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My Blog

The El Rides to Downtown Chicago

Good morning all my fine readers.  Today is Sunday, and a day that for me is starting off a bit sluggish.  Bu I will have to get my act together as I have a performance scheduled.  Still fing the Happy Birthday to the USA this week for some of the Senior Centers. 
Today I was remembering maneuvering the city of Chicago and my trips back and forth to its downtown area.  Back when I was young, it was a huge thing to go there.  There was the theater at State and Lake...shopping up and down state street was great.  Stores like Marshall Fields, Chas Stevens, The La Pesche Room in the Palmer House, Weibolts and Goldblatts.  There was even a Woolworths with an escalator.  Two floors of treasures just waiting to be found. 
I lived in a neighborhood of Chicago called Cragin...if you have never lived in Chicago, you need to know that it is so huge that they actually sectioned off neighborhoods and gave them a nickname according to their wards.  Well, when I wanted to go downtown, I would have to take the Laramie Ave. bus south to Lake Street and then climb up the ramp of stairs to catch the train going East downtown.  Now Going down there was always a treat.  I actually began going down there with my cousin Sandy, who was 10 years older than me.  She exposed me to the excitement of being there.  Downtown was big and beautiful, full of dazzling lights and there was always plenty to see while you were there.  From State Street to Michigan Ave.  I would spend the whole day walking and window shopping. 
Now, as long as I was with my cousin Sandy, I was good on how and when to come home, but once I began the trips down there on my own, it was another story.  Going down there was never a problem, I pretty much had that down pat...but coming back home often would cause me a problem.  Why in the world I couldn't remember which side of the tracks to go on, I have no idea.  But there were countless days when I would board the El and it would start it journey, I would sit back in the seat while it rumbled along its tracks, and expect all was well.  There were various turns that at times had me hold my breath, some turns that would put you so close to the buildings you were sure it would hit them, but it wasn't until I saw wide open areas that I would realize I was on the train going in the opposite direction from where I was supposed to be going.  Now, for most trips, you could normally just get off and go around to the other side of the tracks  and get on the the correct El, only by the time you noticed that you were on the wrong El...you now needed to sit and wait until you got to Chinatown before you could get off and reverse your travel.   I cannot tell you how many times I had done this as a kid.  now, the joke of this was, that I was very good with directions, why this one way of travel would boggle my mind, I have no clue. 
It would always take me an extra 40 minutes or so to get home. 
Now when I talk about a delayed return on the El...there was actually one time when it was a blessing in disguise.  No, I did' get on the wrong El, this time I was traveling with my cousin Sandy.  We had gone down there because we were meeting up with her husband who worked there at a fur company.  Well, on the way home, we didn't get to the designated El on time to get us home for dinner.  Not only was getting home for dinner important...we didn't want Grandma to be worried about where we were.  But we missed the 5:00 El.  So, we had to wait around for the next one.  Now waiting 20 minutes or so was not that huge of a difference, but we waited and waited, and the train wasn't coming.  It took well over an hour before the next El came. Everyone who was on the platform waiting was talking and complaining about the delay, and of course there was o way to find out what the problem was, because there were no ticket booths.  You paid the conductor for your ticket when you were on the El.  Turns out the train we missed had derailed and many were hurt.  In fact our next door neighbor Mary was on that train.  I remembered her being in a neck brace that whole summer.  We were so fortunate to have missed it.  God was watching over us that day for sure.  The thought of being so young; I was about 10 at the time, and almost being in such a horrible crash, made me quite apprehensive about riding the El again.  I can remember from that point on, every time I boarded, I knew where certain turns came and I would hold my breath till we were past those areas.  I can remember looking down from way up there thinking back always about that crash that happened. Wondering what were the odds of it happening again, and would I be in that crash.  Well, I don't think I ever got past my phobia, but it never stopped me from riding the el.  I sometimes to would take it to the unchartered Western Edge of downtown Oak Park.  It was at Lake and Harlem.   There was a small, but sweet shopping area there as well.  No where near or even close to going downtown, but it had a Weibolts on the corner and some small little shops that were fun to go to.  I remember when It was winter time, and I would take my younger cousins now...they were Sandy's boys, and take them to Oak Park to see the Christmas windows.  It was so much smaller of a scale than the windows downtown, but with 2 precocious young boys, it was much easier to keep a watchful eye on them.  It has been years since I have ridden an El.  When I go downtown these days, I will often take the train or drive.  But the memory of those El rides still linger in my mind.  How you could almost look into the windows of businesses and apartments.  The panted signs on the side of the windows.  the tracks that crossed each other, and especially when you went past a train in the opposite direction and felt as though you could barely slip a piece of paper between the two cars.  It was an experience.  It was the fastest way to travel back then. Many El trains have been torn down in areas of Chicago.  So many own cars or take the train.  So many even bicycle down there.   I often think about those rides to adventure with the fondest of memories.  

2 Comments to The El Rides to Downtown Chicago:

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Phyllis Kohnke on Sunday, July 07, 2013 4:51 PM
Deb, I too rode the EL to Chicago but it was after I graduated high school and got a job in the "loop." We lived at Belmont & Cumberland. As far west in Chicago as you could go. I would take the bus to Harlem Ave and then transfer onto the Harlem bus and ride it to the area you described as Oak Park, where Wieboldt's was. Then I would take the EL to Randolph and walk to Wacker Dr. I worked at the corner of Randolph & Wacker. I can't believe how adventurous you were to ride all over the place and even into Chinatown. After Wayne & I got married, we lived in Elmwood Park and rode the El together downtown. We always considered it a pain in the neck and never really appreciated it. Now, as I look back, we were very lucky to have such an efficient and inexpensive way to get to downtown Chicago.
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Debi Gajewski on Sunday, July 07, 2013 5:21 PM
LOL...that is too funny. It is really a small world isn't it! I think back now and wonder how I was able to do the things I did without fear...I went places most young girls would have never gone. I went to the doctors at Belmont and Cumberland when I was young, and my Aunt lived by Belmont and Harlem and I spent a great deal of time with her at her house. I agree that we were so lucky to have the transportation we had back then, but when we are young, we never know how fortunate we are!
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