In honor of my pals who have been attending the RT Booklovers Convention in Chicago this week, I thought I’d re-post the story of my trip to the Windy City last fall. Considering my misadventures in travel over the years have included a kidnapping, a bomb search by ATF agents, a sunset serenade from a recently-paroled bank robber, and a rest stop run-in with a freaky guy and a squirrel puppet, my most recent trip to Chicago was pretty tame by comparison. Until the trip home…
Recently, I traveled up to Chicago for a conference. In retrospect, there are three big regrets I have about my trip:
1) I wasn’t able to work it out so HH could go with me. Chicago is a town best enjoyed with someone else and my visit just wasn’t nearly as fun as it could have been had HH been there to share it.
2) I didn’t think to get in touch with my pal Amy (who lives up Chicago-way) in time to try to get together for lunch or dinner while I was there. Totally bummed about this one.
3) I decided to take the train.
Now, nothing against the fine folks who work all day every day keeping the trains going, but Indiana isn’t exactly known for its stellar mass-transit system. There is exactly one train each day that goes from Indy to Chicago, and exactly one train that goes from Chicago back to Indy.
Even though I had a twinge of apprehension about my lack of options should something go wrong, I decide – eh, what the hell. I’d never ridden on a passenger train and thought it might be an adventure. Of course, considering my track record of travel disasters, an adventure of some sort was pretty much guaranteed. I even joked with Professor that if anything crazy happened, I’d write about it.
So, here ya go:
The way up was fine. I was on a very nice, comfy train with lots of leg room, a dining car where I could buy snacks and water, a decent restroom that was passably clean (all things considered), and a seat-mate who slept most of the way and was pretty innocuous when he was awake. And, as a bonus, I didn’t have to deal with crowded airports or the crazy traffic trying to get to my destination. Sweet!
The way back, on the other hand, was my typical travel nightmare. I don’t know who I pissed off in a previous life, but the travel gods have it out for me.
I should have known my luck wasn’t going to hold when I sat down in the waiting area to board the train and immediately started tensing up between my shoulder blades. There’s this one spot, just to the left of my spine, that tips me off to trouble every time. The next clue was probably the woman with no front teeth who sat down next to me and proceeded to hack and cough in my general direction. (Travel Tip: If you’re ever in Chicago’s train station, hang out upstairs in the food court until you have to head downstairs to catch your train. Trust me.)
Anyway, the the waiting area was teeming with people and mired in confusion about gates and delays and departure times, etc., but we somehow managed to get on the train around 6:00 p.m., which was only about 10 minutes behind schedule. Not too bad, really. I defy you to get out of any major city on time, regardless of your mode of transportation. And, although the train was considerably more cramped and lacked the amenities of my previous train, it was just a five hour ride during the night – what could anyone possibly need? Right?
So, off we went. We made it all of about 1/4 of a mile and came to a stop in the middle of the train yard. No big deal – it was busy, so my fellow passengers and I just figured we were in a holding pattern of sorts like you’d experience at an airport. But when we still hadn’t moved a half an hour later, we started to get a little curious. Finally, the conductor came through to tell us that we had a malfunctioning horn and it would be about another 15 to 20 minutes before we’d be on our way.
An hour later, he came through again. “Sorry for the delay, folks! They’ve identified the problem and we’re waiting for the part they need to fix it. About 15 to 20 minutes and we’ll be on our way.”
Around 9:30 p.m. (yes, for those who are keeping track, that’s 3 1/2 hours of sitting in the train yard close enough to the train station we could actually see it behind us) they finally just decided to scrap the repairs and just switch out the engine cars. This whole process took about a half hour. Nothing quite like sitting in the middle of a train yard on a decrepit train for four hours with no food or water, waiting for them to fix a freaking horn. It’s a little creepy at night, too, let me tell you…
But that creepiness was certainly topped by our unexpected stop in the middle of a wooded area in Northern Indiana where we had to sit for 30 minutes to wait for a freight train to pass. I kept expecting some urban legend-type hook-handed psychopath to board the train and start taking out passengers in increasingly gruesome ways.
The two ditsy blond college students and the kinda funny redneck from South Dakota would have been the first to go, as that’s typically the way it works out in this kind of story arc. But, lucky for me, the level-headed, bookish brunettes tend to last a little longer – maybe even until the end.
Plus, as I sat there reading on my Kindle, I was surreptitiously surveying the other passengers and making mental notes as to who would be the best allies if others started mysteriously vanishing. Let’s just say I was planning to make friends with the 6-year-old girl across the aisle (whose colossally annoying parents most likely would have been picked off about half-way through) and the retired marine behind me.
Think about it – in horror movies the former military guys generally tend to last until the very end at which time they heroically sacrifice themselves to save the lives of aforementioned bookish brunette and token kid. All in all, and considering what I had to work with, I think my chances were pretty good. But, alas, the train eventually moved on without further incident.
Even so, I was supposed to get in around 11:45 p.m. Wednesday but didn’t get back until 5:00 a.m. Thursday morning. To say I was exhausted doesn’t even cover it. Not exactly the great train adventure I’d envisioned, but an adventure nonetheless. And not one I’m planning to repeat. Ever.
So, to all my pals traveling home from RT I just have one thing to say: May your own travels be less eventful than mine – or, if not, at least be worth writing about.