So what is making us late?!? As you may have well guessed, freight congestion. As we slowly play leapfrog through this double track segment, we pass no less than 8 freights, finally getting into Elkhart at just before 12:45pm. We hope the worst is over, and we can get into Chicago by 2pm to 2:30pm to ensure people make their other trains, but it is not to be. South Bend comes fairly soon, but from there, the homestretch into Chicago is arduous. Passengers near me begin to bet about what time our train will finally get there, the highest "bid" being 3:21pm. As it turns out, even this bid is too low.
We're given a snack pack of cheese and crackers, trail mix, and water, that hopefully dilutes some of the booze that many have patronized Jesus in the lounge car so well with. The Customer Service agent returns a few times with some updates, but suspiciously, she ALWAYS comes in from the front, continues back, and never returns toward the front. I tend to think that after each pass of the coaches, she's been alighting from the lower level of the rear coach and sneaking back to the front along the tracks to keep people from bugging her too much.
The news for our connecting riders is grim in nearly all cases, as the trains are unable to be held for our stop and go "Limited." After enjoying the leapfrog with the South Shore line for a time, I find myself bored as we stop several more times near some orchards. Finally, we get most of an all clear, and highball towards Gary before easing off for the ride into Chicago. Arrival finally comes at 3:49pm CT.
Well, to find the silver lining, Amtrak has now saved me $16! Since we arrived after 3pm, I can go straight to the hotel to check in, and do not need to use the storage lockers today. In addition, by arriving so late, I now only need to buy a ONE DAY CTA Pass instead of a 2 day pass! Making my way onto the street, I begin to wonder if I was a real fool in booking this trip, as it is COLD and VERY WINDY. Though we can take the 151 bus towards the hotel, we opt to walk it to get a good look at Chicago in rush hour. The walk winds up being longer and more taxing than expected, but we arrive safe and sound. We check in, and I get refreshed for an evening in Chicago.
Robert M. is kind enough to meet with us after he gets off of work, and we take off on a stroll through the loop getting a good look at CTA's afternoon peak service. We eventually wind up at Congress Plaza before boarding a bus to head back towards the Magnificent Mile for some deep dish pizza from Pizzeria Due. Though the wait is long, the pizza is great. Following this, we see him off on his bus towards home, and we settle in after the long day and crash. After sleeping in coach, it feels great to sleep horizontally once again.
The next morning, we awaken at about 7am to find our gamble has paid off. Not only is there a nice snowfall outside, but it's also CALM! We get prepped and head out to take some photos of CTA in the snow, working our way up the Magnificent Mile to the Water Tower before getting a #151 towards State Street to get some more photos near the loop. My friend, more bus focused than I am, then sets off towards the Southside while I return to the hotel to get a final good freshening before check out. Then it's back to Union to put my bag in a locker so I can do my own rambling about town.
After taking a few quick hops across the El in the loop, I start to head out to Kimball on the brown before changing my mind and instead change at Fullerton to head to more familiar surroundings. I alight at Fullerton for a Red to Howard, then taking a Purple line train to Davis, so I can visit Evanston again. On arrival, I check in at the METRA Station to explore getting a METRA ride in. Trains today are running 2 hours apart, and one just left 20 minutes ago, so I debate on killing time near Evanston. Finally, I concede to my laziness, and simply grab some lunch from Noodles and Co, then take the Purple to Wilmette and back so I can film the 3rd rail grade crossings on the line.
On my return, I stroll just a bit more before heading to the METRA Station, where a crowd has now appeared on both platforms. Within minutes, the NB train rolls in, while ours is in view in the distance. Soon enough, the 3:00pm train glides in about 3 minutes behind. Our train winds up with nearly every seat filled by the time we leave, as I gather my $3.05 for this ride. Ironically, the Conductor on this train is the SAME one I had when I took my only other METRA ride months ago, a truly very pleasant fellow who does his job to perfection.
As before, METRA does not disappoint, making for a quick comfy ride back into town. We even get entertained when a bizarre old lady bursts into our car singing "If you're a baby and you know it, clap your hands!" She gets more odd looks than claps!
On our arrival at Ogilvie, our UP-N (CNW) train discharges its large load of weekend riders, and the "station" concourse is jumping with activity as people pass through and dawdle a bit before heading on their way. Since I have about 90 minutes before we meet back at Union, I simply walk a meandering path through the loop taking stills and video as I go. Finally, about 4:30pm, I decide it's time to make my way back to Union to get the 5:45pm Cardinal.
The Quicktrak fails to show my reservations, so I worriedly wait in line at the counter (only now as I type this do I realize I reserved these tickets with a different card than usual) and finally get our tickets for train #50. During this time, I hear a lady frustratedly talking to someone else that her train to Indianapolis was going to be late since they were still waiting for the original train (#51) to come in so that it could be turned. It's now that I'm beginning to feel my lucky day starting to run out.
At 5:15, my friend finally comes in, and we make our way to the waiting room, where we simply see DELAYED DUE TO LATE TURN OF EQUIPMENT as the status for our train. On the arrivals screen, #51, due at 10:20am, is currently expected at 6:30pm.