What do most people do in the middle of a Chicago blizzard? They stay home. What did I do? I took the El to the Art Institute of Chicago.
It’s not like I hadn’t been to the Art Institute before. I’ve been there many times, both during college and afterwards. But ever since I moved back to Chicago in mid-December 2014, I’d wanted to visit it again. That’s why I braved roughly a foot of snow recently to walk from my condo in Ravenswood/Lincoln Square to the Brown Line stop before hopping off at the Adams/Wabash stop to get to the museum. Snowflakes and wind hit me in the face as I crossed Michigan Avenue, but once inside the Art Institute, I was rewarded with short lines and relatively empty exhibition rooms. Plus, nothing beats a train ride through the city on a near-empty train as snow flurries cover the air around me.
So just how practical is having the El stop so close to me? Well, not only do I not have to worry about parking my car, I also don’t have to pay parking fees. And during a snowstorm, not having to worry about a possible accident is even better. Even more rewarding for someone soaking in every aspect of the city: The El gives me access to advertisements I wouldn’t ordinarily know anything about, like the Fight for Air Climb organized by the American Lung Association and scheduled for March 8 at the Presidential Towers, or the Avon 39: The Walk to End Breast Cancer, set for June 6-7 here in Chicago.
Worried about standing out on a windy train platform in the middle of February? I won’t lie; it IS cold out there. This is Chicago, after all. But the Damen stop has a button you can push to activate a heat lamp to help you feel just a little bit warmer. Plus, the trains aren’t that far apart. And when someone has a question — “Am I on the right train? What’s the express train?” — most people are kind and patient enough to give them the correct answer.
I’ve noticed the same of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) workers, who are happy to answer questions and give directions as to the best exits to take depending on your favored destination. Meanwhile, the ticket machines rely on credit cards and are easy to use, as are the turnstiles. I haven’t had any problems at all.
And you can’t beat how reliable the CTA website and Google are in directing you to your destination. It’s just 49 minutes from my condo to the museum if I take the El, factoring in waiting for the train and walking from my stop to the museum. How’s that for service?
In the meantime, traveling on the El gives you visual access to the city you wouldn’t ordinarily have from a car or a bus. Apartment buildings, small businesses and other real estate swing on by, and the El slows as it turns to follow the Downtown Loop. The train’s large windows make it impossible for you not to notice the heights, the writings on the walls, the landscapes that’d escape mention any other way. For an intimate look at Chicago, you just can’t beat the El.
Victoria Marty has written for newspapers and magazines for more than 15 years and recently moved to the Lincoln Square, Chicago area. A frequent runner who loves learning and exploring new places, she has perfected the art of getting lost while simultaneously finding unique landmarks, boutiques and out-of-the-way nooks worth writing about. Her blogs are geared toward the newly transplanted who want to learn as much about Chicago as they can, as quickly as possible.