Getting Around.

Whenever I travel I always find how other places emphasize public transportation. Or don’t. In Chicago, for instance, I noticed that buses ran frequently. Every minute on every street there was a bus going by, sometimes more than one. I was standing at the edge of Millennium Park looking one way when I saw an “L” train pass between two buildings.

“I wish I’d gotten a picture of that” I said to a friend who was with me.

“Wait a minute,” he said. I did and in about a minute another one went by.

Sure, Chicago is a much bigger city than Nashville, but it’s still amazing to me that where I live the minimum time between buses on any route is fifteen minutes, and some routes run as little as twice a day.

Chicago’s profusion of transportation can, however, cause some confusion. I was sitting in O’Hare Airport which is larger than Nashville’s airport, and which supposedly has a monorail system. According to Wikipedia it’s 2.7 miles long, which is longer than some Nashville bus routes, and moves along at up to fifty miles an hour. Needless to say this sounds like a fun ride. I’ve also ridden the monorails in Dallas and Atlanta airports and wanted to add O’Hare to my collection. Once I had a long enough layover in Atlanta that I rode the monorail so many times people started asking me for directions, but that’s another story.

I say it supposedly has a monorail because I thought I walked from one end of O’Hare to the other and covered every terminal and never found the monorail entrance. If I were one of those people with a goal of walking ten thousand steps a day I’d be able to take a week off. I did find a very nice older woman at an information desk. She had an airport uniform although with her white hair in a bun and half-moon spectacles on a chain she looked more like the archetypal librarian. When I asked her where the monorail was she asked, “Do you mean the trains to downtown?”

“Er, yeah,” I stuttered. I thought the word monorail was pretty clear, and I had a sudden attack of shyness that prevented me from saying what I meant, which was, “No, I mean the O’Hare monorail which I want to ride back and forth because I’ve got some time to kill and I’m a goofy tourist.”

She took out a map and asked where I was going. At this point I felt I was too deeply committed so I blurted out “the Museum of Science And Industry” which I’ve been to once but that was more than twenty-five years ago and I’m a goofy tourist who digs that sort of thing. She then gave me detailed but simple instructions that even I could have followed. She then pointed to the exit and said, “Just go right through those doors and if there’s not a bus there already one will be along in a minute.” I thanked her and she said, “Oh, thank you. I love giving directions and helping people but so few stop and ask for help anymore. There’s so much to see here and I’m sure people miss most of it.”

I then left and tried to discreetly disappear into the crowd so she wouldn’t notice that, instead of leaving the airport, I was turning toward the terminal where my gate was. And I had to hurry because I’d shrunk to just six inches tall. I’ve saved the map, though. I don’t know when I’ll be back in Chicago but it should still be helpful, and if it isn’t I know where to go for directions.


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  1. Red

    Chicago is my favorite American city, and I have utilized the public transportation a lot. That’s cool that she just wanted to help. The D.C. Metro is another quality transport system.

    Here in Beijing, the public transportation is OUTSTANDING! I love it. I love not needing a car. I love getting to know my way around the city, even though I don’t know the language yet! I can’t ask anyone for directions, so I have to look up my route before I leave home. That part’s kind of a bummer.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The next time I go to Chicago I’m determined to use the El train to get around. In fact there was a part of the park where my friends and I were standing and we could see a train going by and I was tempted to go and hop on board.
      Getting around Beijing must be amazing and also a little bit intimidating. I remember riding the Metro around both Moscow and St. Petersburg and not knowing the language was kind of scary. However it was also a crash course in Russian.

      1. Red

        Yes! Crash course! Half of the characters I recognize, I know from busstops or subway stops.

  2. Ann Koplow

    I like all the places this post went, Chris.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m so glad you came along with me.

  3. Kristine @MumRevised

    I’m a big fan of asking people for directions. Mister likes asking apps. I have to say, when I was in Washington last year, I asked a person at the info desk for directions, had to ask a second person, and then a third before finally getting the right directions. Still worth the conversations and the steps around the airport.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I also prefer asking people for directions. I find apps aren’t always clear, and sometimes Siri on my phone thinks I mean a street in a completely different city, state, or even country. Better to ask a person, especially since they might know something interesting about the area that no app is going to tell you.

  4. Chuck Baudelaire

    Not exactly related to your post, but:

    Recently a man from Corporate (in MA) visited my IRL office in DFW. Since we’re only 10 minutes from the airport, I volunteered to drive him there at the end of his stay (also a great excuse to leave work early on a Friday). Sweet guy – my driving may have traumatized him slightly (another story).

    Anyway, on the way I casually asked which terminal/gate he was flying out of. He said, “I don’t know – does it matter?” Does it matter? Well, DFW is larger than the island of Manhattan; if you get dropped off at the wrong terminal, you’re in for a walk of potentially TWO MILES.

    I guided him through looking up his departure information on his phone and got him to the exact place he needed to be. Only as I was pulling away from the white zone did I realize that DFW has a robust monorail system designed exactly to ferry travelers to the right gate in minutes. I could have dropped him off literally anywhere, and he would have made it to his flight with time to spare.

    I guess I was blindsided by the realization (firsthand knowledge, mind you) that many airports can be traversed by a brief stroll.

    I’ve flown to O’Hare and Hartsfeld, as well as Long Beach and Louisville, KY.

    Flying is a pain in the ass no matter where you go.

    Thanks, Obama. 😉

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’ve been to DFW and rode the monorail! It was 2010. It was really a lot of fun and quite an amazing view when it shot out of the tunnel. That’s one of the few times I wished for a longer layover. I would have gladly taken the monorail all around, but only had the time to go from one section to another.
      Yeah, thanks Obama.


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