[This piece also appears in Time Out Chicago magazine.]
Adham Fisher seems like a stand-up guy. But the title of fastest Chicago ‘L’ rider being held by a Brit? Bloody mad.
Last March, the native of Leicester, England, came to town and set a new record, racing around all 143 CTA train stations in 9 hours, 36 minutes, 33 seconds. Earlier this winter, Danny Resner, a recent college grad and Grid Chicago reader, asked me to join forces with him to bring the title home. We would follow the same rules Fisher used: you have to stop at every station by train but you don’t have to step on the platform, and taking buses or running between stations is allowed.
Adham Fisher with the honorary sign the CTA gave him – photo courtesy of Fisher
On Friday, February 3, we succeeded in shaving more than five minutes off the Englishman’s time, visiting every station in 9 hours, 30 minutes and 59 seconds and to prove it we’ve got photos, Danny’s Chicago Card transaction history and signatures from witnesses on all nine lines.
“It’s good to know that Chicagoans continue to engage public transit in fun and constructive ways,” CTA president Forrest Claypool said upon hearing the news. “Any activity that encourages area residents to explore our system in a positive way bodes well for the future of mass transit in Chicago.”
Claypool and Rahm Emanuel tour the rehabbed Logan Square station last summer
Spending all day riding the ‘L’ is no picnic, but in general the train system performed smoothly with minimum delays, and seeing practically the entire city in one fell swoop was an eye-opener. Or, as you’ll see, for me it was a real kick in the pants.
8:32am Having fueled up with a greasy breakfast at Johnny’s Grill (2535 N Kedzie Blvd, 773-278-2215) in Logan Square and catching the Blue Line to the O’Hare stop, where a sax man toots Brubeck’s “Take Five,” we swipe our cards, start the clock and hop an inbound train. It was dumb of me to get only four hours of sleep the night before – I’m feeling pretty zombified.
9:04am I’ve been stepping onto the platform at each station to take snapshots. At the California stop, as I turn around to reenter the car, I feel a heavy blow to my backside. “Quit taking pictures motherf—er!” yells a camera-shy guy in a hooded coat before running downstairs. “If that kick had been any harder that would not have been funny,” I say to Danny.
My assailant, accidentally captured on camera
9:39am After transferring to the Purple Line downtown and riding north to Belmont, the city’s grooviest station, we’re expecting the Evanston Express to zoom 40 MPH all the way up to Howard. But, due to slow zones, as we pass by Graceland Cemetery the train creeps at a funereal pace.
10:56am Having tagged the Linden stop, a stone’s throw from the Bahai Temple (100 Linden Ave, Wilmette, 847-853-2300), backtracked to Howard and caught the Yellow Line, we arrive in Skokie. Train Tracker tells us we’ve got a few minutes to kill so we run over to a nearby Starbucks to pee. But the train we rode in on pulls out a bit earlier than predicted so we have to wait for the next one, flushing precious minutes. Dang.
Bike parking at Skokie station
11:39am Returning downtown on the Red Line, as I hop out at Argyle to snap a photo, the driver announces on the PA, “Attention passengers, there is no picture taking once you get off the train.” Respecting his wishes, at Lawrence I stay in the car and shoot out the open door. A 6’8” man in a Sox jacket muscles by me. “It’s not picture taking time, it’s time for people to get in,” he growls.
12:45pm We transfer at Belmont, polish off the Brown Line and continue south on the Red towards 95th. A short, stout Streetwise vendor gets on at North/Clybourn. “Please, please, please buy!” she hollers. “It will not only help me, it will help lots of other people.” Surprisingly, some well-dressed commuters wordlessly purchase copies.
1:15pm Before we visit 95th, Danny gets a call from a juice bar where he recently applied for work: His five months of unemployment are over. It’s a good omen.
2:05pm We catch the 63rd Street bus west across Englewood to Ashland and ride the Green Line north to Garfield. As the southbound Green Line to Cottage Grove pulls in, a man on the platform shouts, “Hold the door! Hold the door! Hold the door!” A young woman sprints up to the train, sees it’s bound for Cottage Grove and not Ashland, and says, “Whoops, wrong train.”
3:08pm Returning north on the Green Line as the doors open at Adams/Wabash and I spy the Art Institute’s famous lions, I realize we’ve got to polish off the rest of the Green, Blue, Orange and Pink lines within three hours if we’re going to beat Fisher. We’re not going to make it, I think glumly but say nothing to Danny.
3:39pm Arriving at Harlem/Lake, the western terminus of the Green Line in River Forest, we run one and a half miles southwest to the Blue Line’s Forest Park station. As we hoof it past a group of schoolkids, I sing the theme from Rocky.
4:33pm At the Thompson Center, we transfer to the Orange Line. A young man slouches against the door of the train car. “S—!” he yells when it slides open at State Street. His girlfriend scolds her dumber half: “That’s why they say don’t lean against the doors!”
5:29pm Returning from Midway, we move on to the Pink Line at Harold Washington Library–State/Van Buren, leaving the building’s giant green owls in our taillights. It’s the last leg of our journey, but we’ve got only about 38 minutes left if we’re going to beat Fisher.
5:39pm We cross over the “Y” of the Chicago River for the third time today, getting a grand nocturnal view of the Merchandise Mart. At Clinton the driver sticks his head out the window to tell an old man, “Sir, no smoking on the platform.” The codger tosses his cig, whips out a large roll of cash and proceeds to count it on the platform.
6:02pm Jumping out of the car at 54/Cermak, we sprint to the turnstiles and swipe our cards. We are now world record holders, and I feel wide-awake. Having defeated the British invasion, we stride a few blocks west to Klas Czech restaurant (5734 W. Cermak, Cicero, 708-652-0795), where we toast our triumph with pints of Pilsner.