I was delayed on Metra this morning due to train vs. pedestrian. Metra had another problem yesterday. People on the train this morning were talking about yesterday’s having been a suicide and its going around that today’s was as well.
It reminded me of an article I read and blogged about back in 2004. Its a good read and worth revisiting given the past two days. As bad as my day may be going (and it is,) I’m still alive, and I didn’t have to see a mutilated body and carry that emotional toll, as the article points out.
In discussing this on Twitter with @jason1749, he pointed out a few interesting things I’ll just quote. The important bit of context you need is that back in June the then current head of metra, who was under fire for some scandals, performed a metracide.
@ktgeek I think I read that back in the day. That’s why that Metra Exec’s suicide was even more messed up. He knew what he was doing. — http://twitter.com/jason1749/statuses/21583904671
@ktgeek He was the guy who put most of the stuff in place to help engineers with mental issues coming out of suicides. — http://twitter.com/jason1749/statuses/21584110039
For about 2 years I’ve been periodically going into Spin Doctor Cyclewerks, my local bike shop, and looking at a bike that I thought would be a great addition to my morning commute. In late June I went in one last time, and Greg, the owner, told me to just buy it already since its been two years. 🙂
When I went in, it was for one final “do I still want this” before Sarah and the kids got it for me for my birthday. I decided I still wanted it, and the next week, I got it. What is this it I keep talking about? Its the Giant Halfway folding bike.
I was back in the store a few weeks ago to get a minor part replaced, and Greg said I should post on the store’s FaceBook wall about my experiences. Since I don’t do FaceBook, I told him I’d write a blog post and get him the link. So, here it is!
Let’s start with the bike itself: The Giant Halfway is a folding bike that folds down to 32″x30″x14″ which is pretty close to as small as you’re going to get. When assembled, it feels like an adult version of a kids BMXish bike. The ride is nice and quick, and thanks to the small tires, it feels very responsive and nimble on turns. The bike seat is a standard bike seat, so the first few weeks hurt a bit as my doughy ass got used to it. The bike is only about 30 pounds, so its very easy for me to carry with one arm. It fits nicely into the trunk of my Ford Fusion with some room left over for other cargo.
The bike also comes with soft carrying case with a shoulder strap. Its good for storing the bike, but for my and my 5’7″ frame, its actually more cumbersome to carry in the bag. I’ve managed to rip a hole in the bag already where the seat meets the ground in the folded position. It happened about three weeks in, and it may be a combination of the bike not fully being on the reinforced bottom along with the gritty ground it was on, but I was disappointed that happened so fast. (And really, that’s been my only disappointment really.)
As I mentioned earlier, my main goal for this bike is for my commute. I take Metra Milwaukee District West Line from Bartlett to Union Station. Before I had the bike, to get from Union Station to work I would take either the Chicago Water Taxi or CTA Bus 121. My goal is to replace waiting for and then sitting on the vehicle for a total of 15 to 20 minutes with 10 minutes or so of exercise. And if gets me to/from work faster than the vehicles, all the better.
What one should do before they take a bike on the train is something I hadn’t done until I was writing this, review Metra’s rules for taking bikes on the train. I took it on faith that the Spin Doctor people knew what they were talking about (and they did) but I still should have read it myself. Anyway, there is one specific rule that applies to the folding bikes:
16. Folding bicycles in protective covers are permitted on all trains at all times but should not block train aisles or doorways.
Reality has shown that you can often get away sometimes with it not being covered. In my experience it depends on who the conductor is and what their general mood is that day and how much they care. But by the letter of the law you need the bag. Experimentation has shown that if I drape a cover over it, they’ll let that pass, so I’m thinking about making a “quick-release” cover for it since I want to be ready to ride when I hit downtown or I have to walk 2 blocks to my car in Bartlett.
The biggest trick I’ve learned is to just go to the handicap cars and try to get on either end of the 4 person bench or the two person bench. Those usually have enough room to sneak the bike in. At worst, you have to put it in front of you. As long as the aisle is clear and everyone else around you is comfortable, you’re usually left alone. I’ve been lucky enough to fit into those spaces, I haven’t yet had to come up with a backup plan for when I’m not there. In any case, though, those cars are your best bet.
When I hit downtown, I then walk to the Madison Ave exit of my platform and carry the bike up the long stairs. This is where the bike only weighting 30 pounds really pays off. If it was any heaver, I don’t think I’d really be able to make it up because I’m weak. Luckily, my children are around 30 pounds, so I’m used to it. If I had gotten the bike pre-children, I might have a tougher go. Doughy computer guy here, remember?
Once I hit the street I unfold the bike, snap on the helmet, and head off to work. The google map below has the route I take from the train to work and back again. Its only about 1.3 miles, but its 1.3 miles where I wasn’t exercising before.
Canal is a nice street because it has an official bike lane for most of it. Kinzie doesn’t a bike lane, but is known to be a bike friendly route. Usually in the morning on Kinzie if I’m stopped at a light, I’m usually one of at least 5 bikes waiting to go, if that doesn’t say its the way to go, I’m not sure what is.
View Morning Bike Route in a larger map
Once I get to work, I go in via the loading dock, fold my bike up, and take the elevator up to my floor. I keep the bike in my office as I’ve got space to do so, and its also makes a nice conversation piece.
Due to travel, weather, and some other misc. stuffas, I’ve been averaging about 4 days a week riding the bike in. I’ve been doing it for 5 weeks or so now, which tells me I must like it to be keeping it up like this.
On days when I don’t have to drop the kids off I also bike from home to the train station. That gives me another 2 miles in the morning and evening. Again, a small distance, but exercise and fun riding.
All in all, I’ve been terrifically happy with the bike and with biking to work. I’m getting to work earlier then I would have, I’m a bit more awake from the brief exercise, and I’m feeling better over all. A win all around.
I got off the train to find my Vue not starting. The car wasn’t turning over, it feels like a dead battery or something similar. I called Sarah and she loaded up the kids and headed to the train station to come and give me a jump. While I was waiting I got the jumper cables out and popped the hood to be ready to rock when the family arrived.
During the time I was waiting with the hood up two other commuter trains stopped, people unloaded, got in their cars and drove off. Not one stopped to ask me if I needed some help. I probably would have decline as Sarah was on the way, but I was still a bit suprised.
Anyway, after having lots of trouble trying to jump the car (the Odyssey didn’t give enough juice to turn over the Vue?) the kids were starting to freak out, so Sarah and the kids bailed to go get dinner. I called my mom and she was coming over to help me, or at least schlep me off to buy a new battery. I left the hood up while waiting for my mom because I wanted to give it one more ago.
While waiting another train stopped. Again, no one stopped.
Anyway, mom showed up, car got started, NTB replaced the battery, all is good. Car started again this morning, crisis completed. But its got me thinking…
I understand the desire just to go home, how many times have I not stopped to ask someone if they need help? I’m not running off to do a transplant surgery or something else time sensitive like that, it’ll only cost a small bit of time to be a non-crappy human being. Today, I’ve mentally committeed to not being that guy anymore.
I saw this on the morning news on NBC 5 this morning. So I could share it here, I found Metra says so long to its rail saloons in the Trib’s online edition.
Every weekday at 5:17 p.m., the bar car on Metra‘s Milwaukee District West line becomes the place where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.
With beer and wine cups in hand, a cast of characters that seems straight out of “Cheers” tries to make the daily commute home as merry as the sitcom.
“It’s happy hour on the rails,” said Kevin McHone, 40, an information technology engineer from Gilberts and a bar car regular.
But just as every TV show eventually ends its run, this Friday will be last call aboard what Metra officially calls its “refreshment cars.”
I never took advantage of the bar cars, but I might have to this week before they are gone forever. I suppose you can still beer up in the station and bring it onboard, but something about buying in the bar car is different.