Friday, June 13, 2014

A Win-Win

It’s funny how things turn out. I have always used a car service to go to and from the airport in Chicago. It was always to just walk downstairs, get into a comfortable car and get out at the airport. It was also very expensive. There is another way to get to the Ohare using public transportation, actually two trains. Even considering the two fares, it’s a bargain and is less than the tip I give the drivers of the car service.

I decided to try the train once, not sure how it would go. Since I didn’t know how it would be dealing with luggage, I had nothing but a computer bag on wheels without a computer in it. (I’d stuffed some yarn and clothes in the slender spaces). It basically weighted little more than the bag itself.

I had a printed schedule for the first train, but wasn’t sure how long the second train would take to get to the airport. It’s amazing what you can find online. It even figured in my walking time from the first train station to the second one and gave me the time length of the trip.

I would rather allow more time than less, so I added another hour on. It wasn’t totally crazy as I had heard that the second train had broken down on occasion and the riders had to be bused the rest of the way.

The interesting thing about the journey is that once I walked the two blocks to the first train, I could get all the way to the airport without going outside again.

The first train is called the METRA and I had take my bag up a flight of stairs. (There’s an elevator, but it’s small and I had visions of getting stuck so passed on it.) I got there early whicgh was no problem. The platform affords a nice view of trees and some interesting buildings. Plus there were the conversations of the other people waiting for the train to eavesdrop on.

The METRA is an electric commuter train with roomy cars and lots of nice seats. The newer trains even have a lavatory. It wasn’t the time of day when people were heading toward downtown and the train was pretty empty and it only took about 12 minutes to get to the end of the line, Millennium Station. A ramp led up to the underground station filled with shops. Just before a stairway going up to the street there was an entrance to the underground pedway, which was the key to me not having to go outside. The pedway is a maze walkways that leads all over downtown. It is more haphazard than planned according to a PBS show I watched.

I walked on, pulling my bag passed the swimming pool of the L.A. Fitness Signature club in the Millennium building. There were several business like dry cleaners and watch repair and shortly afterwards I reached an entrance to Macy’s or as I still think of it Marshall Fields. My mouth was a little dry. Yes, I was nervous about this trip because it was the first time. I found out the hard way that the water fountains on every floor are no longer functional. I guess they were a part of Marshall Field’s but only for appearance in Macy’s.

As an aside, any of you watching Mr. Selfridge on PBS, the Marshall Field’s of my memory looks just like Selfridges, probably because Mr. Selfridge worked there first. One of my many jobs during college was selling toys at Field’s during Christmas. It was so much fun.

Back to my trip. I was trying to travel as light as possible and didn’t want the burden of even a bottle of water. But lucky for me the Starbucks in Macy’s was giving out samples of iced chai tea. Thirst quenched, I continued through the basement of the store to a sign that said To Subway (the train, not the sandwich restaurant).

A few stairs down and I was back in the Pedway. I passed the signs for the Red Line subway and continued on. What had once been just a long walkway with white tiled walls had become the lower portion of the building called Block 52. I passed shops and restaurants before seeing the sign for the Blue Line subway. I ran into a few problems here. It started when I tried to buy a ticket with cash from a machine . The attendant told me the machine was out of service, forever. You can only buy a ticket with a credit card. It seems kind of crazy, but then I’m not the one making the rules.

I tried the credit card machine and kept getting an error message. Of course, I told the attendant I thought it was broken. It wasn’t, I was putting my credit card in wrong. I got my ticket and headed down a steep stairway with my bag. A little tricky, but doable.

There was music coming from the platform. Three men were singing a capella with a bucket for contributions. They were really good and it livened up the whole atmosphere. I was almost sorry when the train came. I could have listened to them longer. But when it roared up, I got on. This ride was a lot longer than the first train, like about 45 minutes. Not that I minded. It was fascinating listening to people talking to each other, hearing the canned announcement saying there was no gambling allowed on the train, and watching all the people not only staring at their screens, but tethered to them as well with earbuds.

The train stayed underground for awhile and it was noisy and dark, but then it came above ground. We passed so close to buildings you could practically pick something off their balconies. I could look into back yards and down streets. Eventually we rode down the middle of the expressway and we sped past the crawling traffic.

The end of the line is the airport. Not too long ago, one of the train driver’s missed the end of the tracks and the train went up the escalator. (I think she fell asleep). No problem this time. The trained stopped where it should and I rode up the escalator. The station was buzzing with travelers on their way into town. A man was playing a flute and I thought of how music really raises the surrounding mood.

A few moments later, I was in the terminal and the ground part of my journey home was done. I had learned some lessons along the way like revolving doors and suitcases however small don’t mix, look for ramps, they’re easier than stairs if you have luggage, take your time, and try your credit card the other way if you get an error message. But most of all, I learned that aside from being way, way cheaper than using the car service, the train trip was so much more of an adventure and fun. And now I’ve done it a second time with real baggage and I still prefer it. I surprised even myself when I realized that the easy way isn’t always the best way.


Planner said...

I enjoyed your adventure, Betty! I like your conclusion that the easy way isn't always the best way. So true!

Diane Vallere said...

Betty, I'm impressed by your train-to-airport adventure. I've been too scared that I'll end up in the wrong place to try the two trains I need to get to LAX, but the cost sure does appeal to my frugal nature! Maybe I'll give it a go soon.

Betty Hechtman said...

Planner, easy is sometimes dull.

Betty Hechtman said...

Diane, I tried taking the trains in Chicago. They have public transportation figured out. I don't think L.A. even has a train that goes all the way to the airpot. L.A. has gotten better about public transit. I saw that there is a city bus that goes through Laurel Canyon now. I think if I didn't have family to take me to LAX, I'd take the flyaway bus from Van Nuys.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Betty, I've taken trains twice from Midway Airport in Chicago and they worked out fine for me, even though I was a bit nervous about them at first. But I admit I feel a lot more comfortable taking the subway in LA since I'm used to it than trying public transportation in cities I'm visiting.

Betty Hechtman said...

Linda, I didn't know there was a train to Midway Airport. Good to know.

Monica Ferris said...

It always makes me feel brave to take light rail/subways in strange cities. I become super-alert - which is good for people watching.

Betty Hechtman said...

Monica, I definitely feel brave and adventuresome when I take public transit in a different city. I agree about the people watching.