Tag Archives: commute

I’ve been walking to work for several months now. I recently started longboarding to work, which shaved about 12 minutes off my commute time.

Now I see the city’s underbelly as I skate under the massive tri-level Randolph Street, and I get to surf through the crowds of runners and bikers on the Lakefront Trail.

Longboarding down Navy Pier at 7:30 a.m. when there is not a tourist in sight is one of the most rewarding parts of my ride.

A commuting poem: The train is always late

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The train pulls toward the station and you stand, claiming your place in the line of the first to exit

The train empties like a torn serpent, its entrails pouring from a series of wounds

The flood of people starts as a trickle and becomes a rush as they jockey for a forward position

Free of the train, walking fast, moving with a single thought of gaining the doors to escape the bowels of the station

But really we’re just late for work

The lady in front of you walks with a cane, and she’s hobbling fast, as if she’s being chased

And she is

You try to pass her, and like cars on a freeway, so does everyone else

And as the flow of the train’s entrails empties onto the platform, the wriggling mass spreads outward and forward like blood toward a drain

And we fight for position until we are slowed and blocked and then we groan and complain about the lateness of the hour

The congestion of the sliding doors is an equalizer, putting you back in sync with those who lined up early

And in our mad rush or a deliberate wait, we all exit the station at the same time, spreading out into the city like fire

Breathing finally and texting our superiors and subordinates as if this is something rare and altogether strange

To wake tomorrow and do it all again

A Gapers’ Delay –

Sometimes you hear things for a long time before you seek to define them.  I drive the Dan Ryan at least a few times each month. Chicagoans tend to drive 75 until they don’t, and that’s generally at a standstill. As you crawl along working out your clutch leg to stay at 2 miles per hour, you notice a mini van stranded along the side of the road. A tow truck sits nearby flashing amber lights.  You have time to take all this in, because the only other thing to look at is the license plate of the driver in front of you, and that’s much too close to the speedometer, which, if you stare at it long enough, will raise your blood pressure a point or two.

Sometimes it’s a horrific, bloody accident with cars twisted and ripped open by force or the jaws of life. When you pass by one of these, you strain every muscle in your neck to get a look. You try to take in as much of the highly detailed scene as you can in a quick, stolen glance. On the West Coast we call this rubbernecking. Traffic reporters refer to the “rubberneckers” causing traffic to crawl along on busy morning commutes. In Chicago, these standstills are galled gapers’ blocks or gapers’ delays.  The terms are innocuous, really. They simply mean slowing down to look around. Sometimes it’s carnage, and sometimes it’s teachers striking and parading across overpasses.  We have been in Chicago for a little over two months now. The ridiculously hot summer has worked to thaw us out after a nearly two-year freeze in Alaska. We feel, at least a little, like ourselves again.  If I put everything in perspective, I realize just how fast we’ve been pushing in the stream.  My boys have attended half-a-dozen schools in four states. Alaskan military kids used to two-year reassignments were a little in awe of the Akimoff kids.  I’ve worked at four newspapers, one television station and one public radio station in four different states and two countries. Cheryl has worked at three Applebees Restaurants in three states.  Chicago was the first place we moved to by choice. It was the first place we were not actively recruited to.  At 38, and after all the action mentioned above, it was time to slow down and take a look around. We needed to assess the scene and try to soak it all in. That is tough to do when you’re spinning though a solar system at 7,692 mi Per hour. And so to borrow from the local vernacular, we’re in a bit of a gapers’ block here in Chicago.  Tim

The Commute –

It’s only been four days since I started commuting, so it’s probably too early to really write about it in depth. It’s the first time I’ve commuted anywhere by train. My longest commute, before this, was my morning and evening drives to and from the University of Oregon from my home in Salem, Oregon. It’s a bit romantic, I admit. My notion of commuting has always been a bit “Madmen” even before the television show made air. 

Gentlemen in fedoras talking business or reading the morning paper. I’m not sure where the ladies in my imaginary commuting world are. I hope it’s not misogyny. Rather, I think it’s just a narrow field of view on this one imaginary image. But I digress. The platform can be empty at first. The air is warm and strangely fragrant, with no evidence of floral fauna around accept grasses, trees and shrubs. The concrete is cool, and I like to pause to look up and down the tracks. Some evolutionary leftover from boyhood, I suppose. I deposit my $1.25 into the parking fee collectors and find a concrete post to lean against.  It’s then that I notice the station is not empty. People are standing against the building, sitting on the ground or leaning against posts just as I am. But they blend in, their clothes seemingly camouflaging them against the realities of the day.  An emotionless voice crackles to life over the loudspeaker: ” Your attention please. A Metra inbound train will be arriving in approximately three minutes.”  People start to emerge from the shadows, staking their place on the platform that will allow them to board their preferred train cars. I don’t know this then, but I overheard a conductor explaining this phenomena. “Everbody has their own car. They even know the number of the car, How? They count ‘em. One, two, three, four. Everybody got their own train car they prefer.” I don’t have a preferred train car yet. I’ve explored a few cars now. I’ve tried the upper deck, but I was uncomfortable because it was too easy to be voyeuristic and watch what the people below we’re surfing on their iPhonesnor tablets. But sitting below with knowledge that the people above can read what I’m now writing is disconcerting. Life on the train is a mix of the expected creaking noises associated with rail travel. The windows are tinted green, which lends a quiet, somewhat depressing hue on Chicago, even on a sunny day. The gentle rocking of the train lulls many to sleep for the 45-minute ride. Others work on laptops. Anyone who is awake is bent over a smartphone. The cavernous Union Station is a massive staging point for Chicago’s commuters. They pour from the trains in the station’s underbelly, alternately walking like zombies while the line of people moves like rush-hour traffic toward the exits and scurrying to catch their bus connections to the rest of the city. It’s fun to watch feeling new and still unattached, unaffected by the commute. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel in a few years.  Tim