Editor’s note: The following is Part 2 in the detailed story of a Brit who came to
Chicago to ride every L rail line through every station in record time.
The “miniature train highway”
Just as impressive is when the Brown joins the Red just before Fullerton to form what I can describe as a miniature train highway, with at least four tracks side by side above the roads for a considerable distance. I find this truly fascinating.
I transfer from the subway to the Loop elevated station and experience the same wonder as described above, this time spying on second and third floor office workers. I daresay they’re used to it.
Taking my first bus between stations, I begin to understand the size of the city. It looks like a short distance on the map and I ask someone at the bus stop if it is far, as I wonder if I can run it. She tells me it is quite a way, so I grudgingly wait impatiently for the bus, probably the better part of 15 minutes.
However, at the other end, I am glad, for the journey time is comparable to the wait. Chicago has very, very long streets, and I have only traveled down one.
The train line in the middle of a highway
Stumbling frantically down the steps, I find myself in the middle of an expressway. That’s right – there is a six lane (at least) expressway and the tracks run down the middle rather than the side.
This is another novelty, but not one I like very much.
The traffic noises are deafening, and the wind swirls around me as I
await the next train. CTA staff who work here must be very tolerant and
wear earplugs to put up with the constant racket. There are a few more
stations like this.
Next I encounter: 1.) a turnaround, 2.) a
CTA worker asking if I’m from out of town, 3.) a change, 4.) a wrong
turn, 5.)not knowing where the station is, 6.) another change, 7.) a
narrowly missed train, and 8.) a decision not to try something clever to
catch another. And now I have to start my first substantial run of the
day between stations — another very long street though the actual
distance is reasonable.
The bus links the stations but it
doesn’t come, so I start to run, looking over my shoulder at every bus
stop on the way to see if it sneaks up behind me.
It does not,
so I run the entire way. Which is fine, until I see the station from
afar and the street ahead appearing to arch in the distance, and a lot
of vehicular movement on the road crossing mine.
Foiled by Google Maps
turns out that this is not a simple junction as I had believed, but an
expressway intersection. Which I must cross, with no pedestrian way, to
reach the station.
Thanks, Google Maps.
is a barrier separating the two lanes of the slip road, so I wait for
the traffic to clear, run to it, pause, cross the other lane and arrive
at the station. And after all that, I wait at least six minutes for the
The next run is shorter and better, but I try
taking a picture of the first station when I disembark, putting my
camera in my bag and then running to the second. This costs me a train,
as it rumbles over the bridge while I bear down on the entrance and
departs as I run up the stairs. I don’t think I’ll try that strategy
I go to the end of the line, where I discover the
terminating train pulls into the same single platform as the train going
back out, albeit several meters behind. Interesting.
take another bus. This transfer is even longer than the first, and I
notice how the streets are numbered consecutively; the female voice of
the bus announces “27th Street, 26th Street, 25th Street…” I make a
note in my diary: “Where’s the individuality?” I am sure that each
street here has as much character and identity as any with a “proper”
name in Britain, but to me, naming roads numerically seems a tad
Back downtown for a dreaded stage
downtown. I change again and enter the stage of the day I have been
dreading – several frequent runs that are a lot further than I think.
This part is also where the geographical delay occurs.
start one run, thinking I am going the right way, I arrive at an
intersection and am suddenly struck with doubt, because the street name
that hangs from the traffic lights, facing me, is not the one along
which I should be running. This is probably due to sleep deprivation,
but I decide I have to consult my map.
Two minutes later, I
discover I was going in the correct direction, curse the street naming
system and continue in a straight line. And what happens at the next
station? That’s right; I miss the bloody train which I would have caught
but for the confusion.
At least make your street names more
noticeable, Chicago. Like having them on the sides of buildings like we
do. That way, I will always know on which street I am when I travel
Suffering a tired exasperation
Then comes the
point in the day that most Tube Challengers experience; annoyance and
loss of energy. This leads to me deciding to remain at the station for
10 minutes or more when I could catch the bus – I see it drive by on the
street below. But I am tired of taking risks at that moment and just
want to stay still.
After the next two changes things pick up a
little. The driver sees me running for the train, and having closed her
doors, opens them again, gesturing at me to board. Thanks!
pull into the station, run outside and take the bus immediately, with
that driver thinking she’s being funny trying to impersonate my British
accent (if she likes that sort of thing). The bus has to cross an
intersection before the next station; I decide to disembark one stop
early and cross it on foot (this one has pedestrian signals, at least).
to the bus being held up at the lights, I manage to beat it to the next
station, but yet again, I just miss the train. A somewhat laid back
chap tries to pacify me, as I must look very agitated: “It happens to us
all, man, there’ll be another one along soon.”
It is all I can
do to stop myself from snapping at him, but I inform him what I am
doing, that I have had an exhausting day and that THAT was the train I
needed to finish, with thinly disguised annoyance. He drawls “Oh, cool,
man,” or something similar, and shuffles off.
In the home stretch
that had been the train I needed to finish, which means I am now into
the home stretch and that once I catch the next one, it will be over.
following train takes ages to arrive. Finally, it does arrive, I jump
onboard the train and it is full electrification ahead. I pull my watch
out of my bag to prepare to stop it, catching a glimpse of the time as
much as I try not to – I like looking at the time only when I finish.
However, the time is better than I expected, and much shorter than the
day has seemed.
I pull into the final station, not looking at the
stopwatch, hunched against the door. The door opens a crack and I force
my foot out and down onto the platform, stopping the watch
I have visited every L station in a time of 9 hours, 36 minutes and 33 seconds.
Challenging has landed in America. Well, outside of New York. And I
have also been awake for 41 hours and 45 minutes, on and off. Mostly on.
So. Reid and Drew took three hours to ride at least one stop on every line.
CJ, Trey, Sarah and Jason rode the system to each terminus in 10 hours and 53 minutes.
I have visited every single station by train, including the ones with the same names on different lines, using basic rules drawn up by Guinness World Records in 9 hours, 36 minutes and 33 seconds. Am I winning?
From an Englishman in Chicago.