I practiced this commute. A couple or three dozen times online, twice in the flesh, on the actual lines. None of that down-to-the-minute computer perfection.
One route didn’t work. The other did, and I had it down to the minute. I had plenty of them to spare. And I was feeling good about commuting by public transportation into the depths of Chicago.
Attending seminary was an overdue answer to a call from God, and it’s pretty complicated – one of those decades-long internal struggles. The answer was clear. Getting there was another matter. That required train schedules, L schedules and bus schedules, none of which are found in any holy book.
These schedules require an entirely different kind of faith.
In McHenry County, public transportation exists, but it is hardly adequate. You can catch a train out of town, if you live in the right one at the right time along the Northwest Line, which is irregular this far out from Chicago. Public transportation between the nearly 30 villages or cities in McHenry County is nearly nonexistent. And if you want to take a bus inside town, you had better call 24 hours in advance.
In more than 30 years, I have never taken a Pace bus. Points A and B never matched the time on my clock.
If you want reliable out here, you buy a car and help clog the roads. Or you buy a bicycle if you are close enough and healthy enough and look good in a helmet, which is impossible because the people who design helmets are Soviet-era fashion immigrants, banished by their old bloc.
Living in Harvard and Woodstock, you get used to taking the train to the Loop. You plan around an infrequent schedule, and you come to terms with a trip that takes close to 90 minutes. Rather than fight it, you entertain yourself and make the best of it.
Kind of like living in the remote corners of Iowa. If you want to get somewhere, you had better settle into the fact that it might take an hour, or two, to get to a real destination. Soon enough, you think nothing of a five-hour drive. Life is slower there, even in the fast lane.
So 90 minutes to one of the world’s great cities is nothing really.
The route that didn’t work involved walking about a mile at each end of an L line. In the scorching heat, which was what the summer of 2012 offered on nearly a daily basis. I don’t walk fast, but I do sweat easily. It was unbearable. Together, the walks added 90 minutes to a train ride that was nearly 90 minutes long. And it wasn’t getting me there on time. Not for an 8 a.m. class.
The right route meant waking up to catch a train another town over at 5:21 a.m. to catch a bus just outside the Ogilvie Center, transferring to another bus, and being dropped off steps from where I needed to be. And that last leg of the public-transit commute was less than an hour. Sweet.
On Sunday, I needed to be at school at 1 p.m., which meant leaving Woodstock on the 8:48 a.m. train, arriving in Chicago just before 10:30 a.m., then catching two buses to get me to the school, with a minimal amount of walking.
It was raining lightly, and I missed my first bus because it pulled up to the stop on the other side and in front of a much larger, wrong bus. So I waited for the next bus. And I was dropped off near my transfer, but directions to connecting buses are sketchy.
When I looked across Michigan Avenue, I knew where I was meant to be. Another bus arrived, and I was home free to South Cottage Grove Avenue and 55th Street, and I still was on time, as the rain picked up.
As soon as I heard Cottage Grove Avenue and something that ended in a fifth, I hopped off the bus.
It was one of those moments when you realize at the very instant the door shuts that you’ve locked your keys inside. That fleeting, never-ending moment of chagrin. Ack. When I got off the bus, I instantly realized that it was 35th Street, not 55th Street. And the rain was on the light side of torrential, to put a good face on it. At least my wife had the good sense to insist I bring an umbrella, even though my forecast called for sun.
I waited at South Cottage Grove Avenue and 35th Street for what seemed to be an eternity, what with the driving rain, wet pants and wet boots. But a bus did arrive. And I was only 15 minutes late. Three and a half hours after I started. I gratefully accept small miracles.
• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, freelance writer and former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. Contact him at email@example.com.