Sunday, December 30, 2007

The South Shore Line--Back from Chicago

I spent three days in Chicago this week, enjoying the Science and Industry Museum, biting my tongue repeatedly in the obligatory stop at the American Girl Store (the only time I long for my daughter to be older is when I'm near this store), and meeting long lost friends from Utah who now live up north of the city. I don’t like driving into the city, but I really hate to pay an additional 45 bucks a day for parking at a hotel that is already over priced, so the train is my best option, especially when you can get anywhere via public transportation. When I tried to get a ticket a few weeks ago, Amtrak was sold out so I decided to try another option, driving to South Bend and taking the South Shore Line into the city. Below is my description of the trip back to South Bend. This is a first for me (catching the train from South Bend). A number of years ago, when living in Utah, I’d flown into South Bend—to do something at Notre Dame University and was impressed to learn that from the airport one could also catch a train into Chicago. What a novel concept—linking together various forms of transportation. I think San Francisco recently extended BART to the airport. Why can’t cities have the foresight of South Bend? The photo was taken through the dirty window of the train, near Hudson Lake, Indiana.

We wait by the tracks at the Van Buren Station. Salt that has liberally applied to melt the ice, cracks under our feet as we walk back and forth across the platform, trying to stay warm. The concrete shows signs of age as do much of the station; rust and decay have over taken too many years of little maintenance. The salt, while a safety measure, will only hasten the decay. It’s cold, but not bitterly. At least the wind, from which this city is famous, isn’t blowing. Soon, through the tunnel in the distance, you can see the train snake its way toward our platform. People began to come out of the station and join us on the platform, waiting to board the South Shore Line.

We all climb on board. This is only the second stop of the run, but already the only seats available are those facing backwards. I stow our luggage overhead and pull out a copy of Richard Ford’s Rock Springs, and plop down, watching the tall buildings and parks and museums fade away as we pass the McCormick Place and New Comiskey Park, now known as U.S. Cellular Field, a name that just doesn’t seem right. Soon, we’re in the tenements, high rise housing projects that are surrounded by boarded up warehouses and depilated factories. I wonder why it is that I, who have a nature dislike for cities, have fallen in love with Chicago. Maybe it’s because I know from Chicago I can quickly retreat home, even though such a retreat, whether by train or on the highway, will take me through the less desirable sides of the city and tempers my desire to return.

After the stop at Kensington, the line turns east, with stops at Hegewisch and Hammond and a host of other places as we pass the mills at Gary. Along the way, old boarded up buildings and small bars with a car or two out front dot the landscape. There’s snow on the ground, but not enough to truly cover up things and transform the landscape. This could be a setting for a Tom Waits song or, if it was out west, one of the vignettes for the hopeless characters in the Richard Ford book I’m reading. Leaving industry behind, the train picks up speed, running through the sand dunes along the lake and then into the hardwood swamps and fields of cut corn, their stubble sticking up out of the snow. But all that is short-lived as the train slows down and the conductor cries out, “South Bend.” We re-enter an industrial zone then ride beside the runaway till we arrive at the station, affixed next to the airport terminal. Covered in snow and ice, my vehicle awaits in long term parking.


  1. This could be a setting for a Tom Waits song or, if it was out west, one of the vignettes for the hopeless characters in the Richard Ford book I’m reading.

    Your descriptions are always fascinating but that line is brilliant. Says it all

    Happy New Year Sage. May it be wonderful

  2. It looks great over here!

    Have a very Happy New Year, you and your family! May you be blessed even more in 2008.

  3. I'd been told that there is a free train from JFK to Grand Central station in Manhattan - now that I've taken it to get from Delta to Jet Blue (it also connects the terminals at JFK), I would definitely taken into the City next time I'm in NY!

    Some day, your daughter will ignore her American Girl dolls, and you will recall these days nostalgically

  4. After having ridden the trains and buses of Chicago, I hope I never have to drive in that city again. Can't wait to hear more about your trip to the museum.

  5. Thanks for riding the Southern Reading Challenge, where the Yellow Dog crosses the Southern.

    Just stopped by to wish you a Happy New Year and Happy Reading in 2008! :D

  6. Happy New Year!



  7. Hi Sage. I love Karen's keyboard art.

    Love the crossroads sign in the snow too. I grew up in the South Shore of Boston.

    Clink and cheers to you! (and michele)

  8. Looks cold. We finally dropped into the realms of chilly/cold here.

    Happy New Year!!!

  9. Pia--I was wondering how might be able to make those connections--with Waits and Ford

    Happy New Year too you too, Mistress

    Deanna, thanks, may you also have a great year

    Diane, I've never actually flown to NYC, driven there and have taken the train (Amtrak) there

    Ed, don't know if I'll blog about the museum, it was nice, but very crowded and they'd sold out of the German submarine tour (we could see and walk around the u-boat but were unable to get to go into it). Lots of farm stuff--lots of pro-big farm industry exhibits

    Maggie, thank you for the southern challenge

    Karen, happy New Year to you too

    Colleen, thanks for stopping by

    Kontan, we've not had any real cold weather yet-I'm not even sure it's gotten into the single digits, yet.