunny so I willingly take the bike to tai chi this evening. We’re past the Summer Solstice and the long days are not quite as long, I note as the dusk begins to assert itself around 8 PM. I’m cycling home with LEDs on as darkness falls by 9 and the mild night is filling with my favorite evocative sounds of cicadas and crickets. The vegetation is lush and so are the evening smells on the quiet side streets.

Sigh. I go through the same imaginary deal-making every July and August: can’t we just hang onto this combination of warmth and light and smells for longer than we have it in Chicago?

Or, is that just what makes it so sweet?

Commuting and Errands and Humor and Uncategorized31 Jul 2008 10:44 pm

Being a motorist does not lend itself to a sense of humor. You are in the seat of power, literally. Who’s laughing at that?

Cyclists, on the other hand, are still the underdog in the current US transportation scene. Sometimes we react to that position with rants. Sometimes we respond with a sense of humor. Sometimes both. I saw an example of that today and it made me laugh.

Around 6 while the black beans were cooking, I walked my dog to Kinko’s for copying and faxing. I cut through the alley as usual and there at an old-school grey steel bike rack there’s a well-ridden newer Giant with a blue pickup truck milk crate on the rear rack. A working bike, always a good sign.

On the back of the milk crate is a large white cardstock sign lettered in all caps with wide markers:


OK, in my world, flatulence humor is never not funny. I’m sorry for being so lowbrow, really I am.

I swear I’m seeing way more bikes this summer. My wife says so, too. Bike racks are packed. She said she even had a near miss with another cyclist on blind corner on the bike path in Lincolnwood. It ended cordially without incident but she and the other woman were both not expecting traffic here based on past experience. I’m talking about men in khakis and women in skirts, riding to work or to the train, with bags slung over their shoulders. My neighbor introduced me to his old friend over the weekend and I find out that he commutes to Glenview from my Evanston neighborhood…by bike. He gave me a great route I didn’t know about, too.

Do I like seeing all this cycling?

Do I like lowbrow humor?

Commuting and Socializing28 Jul 2008 03:36 pm

I have another late afternoon Metra ride into the Loop, this time to have dinner with a friend and former colleague at 5;30. This means missing Critical Mass again but I hope that the summer night’s crowd will forgive my absence and two wheels.

This is an odd but interesting change of pace for me, riding inbound trains in the afternoon when they’re light in this direction. Too bad I have no confidence that Metra will ever let me on the train even when they say they will. More on this rant later.

I had a nice time catching up. I have definitely had the pleasure of working with some really good people who are real professionals. We talked more personal than professional, which is fine by me.

After dinner, my friend and I get to extend the conversation as we walk across the loop to the Ogilvie station, he for the 8:40 PM West Line, me for the 8:35 PM North Line.

I appreciate my community.

At home, my wife reports she has worked out the details of donating the old car. We just have to do it. Stay tuned.

Commuting and Uncategorized28 Jul 2008 03:29 pm

No reason to go in this morning as I would usually. I think you’re starting to get the picture.

I do have a reason to go in late in the afternoon but not to the usual place. Thankfully, I saw some of this coming.

I will have to be a little circumspect until later, so bear with me. I’ll focus on the transportation aspect for now.

The days are warming as the week progresses and I see lots of cyclists out, which is good. I’m just not one of them, which is bad.

I take the Metra train down for a late meeting for which I have to be presentable, and for which I will not be able to tote clothes and the other things I need to carry on a bike. Too much to focus on.

After the meeting, I take another pass at my desk. This load is heavier than yesterday.

I have lots of things to think about.

Commuting and Uncategorized28 Jul 2008 03:20 pm

I want to ride my bike today. It’s not raining. Really. It’s sunny, dry, and cool this morning.

I suit up but my wife warns me she’ll be gone all day and into the evening, leaving the dog alone the whole time. I get it: if I take my bike, I’m usually home at least an hour later than if I take the train, for multiple reasons.

Off with the bike clothes, I’ll take the train. Transportation is a family affair especially without a car. I don’t like to leave the dog alone that long, either. Nancy’s transit today is a repeat of the earlier trips by bike to work in Chicago, back to Davis by el, and from there to Northbrook by PACE bus, and home how the mood strikes her, by bus or bike. Last time she was brave and rode down Green Bay Road instead on the Green Bay bike trail.

Interesting how the day ends up working out.

I’m called into a meeting. Looks like I’ll be cleaning my desk out.

I carry home more than would fit on my bike anyway.

This is going to be a family affair, too.

Commuting and Errands and Uncategorized25 Jul 2008 02:09 pm

A nice day for riding a bike but I don’t. Maybe dry weather traumatizes me. Maybe I just don’t feel like it.

I take the train and take it easy. This can be a nice thing, just like dry socks. I also have a mid-afternoon doctor’s appointment so I decide that I would rather just take the bus there.

Which I do after checking the CTA Trip Planner online. Door-to-door service using the 151 Sheridan to Diversey. It comes right as soon as I leave my building. I can tell that the driver has too much time in her schedule when she kills a light on Michigan Avenue and dawdles through Lincoln Park. I’m still early.

Afterwards, a westbound Diversey bus shows up as soon as I walk out and I get on, asking the driver if the Diversey El station is open or not because of the Brown Line reconstruction. She doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to care. I’ll figure it out myself when I get there. It’s open and I have to kill a little time before the first Purple Line shows up northbound at 3:40. It comes on time and gets me to Central Street before a 201 bus is due.

I decide to wait for it with some other folks and not risk it passing me up halfway home like it seems to do so perversely when I decide to walk. It comes a little late but nothing serious and I’m home easily.

I truly wish all bus connections were like the ones I had today. More people would appreciate this mode more.

Maybe bus tracker will help:

For a web guy like me, this is a hopeful sign: yet another way to connect with buses.

Postscript: One last observation comes from Nancy as we recap the day. She told me that in a two-block stretch of Clark Street south of Newport (for you non-Chicagoans, this is just south of Wrigley Field in the core of commercial Lakeview), all but five parking meters had bikes locked to them. That’s a lot of cycles on this dense street.

Commuting and Uncategorized25 Jul 2008 01:51 pm

This summer? On a bike? Nah.

I wake up wanting to ride my bike to work today.

The black clouds in the west and the blacker clouds in the south say the same thing to me: “If you ride your bike today, we’ve got something for your butt, George.”

I ride. The clouds were right. Can’t say they didn’t warn me. About two miles from my house, I feel the first drip. Soon it is a steady rain. For about 14 miles.

Here’s the good news: I have a tailwind. The temperature is perfect. The bike traffic is light but the car traffic is heavy and I have numerous chances to bypass the stuck cars. I make really good time. I put all my electronics in plastic bags before starting out. I get a parking place on the bike rack right by my building, which never happens on a nice day.

Here’s the bad news: I am wet to the skin. I am dirty with street grit. I did not pack my change of clothes in plastic. I did not bring extra socks.

Note to self: pack some fresh, uh, “delicates” in a good plastic bag next time, you dope. Socks, too, dope.

The hair dryer in the building’s gym makes my shirt presentably dry. The AC takes care of the rest. I don’t get goosebumps. My socks are wet the the whole day. I think of my feet as big pink raisins within them. This turns out to be true. Ewwww.

Thankfully, the weather has cleared by the time I have to ride home around 5:50 PM. Auto traffic is clearing from the loop and again I catch up with a cluster of bikes at Milwaukee, Grand, and Halsted. At our own pace we mostly head up the bike lane on Milwaukee but I alone cut off for the trip up Elston. Not a tailwind but not a headwind and I make good time getting home on a nice summer evening. I cannot wait to take off my shoes.

And those pink raisins in my shoes? Yep, sho’ nuff. Ewww, again.

Showers are good thing when they are warm and don’t last 14 miles.

Next Page »