I’d like to share a couple things about commuting to Chicago. My goal is to make it efficient to get to and from my home to the office in the city where I work a new gig as a content strategist.
Going back in time, I’ve commuted to Chicago at several stages of my career. For example, way back in my 20s, I commuted from the suburbs to a job at 208 S. LaSalle Street. That was the former US Steel Building. In a strange turn of events, I worked in the exact same office where one of my uncles had worked for the US Steel company twenty-five years before. Time warp.
The walk from the train to LaSalle Street took perhaps ten minutes. The train ride downtown took an hour. I lived two miles from the station where I caught the train in those days. All told, it wasn’t a terrible commute.
But at that age, I took the whole thing as an affront to my character. I was young and selfish with my time. I didn’t like leaving at 6:30 in the morning to go downtown. I hated getting back at 6:30 at night. That left hardly any time to go running in the evening. In wintertime, it was already dark by 4:30 p.m.
Another twenty years later I worked in the city again. This time the commute took longer because the company was located in the Hancock Building. That’s the 900 block of N. Michigan Avenue. a long walk from the train station, more than two miles. So most days I’d take a bus. That wasn’t bad. In really bad weather, I’d take a cab. But that was expensive. About $10 one way to the train station.Not sustainable.
One day the rain hit the city and I couldn’t catch a cab because they were all taken. But I needed to make a 5:40 train to catch a commitment back home. So I started running through the rain with my computer bag strapped over my shoulder. The rain was pouring down and I had no raincoat. Within three blocks of running the water soaked through the suit and I was dripping wet inside. Water ran down my ass crack. My shoes were full. Socks were saggy. It all sucked big time. When I hit the train the suit (and I) smelled like a dead sheep. Turns out that’s what happens when you wear 100% wool in a rainstorm and generate a lot of heat running to the train. The sweat didn’t help much either. So rather than sit next to some poor commuter on the train I stood in the space between cars and let the water run down my ass and into my shoes. Aren’t I a nice guy?
I wasn’t a happy guy in the first place. The company that had hired me promised during the interview that I’d only have to commute downtown one day a week. The rest of the time they wanted me to work out in the suburbs to recruit companies that needed creative staffing work.
Only that promise and plan never came true. The company never got its remote database organized. The office they promised in the suburbs never materialized. One could not enter prospects in the system except in the office. So I commuted like a fiend through weather thick and thin.
So I commuted like a fiend through wintry weather and then come spring they said “Screw it” on the whole suburban recruiting idea entirely. So the whole thing came to naught.
But I learned a few things about commuting. I sure did.
In the years since I’ve had occasional contract work in the city, so I’ve commuted on and off. Now that work is increasing and I’m commuting regularly again. Not every day, mind you, but enough that it matters how I get back and forth from the train to the office. The City of Chicago is so familiar to me it’s like a
The City of Chicago is so familiar to me it’s like a back yard. I’ve done paintings of its buildings from Wacker Drive and walked among the city canyons where commuters like me trudge from work to the train and back again in the morning.
A few things about moving around downtown have changed. The likes of Uber and Lyft have entered the downtown traffic fray. I tried Lyft and it wasn’t much cheaper than taking a cab. Then I tried it again and the ride was not due for 10 minutes so I said screw it and took a cab again. I canceled the ride within two minutes and still the Lyft app dinged me for $2.00.
So I wrote and complained to the company and they took the $2.00 off my credit card. But they warned that there was a $2.00 fee if there was ever a Lyft vehicle within five minutes of the scheduled pickup. That seems like a system heavily tipped in their favor. The Lyft app had told me the ride would not arrive for eight minutes and that pretty much didn’t help my schedule. At that rate, I could have just walked and got there in about the same time. So I did. My dreams of getting cheap rides across town thanks to hyper-cool apps like Uber and Lyft have yet to be realized. So far they’re more like slapps than apps.
Which brings me to Divvy bikes. You know the ones you can rent in the city. They rack them up all over cities like Chicago and New York. You can rent a bike and ride it if you like. Through city traffic. Such a cinch. Totally safe. Not.
I’ve been watching Divvy riders navigate through traffic. I’m not afraid to do that. But I do think wearing a helmet would be a good idea. A friend recently had a slow bike crash and suffered a bad concussion that lasted for weeks. I’m a writer by trade, and if my head hurts or it’s hard to think clearly, I’m sunk.
So the tradeoffs on Divvy bikes are interesting. But I downloaded the app and took a look at all the locations. The app tosses an arrow up on your screen and all you have to do is follow the direction of the arrow to find the nearest Divvy rack.
Or you can look it up yourself and plan your route across town. There are now huge bike lanes through the City of Chicago. All that would be necessary to find a good route is to figure out where those bike lanes go and take the shortest route.
But to test the real distance between the office and the train, I walked it on foot today. It was exactly two miles, and took me 22:00. That’s not bad. I wasn’t killing it either. But it’s still 22 minutes. To catch a train, that might not be good enough at times.
So there needs to be a strategy in place for all conditions. And the thing I’ve considered is buying a really shitty bike and locking it to a light pole downtown somewhere. There are bikes like that locked up everywhere. It seems like some of them hang out there forever, or at least until their owners come get them again. So it might pay to look up the city rules and see where bikes can legally be chained. Then I might take one downtown and leave it there. Just for my commute. On days when it’s not raining.
It could not be a decent bike or it will get stolen. Yet it can’t be such a shitty bike that you can’t ride it. Part of me wants to take that risk with the Trek 400 that I own. It’s a circa 1984 bike that I originally rode to figure out if road bike riding was for me. It’s a steel frame bike now equipped with cage pedals. Rides smooth. I could get across town in less than ten minutes on that. Better than a cab sometimes.
But we all know that the city is harsh on anything that’s left around. Those cage pedals on the Treck would not be hard for someone to remove. All it takes is a pedal wrench and five minutes of time. So I’d want to put the basic pedals back on.
Here’s a bit of irony. Carrying bikes on the train during rush hour is not allowed. I almost spit when I think about that.
So there are still a few things to figure out to make this all wise, sustainable and suitably convenient. The Divvy option still looks good. It reputedly costs $99 for an entire year subscription.IN truth, to rent a Divvy without a subscription is frankly prohibitive. If i understood the rates correctly, it costs $7.00 for a half hour. That’s as much as a cab ride. I’m like, WTF? A bike should cost $2.00 to rent and ride for a half hour. Don’t you think?
But if you ride more than half an hour on that subscription rate, the minutes start accruing. I think that sucks. What if I want to ride up the lakeshore some day and tan my ass at Montrose? Or travel down to Hyde Park and stick my toes in the water at the beach? My $99 should cover that. And if I want to ride naked through town on one of those wild nights when people do that, my $99 should cover that too. With no risk of arrest. It’s pubic transportation, isn’t it? Ooops. Forgot the ‘l.’ Or is the El? That doesn’t go anywhere downtown I need to go.
I’ll have to study all the rates a bit further. Or buy a shitty bike and lock it up in a few safe places on rotation. Get a big-ass Kryptonite lock and hope for the best.
The city really should have some place where people can store bikes to use for commuter purposes. I see people with collapsible bikes rolling through town but I’m not going to lug one of those around either. This should be simpler. It really should be simpler.