Wednesday, March 04, 2009

how the Metra-riding obsession started...

I've always said my biggest regret in my years in Chicago (just in terms of photography; thinking of regrets in all areas of life here would be a ticket to unending misery, wouldn't it?) was my failure to document the tremendous changes going on in the city--in particular, the old Maxwell Street area, Wicker Park/West Town (I've lived not far from there virtually all my Chicago years), and the South Loop (I went to school there for years, starting when "South Loop" only went to Roosevelt at most, not all the way to Chinatown). Then I added my failure, until 2007, to get the concept of "urban exploration" and get more intimate photos of the buildings I've seen vanish. Now I'd add how infrequently I took Metra commuter rail until the past couple years. I've never needed to take it for family, school, or work, so it's been purely recreational.

From Metra March 2008
Not until 2008 did I get the idea of Metra-hopping (visiting many stops on a line so I can explore the communities they're in, using the $5 pass that's good all day Saturday and Sunday), and I believe what I'm picturing here, March 8, 2008, was my first true day of this. I had specific aims in mind--to visit the (closing in 2008) smallest Macy's/Marshall Field's store in Chicagoland (Lake Forest), my interest having been piqued by this piece on Chicago Public Radio, and to revisit parts of the North Shore I'd spotted out the car window (and wanted to photograph) on a long Valentine's Day drive up there with someone.

From Metra March 2008
This trip came in the midst of my project to photograph every station on the Chicago Transit Authority. The idea to photograph every Metra (and South Shore) station didn't hit me until much later...in fact, after much of my summer 2008 Metra travel. That's the project (among many others) I'm engaged in now. At first I wanted it to be open-ended, because it could take years (the fact that several Metra lines run only on weekdays, with limited stops, no $5 unlimited pass, messes things up). But now the hyper-organized side of me has taken over and I wish I'd set an official time frame. If I started it in summer 2008 (I'm not counting this trip, because I wasn't really making an effort to photograph all the Metra stations themselves), how about I finish shooting all the stations that are open every day sometime in summer 2009?

Anyway...I boarded a northbound train on the Union Pacific/North line at the Clybourn station (which is not near the street Clybourn; a recent issue of the Metra commuter newsletter "On the Bi-Level" explains this mystery; quoted by Jennifer). You can see I was already taking shots of passengers and approaching trains...

From Metra March 2008
I started off in Lake Forest. Everything was green and tasteful, discreet signage instead of a typical Walgreens. This is something you find on the North Shore...McDonald's that don't look like McDonald's because of some sort of tastefulness ordinance or something.

From Metra March 2008

From Metra March 2008
The very small Marshall Field's there was part of the well-known Market Square shopping plaza, designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw.

From Metra March 2008

From Metra March 2008

From Metra March 2008
Unfortunately, I was weeks too late to actually see the store...

From Metra March 2008
More tasteful green, a post office this time.

From Metra March 2008
Even more tasteful green.

From Metra March 2008
A very nice independent bookstore.

From Metra March 2008
I haven't taken many interior shots of Metra stations, because a lot of them are closed on weekends, or there's no real "interior" to the station; this is Lake Forest's.

From Metra March 2008
And then I went to Highwood, which originally developed next to Fort Sheridan. Many Italian immigrants settled here in the early 1900s, and there's now a substantial Latino population; all of these make Highwood different from all the other North Shore communities I visited that day.

From Metra March 2008
Side view of this; the front was attractive too.

From Metra March 2008
I ate lunch here. Charming, but the prices were higher than I'd expected...

From Metra March 2008
Sweet. This is what I'd spotted out the car window and NEEDED to come back and shoot. Like most of these photos, I need to go back again and get better photos for Flickr...

From Metra March 2008

From Metra March 2008
Brief wandering in another direction turned up the Highwood library, so I went inside for a few minutes.

From Metra March 2008

From Metra March 2008
Puzzling...

From Metra March 2008
And then I moved on, and the sun came out, but mostly just for Highland Park (which couldn't be more different from the Highland Park by Detroit I'm now familiar with).

From Metra March 2008
Wow, wow, wow...

From Metra March 2008
Part of the Metra station in Highland Park, I think.

From Metra March 2008
And now, a shopping area in Winnetka. I stopped in Winnetka, then went to Wilmette, but with the help of a Pace bus went back to Winnetka. Fun fact for non-Chicago readers: Chicago's public television station, WTTW, has been jokingly called "Wilmette Talking to Winnetka" (both posh North Shore communities) for as long as I can remember (does anyone know the origin of that? a Google search was no help; in fact, almost no one has quoted this phrase online).

From Metra March 2008
This toy store had a huge window display of kid's Lego projects.

From Metra March 2008
A cooking supply store, I think. I liked the sentiment (even if I prefer white for grilled cheese sandwiches at least).

From Metra March 2008
Now to Wilmette...

From Metra March 2008

From Metra March 2008
There were a few cute buildings...another attractive cleaners.

From Metra March 2008
I came back mostly to spend a few minutes visiting the Winnetka library.

From Metra March 2008
And to reshoot a few things...there was a little bit of sun.

From Metra March 2008
Another attractive clock.

From Metra March 2008
Heading back towards the Winnetka Metra station...I believe this did end up, as I'd predicted at the time, being the strangest and most random graffiti I saw anywhere in 2008 (Huckabee was already out of the presidential race by then).

From Metra March 2008
A little bit of pre-Union Pacific history there...

From Metra March 2008
Another attempted shot of passengers and approaching trains...

From Metra March 2008
I finished Metra-hopping by ending at the Davis station (next to the Davis CTA) in Evanston. I must have gotten a very early start (8:30 on a Saturday!), because looking at my photos from the day I went on to shoot CTA stations in Evanston and the North Side, and stop by a demolition site, all before dark, in winter.

I didn't do much more Metra travel until summer, when I finally took my long-awaited trip to the end of the UP-N line, Kenosha, WI (I loved the idea that I could get to a different STATE on Metra...even if we no longer have the interurban that runs from Chicago to Milwaukee, sadly). And that was my first trip on Metra with a bicycle! Though I've had a few more trips to Kenosha, I feel I've neglected this line and hope to get out shooting on it again soon.

(Oh, and I still like using a lot of lowercase letters for things, especially on Flickr, but I've already dropped it as a habit in my writing here, because I'm not trying to be cute. Well, I am, but not in my writing...so back to standard sentence form...)

11 comments:

Didi said...

I love script lettering like the Skokie Valley and Hellander's shots. It is so classy and tasteful.

jared said...

Sounds like a fun project. How far along are you? It seems like you've been to quite a few already but of course with 237 stations it is quite an endeavor. The logistics of the South Shore seems a bit more challenging, though I'm sure you've been to quite a few already. I'd eventually like to ride all the lines but don't think I really have the desire to stop at every station. Hopefully the weather will be decent enough this weekend to go somewhere...

Jennifer said...

Manhattan on Saturdays starting in just a few weeks!

jared said...

Currently the earliest one can arrive in Manhattan during the week is 6:27 PM which isn't particularly useful. It would be a long layover until the next return train...

katherine of chicago said...

Thanks for comments!

Jared, I'm guessing 1/4-1/3 of the way through so far? I've visited more than that but don't necessarily have photos I like. I didn't have patience to count all the stations and didn't know where the number was listed. 237? (That's probably fewer than NYC subway stations.) Actually, I've only stopped at a few on South Shore; that'll cost a little more...It's worth riding all the lines all the way but not all the stations have much to recommend them...

Jennifer, where did you hear that? I went and searched the Metra site. Yes, the dilemma with those weekday trains is they're geared towards commuters, obviously, so I couldn't get to Lockport, say, before late afternoon. I'm definitely saving those for summer (or holidays, i.e., New Year's Eve, when they run some earlier trains!).

Jennifer said...

I first got the tip Sunday via Chicago Breaking News.

Metra News Release (Feb 27):
Press Event to Announce Weekend Trains for Metra’s Southwest Service

Chicago Tribune:
Metra's SouthWest Service to add Saturday trips

SouthtownStar:
Metra adds stops along SouthWest Service Line

Dave said...

Katherine, Great Pics, especially of the Lake Forest Field's!

katherine of chicago said...

Thanks, Dave, I know I'll be back there soon!

Jennifer, thanks. I know I'll be riding it the first Sat. taking a zillion photos, probably I'll dress up and try to drag others along too. Wait, this could be the occasion for the happy hour with cocktail shakers I've dreamed of...

Jennifer said...

Nah thanks, if there's an outbound in the morning I'm bringing my bike. Kankakee Co. here I come!

Jennifer said...

Unless it snows. It'll probably snow.

eric said...

So how are you doing on your Metra visits, K? I've been thinking of doing some sort of weekly visit to the various independent cinemas in the area that are accessible via rail. It could be interesting, although there's so few now it wouldn't last but the summer.