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[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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

    Dang, attacked on your innocent journey on the L. 

    I disagree with the train operator who said that you cannot take pictures off the train. While his message was likely given to discourage/stop you from possibly delaying the train and other passengers (or impeding traffic flow), the statement they made is inaccurate. 

    Passengers are allowed to use cameras to take pictures of publicly accessible areas of the CTA system. They are not allowed to use tripods (or monopods). The full photography policy is on their website.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Yes, we did double check with the CTA in advance to make sure it was OK to take photos. On the other hand we didn’t want to annoy the driver and get kicked off the train.

  • Deni

    I was going to make the same comment that Steven made.  you should report that to the CTA so they remind their operators of the actual rules and not the ones they make up in their head.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      I actually think the driver was in the right here. It probably was annoying to other customers that I was jumping off, snapping a photo and getting back on at each stop, and it may have slowed down the train a tad.

  • joejoejoe

    So you beat the record by 5 minutes? Great job! I always thought it would take a lot longer than around 10 hours to ride the entire CTA L-system.

    I also think the conductor made the right call about getting on and off the train to take pictures. I’ve seen kids get on and off the train as a kind of game and the conductors have to delay departing the station, not least of all for the safety of the person or persons getting on and off the train. Having a door close on you (or worse) is no fun.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Yes, only 5 minutes. It was a bit of a nail-biter; I wasn’t sure we were going to succeed until the end. If we failed to beat Fisher, the low-level queasiness I experienced all day would have been for naught.

      Never had an ‘L’ door close on me, but that’s something I’m not interested in experiencing!

      • what_eva

        Got hit in the head once while screwing around after a long night at the Brauhaus.  At one of the brown line stations (Montrose or Irving, I forget), I pretended to stick my head out the door and puke.  Unfortunately, there apparently wasn’t anyone getting on or off the train, so the driver closed the doors pretty quickly and I got smacked in the head, to the amusement of my friends, of course.

  • Dhin

    ooh? IS that a secret agent in that picture with John? 826 kids say nice work!

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Not that I know of. Danny just told he me he volunteers at a shop called the Boring Store. I mean, they just sell widgets and stuff right? It’s not like anything interesting takes place there.

  • Me

    Weird. I was on that California train @ 9:04 AM and saw the kick happen! Small world.

    • Sickofyourcrap

      And the typical Chicagoian you are, you stand and do nothing because standing for justice isn’t important compared to being late for your job or some other pointless thing you do.

  • http://spudart.org spudart

    Congrats! I read the shorter version of your story in Time Out Chicago. It’s nice to read the longer version with the photos here. 

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Thanks! Time Out did a great job of editing the piece, but it is nice to be able to stretch out with a longer word count online.

  • SJ

    Wow, what a waste of a day and some cash. At least the story was exciting: “A young woman sprints up to the train, sees it’s bound for Cottage Grove and not Ashland, and says, ‘Whoops, wrong train.’” I assume Miramax has optioned the movie rights…?

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    Good job.  Since the CTA keeps changing with closing and opening of stations and line expansion and so on, its sort of hard to really compare records of time travel, though I don’t think the system has changed at all in the last year.  If you waited a little longer the new Oakton station would have added an additional challenge.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      After the event, a bunch of us (including Adham, the previous record holder) were talking about what the rules should be. I was saying that you should have to visit every station and track based on the previous 30 days of station openings. Why? You’d have to pick a day on which the Red Line didn’t run over the top, avoiding the subway.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Thanks. Good point: the Green Line will be adding new stations at Morgan (soon) and Cermak (later), so that complicates things a bit. I’d be inclined to just disregard that fact and just compare times regardless of the exact number of stations operating at any given moment, taking the good with the bad (e.g. temporary slow zones).

  • Kingdufus

    “there is no picture taking once you get off the train” What horseshit. Any place that can be easily seen by the public may be recorded. You can’t set up Hollywood film shot, but you sure as hell can take photos.

  • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

    Fun story.  It sounds like quite an adventure in people watching and neighborhood viewing.  Klas is a very suitable choice to reward yourself after a long day of El riding.

    • John Greenfield

      Yeah, Klas is one of my favorite restaurants in all Chicagoland – tasty, hearty chow in a castle-like atmosphere. Danny is vegan so we just drank in the bar, but they were playing ridiculous Spinal Tap-like heavy metal videos on a movie screen! 

  • Shagadelic67

    Can’t be a record if you took the bus.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      We, like Adham Fisher, essentially followed New York’s Rapid Transit Challenge rules, Class B, which do permit riding buses to stations, as long as you as you cover the entire system by rail as well: http://www.rapidtransitchallenge.com/rules.htm. The main difference is that the NYC rules require riding the entire system on one fare, which is impossible in Chicago since you have to leave the system at Skokie.

      • Shagadelic67

        New York rules for Chicago? Awful.

        • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

          Do you have any suggestions for a set of Chicago-specific rules?

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