Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"I Hate the Amtram", or My Chicago Adventure

This is the non-running sister post to my BTN Big 10K recap.

My day began with me going through three alarms: I turned the first one off because I didn't want to swim on 5.5 hours of sleep, the second because I couldn't stomach the thought of going to my marketing class, and I finally rolled out for the third one.

Sleep is my favorite.
I then wolfed down a bagel and booked it to the Amtrak station. I thought there was no bike parking there (only to find out there is), so I parked my bike about 1/4 mile away and power-walked there. I basically skidded up the counter, got my tickets, and then waited 20 minutes for my bus to be late.

I finally got on and tried to enjoy the ride to Battle Creek. Nothing untoward happened, and I settled in to wait 2.5 hours for my connecting train. I read through my new strength-training book, which I found really interesting, but I felt really awkward because I was surrounded by very overweight people giving me judging looks. Of course, Amtrak kept pushing our departure time back, to the point where the conductor checked us in inside the station. I felt really bad when she told us she didn't get overtime when the train was delayed (she was boarding with us in Battle Creek to work). Just when the train was supposed to get there, the slowest freight train in the world had to go through, so we had another 20 minutes of delay added just for that.

At last, we boarded. Michael had texted me where he was sitting, but I had to run over a passenger to get there. She apparently didn't realize we could walk between cars and got all upset because the car we boarded on was completely full. Meanwhile, I could see lots of empty seats in the next car through the window. I bulled my way through and got seated.

This is when I met the people I would be spending the next several hours with. Hint: they were hilariously smashed. Seriously, there were two groups of highly-prepared drinkers. (I mean, would you ever think to make jello shots for your train ride? Me neither.)

No, I don't know why you couldn't dance to your music in the dining car.
These people made the trip fly by. If you ever need entertainment, watch drunk people try to walk around a moving train. I was honestly a little worried about them finding their hotel. Their ringleader was already declaring herself "a new person" while they debated whether they could be kicked off the train for their behavior. They almost got off in Michigan City because they thought it was Chicago.

None of my surreptitious train pictures came out. This lady in purple was the only one sober enough to remember there was a time change.
The rest of the afternoon was spent going to the hotel and packet pick-up. Then it was finally time for dinner. We had gotten coupons for a free pizza at Giodarnos for registering for the race early, but we found out the wait time was an hour. Ain't nobody got time for that. We went next store to Luke's and got Italian beef sandwiches in less than two minutes. Much better. Note to self: open an average restaurant next to one with a long wait to make all the money.

It was no Portillo's, but still pretty tasty.
We made a quick stop at 7/11 for some snacks and breakfast. We then went back to what turned out to be the worst hotel room on the planet. (It's a crime how much we had to pay for it.) There was something wrong with the pipes, so only a trickle of water came out of the sink and there was a constant clattering sound. We worked around these and were ready to go to bed, when we heard some music outside. I assumed this was a passing car, but it wouldn't stop. I poked my nose out the curtains to discover a music festival happening right across the street. I seem to have the worst luck with getting quiet housing, so I get even more upset about noise when I'm trying to sleep.

It looks innocent but practically made me suicidal.
It finally died down around 10:30 (which felt like 11:30). I don't know how much longer I stayed awake listening to the clattering, but it was awful. We also both work up in the middle of the night to an old lady moaning. Imagine the sound of me sobbing right now.

The next morning was taken up by the race. As we were leaving to go shower at our hotel, we noticed there was almost no line at the Shedd. After we cleaned up and went back, there was a huge line, of course. Our plan for next year is to gear check some clean shirts and just go straight there. After a quick debate, we decided to try for pizza again. There was a 45 minute wait, but we were allowed to order while we waited, plus we had had our mid-morning sausage, so it worked out well. We used the time to become Draw Something masters. (Aka Michael kept asking me what I had tried to draw. Apparently my hamster looked like a mutant monster.)

I texted this to Eager Feet Dad, who responded with a picture of his deep-fried pretzels. Well played, sir.
Michael had never had Chicago-style pizza before, and we both probably ate too much. At least we got to take home the leftovers. The whole meal cost $3. We were never even brought a bill, even though the coupon clearly stated we needed to pay tax and gratuity. It was great to get out of the stupid high Chicago taxes, and we just left a cash tip.

Afterwards we walked to Millenium Park to do touristy things.

Props to Michael for this idea: I counted one bean.
We spent some time at the Bean until a protest group moved in, so we departed to the botanical gardens. We eventually were forced to leave because approximately 500 QuinceaƱera groups came to take photos.

These flowers were pretty until we were trapped on the boardwalk by a passing entourage.
At this point we headed back to the hotel, got our bags from the bellhop, and went back to the train station. We made a quick stop along the way to get sandwiches. Then started the awful process of getting on a train at Union Station. I don't understand why there aren't more seats or a bigger area to line up for boarding. Amtrak makes me miss the good old DB, even if it has its own issues. At least they assume we're all adults who can get on the trains without assistance. 

More like Point A to Point Frustration.
Of course, I was supposed to know to allow for 40 minutes of delay in my itinerary. That would've been nice to know when I booked my 45 minute connection in Battle Creek. Cue major stress, but we somehow made it in time. Unfortunately, there were no drunk people on my bus back, but I made it back in one piece without having to spend a night in Battle Creek!

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