On Friday, I found myself with a half-day off I have to take off, and yet again no real weekend plans in my new home of South Bend. I leave the house in the morning bicycling to work (normally I walk the half-hour, biking takes ten minutes, so I could get to the South Shore Line Station for the midday 12:49 train) with a change of cloths and necessities not to come home that night but unsure if I am spending the night my relatives in Chicago (who are extremely unreliable about making plans), at a hostel in Chicago, or taking Amtrak somewhere else. I flirt with a City of New Orleans to Memphis tonight for shortish bus ride to Little Rock midday Saturday and the Texas Eagle back to Chicago Sunday (in a sleeper) but when I realize that low-bucket I could do sleepers on both legs round-trip for the same amount as the current price for the City of New Orleans in coach (or an equal ratio of AGR points) I scrap that idea. A final goal on my task-list that’s harder to pull off since on Saturdays it’s the Cardinal is taking the Hoosier State, in business class to enjoy their new all-inclusive dome car service (~$40 ticket, plus a $40 upgrade) to Indianapolis, spending the night, and then taking a 4:00pm bus straight home to South Bend.
I leave on my bicycle at 12:15 and seriously consider locking up at the Amtrak station (so I have a way to get home), taking Transpo to the airport and then just getting back on the Lake Shore Limited that leaves 9:30pm to at least have a Friday evening in the windy city. The last South Shore Line train on a Friday is extremely early at 7:15. I circle the Amtrak station on my bike and realize there’s no bike rack at this station (and since it’s closed in the middle of the day, can’t ask the ticket agents) I stay on my bike and ride to the Airport, locking my bike next to one other on the rusty bike, I at least have the only U-Lock. I then go and buy a one-way ticket to Millennium. I originally ask for a ten trip but the agent (who’s only there Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) lacks a credit card machine and I don’t want to risk missing my train fiddling with the TVM, so I just hand over $13 cash and then board my train.
I board the train and unlike my trip last week and am disappointed to find out only the rear 3 cars are open for passenger use (the font of the train being saved for passengers boarding down the line).
We leave on time at 12:49. I’m currently book-less. A situation I don’t like being in but couldn’t find anything I’m interested in in the couple of Indy used bookshops in Downtown South Bend. The rain on Thursday evening kept me from bicycling out to the mall where Barnes and Noble is. I spend the ride feeling quite relaxed zoning out to podcasts and catching up on email. I enjoy passing the more empty yard in Michigan City and then slow ride down the middle of 9th Street through downtown Michigan City.
It’s the normal South Shore Line trip, I’ve only ridden once before but will soon become second nature. We pass trough and stop in the sad downtown of Gary (that I will capture for the website even though my colleagues love to discuss how unsafe the city is). In Gary there is some trackwork going on, as the South Shore Line is just wrapping up 7 weeks of a special construction schedule that is installing new high speed switches to try and decrease travel times. The Hegewisch Stop has a strange split identity with both Metra and South Shore Line signage, although only the South Shore Line stops because we’ve entered the city of Chicago but haven’t joined the Metra Electric Line yet.
We eventually curve onto the Metra Electric Line, and skip many of the stops that seem to be every 5 blocks (Metra is the commuter railroad with the largest number of stations at over 200, I have my work cut out for me!), stop at the University of Chicago at 57 Street where a few passengers try and get on although the South Shore Line here is discharge only (like the New Haven Line at Fordham), as we make the final two quick intermediate stops in downtown Chicago at Museum Campus/11 Street, Van Buren Street, I feel like I’m on a tourist train with the conductor announcing the various museums and attractions at each stop. Since the electric line is along and in places under the Lakefront parks getting to these Chicago tourist attractions is extremely easy. I get off at the last station, Millennium Station and get some photos of the South Shore Line that has it’s own waiting area just beyond the bumper blocks where South Shore Line trains layover during the day.
At this point I’m thinking I might just take the South Shore Line back (the last train on a weekday night, including Fridays to South Bend is at 7:15, arriving at 10:45 Eastern Time, South Bend really needs an evening train, even with a late arrival time because of the time change) so I stop at the ticket office, verify that a 10-trip is valid for a full year and purchase one.
I then take a walk, just taking in that I’m finally in a bustling metropolis with crowded streets for the first time since Memorial Day. I notice the construction of the new Washington/Wabash stop, that will consolidate the Adams/Wabash and Madison/Wabash stations into one stop, along with the previous Madison/Wabash Station that has been demolished (I’m still trying to decide how to incorporate this station closing into the ‘L’ section of the website).
I then decide it’s time for real culture and to slightly abuse my student ID (I still haven’t gotten my proper diploma) yet and join the Art Institute of Chicago for $50 for a year will the ability to guest one friend into the museum on each visit, a very good deal for a museum that’s now nearly $30 a visit. I also have a feeling that it will be a good place to spend time between train arrivals and Chicago engagements who’s timings might not quite match the train schedule. I enjoy the museum for a good hour and a half.
I leave around 4:15, trying to decide where to go and what to do for the evening. I first head to a bookstore and finally buy a book. I check the Hotwire App and notice that a four star hotel with a 95% Like rate is on sale in downtown Indy for only $90 after fees. This seals the deal, I’m going to take and have dinner in the dome car of the Hoosier State this evening. I can probably get a slightly lower rate with Priceline, but don’t bother. My last-minute business class Amtrak ticket is $80, evenly split between the railfare and the upgrade fee. I consider trying to use one of my upgrade coupons but don’t feel like I have the time to call AGR to initiate. I walk to Union Station, trying my cousins one last time, who as I expect don’t answer. At 5:20 I buy my ticket on the Amtrak app on the stairs of Union Station. I head to the Metropolitan Lounge at 5:25, the departures boards just say South, no gate or track listed, the agent when I ask tells me to go straight Gate B since the train has already boarded from the lounge.
It’s a nice easy walk out to the train. The trick to Union Station I’ve learned is to board late and skip the awful queue of general boarding, and not worry about a seat assignment. An Amtrak conductor and , with a few staff directing me out to the nice Dome Car I’ll be riding in this evening, Summit View. It’s also the last car, the proper place for a dome.
I board and find a white table cloth car with a bunch of glasses and bar station in the middle of it. I’m encouraged to sit near the rear of the car by the other parties, all couples. I first sit down at a lounge table before moving up to a tableclothed table. The rest of the passengers are couples, with a few train enthusiasts. I look over the menu, with sandwhiches and chicken brest as the primary option. We have a crew of 3 Pullman attendants all in white suits with bow-ties, and all are about my age or possibly younger. There is a 4th train manager who helps out some with the service and helps out otherwise. Soon the main waiter comes, introduces himself, he does a great job with service although he’s defiantly a bit too casual if I were in a fine restaurant in the northeast. The Iowa Pacific specialty as their only listed cocktail along with Bloody Marrys is clearly Margaritas and I order one.
We leave Chicago on time and slowly role out of Chicago, with the usual yard view, leaving the City takes the usual long period of time. As we leave the train yards behind the Iowa Pacific Train manager invites me out to the open rear platform seeing my camera to get the best view of Chicago you can ever see.
I return to the dome drinking my margarita chatting a bit with the passengers at the other tables, the man behind me just retired from Union Pacific and tries to chat with other passengers, even sharing a few photos on his phone of the cars were riding on sitting on jobs we’ve visited, although his wife is clearly unhappy he’s trying to chat with other passengers and not just focused on me. I turn around to ask him a couple of questions throughout the trip, he clearly wants to share his knowledge, but this keeps annoying his wife. It’s a strange social situation to be in. The service is nice and leisurely. There isn’t a more pleasant way to end the week than sitting at a white table-clothed table with a Maragetta and lays potato chips (Iowa Pacific needs better cocktail snacks, a nut mix would have been perfect) leaving Chicago to visit the Capital of my new home State of Indiana, a City I haven’t visited and have just stepped off the train briefly in twice. There is wifi (it’s different, a network and password, although a bit slow) and even a power outlet installed at every seat but using these doesn’t feel right.
We get to Dyre and it’s around now that my blue plate special arrives. It’s relatively small, salmon, asparagus, rice and a warm roll, but as good as anything I’ve had on the train.
I even order a second Margarita with a nice salted glass. I notice deer out the window, screaming something, the couple across from me think I’m saying beer as in the beverage.
The ride south continues uneventful, with the train clearly running on time. We’re making good time, and after stopping in Rensselaer, there is a nice sunset in the dome. I learn that Iowa Pacific has it’s own points program called Rail Barons that requires giving them your email address while onboard, it’s simple 100 points for business class, 50 for coach, 200 points gives you a free coach to business class upgrade, requested onboard (I can’t find this published anywhere on the web, just that you get 3¢ off per point with 1 point for dollar spent so this is definitely a better return). I move on to dessert of delicious Key Lime Pie, and peppermint tea that’s a nice ending. I t to get a consist photo on a curve, the train is overpowered with two locomotives, a pullman car for the crew (that I can’t quite figure out), two coaches and our dome, a short overstaffed (two Amtrak conductors, the engineer, plus 4 Iowa Pacific Crew) gem of a train, it’s amazing what non-Union employees can do compared to Amtrak.
I don’t take many pictures of the scenery or worry too much about this blog post, just enjoying the ambiance. There are some wind turbines off in the distance that provide a nice contrast.
We get to Lafayette, and I don’t realize for a few minutes that were 10 minutes early so I get off and get some nice evening photos (I’m sharing here as a blog post, not as part of a new Amtrak station. I want photos of the actual station first, and it also has a unique history).
It’s an easy trip to Crawfordsville and the crew is talking that we could be up to 20 minutes early into Indianapolis because of recovery time. Fine with me since I have a generic Hilton Hotel Room waiting for me (At one point I though about doing this trip and then getting on a 2:00am MegaBus back to Chicago, I’m too tired and old to do this, I’ll never forget that that’s how I finally got up to Grand Rapids to ride the Pere Marquette). We hit a snag ten minutes outside of the Indianapolis Station, track gangs. They delay us a good 15 minutes, although there is a show of orange sparks, like welding I’ve never seen from some rail grinding work trains, reshaping the rails to their proper shapes through welding. Here’s a final photo of the darkened dome.
We finally enter the Indianapolis Train Station–(14 Photos), arriving 6 minutes late.
It’s a very quick trip back to reality getting off the train onto a dimly lit platform, and down the white staircase into the dreary and dimly lit shared with Greyhound waiting room.
The historic train station is still there, surrounding the grim Greyhound station, unforchunately it’s been turned into private use as the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
I have a perfectly okay 10 minute walk to the Hilton, Indianapolis definitely has a more visible homeless population than South Bend, where I check in after midnight to the most bizarre cavernous ADA hotel room ever with two peepholes, a sitting area with a coach and a chair and a large king bed but even more wasted space. Double doors lead to a closet that I almost think is an attached suite or second room. It’s what I expect from Hotwire, a bizzar hotel room that isn’t standard and the hotel doesn’t want to give to anyone else.