The Red Line: Chicago, IL

If you want to get anywhere on time, or even on the day you plan on getting somewhere, don’t rely on Amtrak.

In the ever-wise words of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there. I’ll tell you how I became an amateur rider of the L on a wing and a prayer. 

While the rhythm/ rhyme isn’t quite there, you get the gist. I learned the ins and outs of Chicago’s Red Line March 18 when I unexpectedly got to spend an extra day in the city.

From time to time, I like whirlwind vacations. There’s something exhilarating about how one night you can be somewhere new and the next night you’re gone. These adventures let you be whoever you want to be for 48 hours, with lack of consequence. That’s how I expected my Chicago trip would go. As it turns out, this was not how fate (or should I say Amtrak) would have it.

When I travel solo, I could take or leave driving. I’ve done the trek to Chicago alone in my car before and knew I didn’t want to do it again. I prefer public transportation if it’s accessible (and in my budget). Luckily I planned early on to take the train to Chicago.

I’ve only used Amtrak one other time when I visited friends in Kansas City, MO. That trip was uneventful; arriving to the station more than on time– a part of me is convinced it was even early. Other train rides I’ve taken were in Europe. Train schedules are down to a different kind of science over there, and the system hasn’t quite stuck in the States yet (kind of like the metric system).

As an adaptable traveler who is more than willing to roll with most hypothetical punches, I have to warn you: if you want to get anywhere on time, or even on the day you plan on getting somewhere, don’t rely on Amtrak. Two days before my expected day of travel, Amtrak canceled my return train from Chicago without explanation. As I said, I am more than willing to go with the flow and change around my travel plans. I worked with what Amtrak had to offer and was put in a position where I would be leaving Monday, March 19 instead of Sunday, March 18.

I’m currently balance two part-time jobs when I’m not wanderlusting my way through the world, so I had to do some acrobatics with my schedule. Half of my life was settled seeing as I wouldn’t have any way of making it in for my first job Monday morning. My second job typically starts around 5:00 p.m., and therefore was less straightforward. There was a chance I could get back in time for my Monday shift, but it was unlikely.

Getting shifts covered can be difficult even when you give your co-workers a week’s notice, let alone two days, so I put it up to the part-time job gods and hoped things would work out.

Saint Patrick’s Day came and went in a flurry of DIY bar crawling (check out my most recent post for more details). My friend that graciously let me crash on her couch said it was a-okay for me to stay one more day, but she had a previous commitment Sunday that would leave me on my own until 3:00 p.m.

Knowing this, and being a bit naive to Chicago as a whole, I took this as an invitation for an ‘L’ adventure. I made the decision Saturday night to buy a day pass for the ‘L’ and stop hop around the city. Per my friends suggestion, I didn’t venture off of the red line (Between Howard and 95th/Dan Ryan).

My first stop was for breakfast. Having parents from upstate New York, I’m a bit of a bagel enthusiast. My friend suggested Chicago Bagel Authority.  Getting on at the Granville stop, I bought my day pass and rode the train down to Belmont. Chicago Bagel Authority is only steps from the entrance of the Belmont exit. When I reached the entrance of the shop the place was packed. A line of hungover millennial worked its way out onto the street, a less than enthusiastic hum of conversation coming from the line that was roughly three people wide. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since I showed up to Chicago Bagel Authority at 10:30 a.m. the morning after Saint Patrick’s Day.

The crowds I experienced on Saint Patrick’s Day were nothing compared to the mob inside of Chicago Bagel Authority. The workers behind the counters continuously shouted at the patrons to get inside and stop blocking the door. The most memorable line of the morning was,”It’s just like a bar, guys. Work your way up.”

Chicago Bagel Authority was aptly named.

The day was beautiful, so my next goal was to find a spot to eat my bagel and read for a while. I’ve gone to Millennium Park, seen the Bean, and explored Madison Ave. a few times before, so I pulled out my phone and started searching for another park in the city. This is how I found Grant Park. Grant Park is a subset of Millennium, so most people have heard of it. I had not. This park in particular is known for its iconic fountain.

Since it was mid-March, the fountain was off and the park was pretty empty. Occasional tourists or runners would pass by, but, amazingly enough, I had found my solitude in the city. I would suggest if you’re an introvert with a slightly outgoing streak like myself, Grant Park is a great place for you to relax and enjoy some sunshine. You get a touch of nature surrounded by the urban landscape of Chicago.

The city of Chicago is East Coast urgency meets Midwestern charm. I fell in love with this city and can’t wait to see what this new Chicago affair has in store for me.



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