We have been doing a lot of traveling around via the metro when we have been visiting cities. Washington has the most modern one and it is only 40 years old. It also has amazing stations which are like underground cathedrals subtly lit with up-lighting. By comparison, the Chicago CTA trains have been running since 1892.  They are clean on the outside, but less so on the inside. The elevated sections have their charm and they are as much a part of Chicago as Pizzas and Al Capone. Funnily enough even though Washington has a much more modern system, the train drivers still make the announcements. I have to say I didn’t understand a single announcement made on the Washington Metro. In Chicago the announcements are made by a very eloquent and clear recording, which as well as telling us which doors opened, also occasionally warned us about the dangers of soliciting and gambling, well at least not to do them on the CTA anyway.
One thing that has struck me is the way people behave on them. I have been a regular train, tube and tram traveller so I’m used to people chatting on phones and spending the whole journey staring at their little screens. But here it is slightly more blatant. Don’t ask me why, but I find people using hands free kits on the train just weird. The other day a girl got on a train, sat down and got a makeup mirror out to fix her hair. Nothing strange there. She the began speaking very loudly at the mirror. Was she Snow White’s mother?  Was it a magic mirror? I then noticed that she had ear buds in and was obviously on the phone to her friend. It just seems weird to have someone talking into the ether completely oblivious of the rest of the world.
Phoning is one thing, but Facetiming/Skyping someone is a whole different matter. I was sat behind a girl the other day who was merrily facetiming her boy friend…on a different continent…from the train!  We’ve been Skyping the parents when we have been out here, but I just can’t imagine doing it on the train (although I bet dad would love that. Skyping from the train would be so much more interesting than Skyping from a boring hotel room).

One of the things you can’t do on the Chicago CTA is play music (without headphones). I’m glad to say that people ignore that rule as well. On our trip to Midway airport to fly on to Philadelphia, a Latino man was on the phone (using the phone correctly by placing it up to his ear in the internationally recognised hand gesture for “I’m on the phone”).  After he finished his call the sound of a mariachi band began emanating from his phone. I thought it was his ring tone; but no, it was a complete album. He sat there grinning (well actually he only had one tooth, so it was less of a grin, more of a gum) as the music played. You could see people shooting daggers at him (with their looks, not literally.  Chicago is rough, but not that rough, well not in this case anyway). He was oblivious to it all and just carried on humming along. I quite missed him when he got off.  The other passengers missed him less so.

On our last day in Chicago we came across an aggressively helpful member of the CTA staff. We wanted to go to the science museum and the guidebook said either take the green line and then a bus, or (better option) take a commuter train as it stops nearer. The only problem was that we had never really fully worked out where the commuter trains ran from. We knew the CTA really well, but this was like knowing the underground and then transferring to Southern Rail. We thought that if we got off at Roosevelt there was as station nearby which we could use.

As we came up the escalators, Karen suggested we ask the lady in the booth (it’s as if she didn’t have confidence in my ability to find a station that we weren’t sure existed on a line we had never even seen). We explained what we were trying to achieve but the lady was not convinced.
“You need to take the green line and the number 55 bus”.”No, we want the train that goes from near here”.She shrugged.”You need the green line”.”No, we need this other line”.  She shrugged again, then realisation dawned on her.”Oh you mean the METRA!””Errr, I think so”.”That has nothing to do with me.  No, you need the green line.  Here I’ll swipe you back in”.

At that point she pushed us back through onto the platform that we came from. We studied the map further and we were definitely convinced that this was not the best option and indeed we did need this mystical rail service called the METRA. The only problem was that to get back to street level we had to somehow sneak past her.  I went first and as I got to the top of the escalates I could see her looking straight at me. There was no going back. I just looked at her smiled and headed straight for the exit. She opened her window but I resolutely fought my British instinct to go and apologise for inconveniencing her and explain what we were doing. I looked straight ahead and walked out. Ten minutes later we found the METRA and eventually we got to the science museum. And interestingly enough no one was Skyping or playing music on the METRA.
Tomorrow: A pleasure serving you.

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