When it comes to getting around Chicago, it is rather easy; if you look at the layout of the city, especially from a birds-eye view, it is a neat grid of streets going in north, south, east, and west. But for long distances, and in case you need out of the city, hop aboard the Chicago Subway.
The Chicago Subway, better known as the “L” to its native riders, is one of the longest and busiest subway systems in America, if not the world. First opened in 1892, the subway was not underground, but rather an elevated train system built atop the already congested streets. The elevated network of railroad tracks, became known as just the “L” or “El” for short. In the old days, steam trains would rattle high above the streets, which opened up space below. Eventually, the system expanded with new lines, and trains going underneath the city streets.
Today, the El is comprised of eight different lines that are spread around in and out of the city. Each line is designated by its own colored route:
- Red Line: Howard, State Street Subway and Dan Ryan branches. Use this line to get to Wrigley Field for Cubs games, or U.S. Cellular Field for White-Sox games.
- Blue Line: O’Hare, Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway, and Congress branches. Use this line to get to O’Hare International Airport.
- Brown Line: Ravenswood Line; running from Kimball Avenue in the Northside neighborhood of Albany Park and the Loop in downtown Chicago.
- Green Line: Lake Street, South Side Elevated and Englewood-Jackson Park branches; running from Forest Park and Oak Park, through The Loop , to the South Side. South of the Garfield station the line diverges with trains alternately heading to Englewood and Cottage Grove/Woodlawn.
- Orange Line: Midway Airport and Loop; runs from Midway Airport, and into the Chicago Loop, whereby it uturns back towards Midway.
- Purple Line: Evanston Shuttle and Evanston Express; serving north suburban Evanston and Wilmette with express service to the Loop.
- Yellow Line: Skokie Swift; a one-stop shuttle that links the north-side suburb of Skokie with Howard Terminal
- Pink Line: Douglas Branch and Paulina Connector; from 54th/Cermak in Cicero, and into the Loop.
The first time I rode the “L”, I was flying into Chicago to attend my cousin’s bachelor party. I had landed at O’Hare Airport at around 9 pm. One of my cousins offered to share his cab with me, but I insisted that I take the train. I was not going to wait until morning; I parted ways and headed down to the blue line. The station was built to the ceiling with block glass and dimly lit hanging lights. The ride took about an hour, but it was certainly no bore. For the first few stops, the train run parallel to the freeway; you can’t help but smile kind of smugly at the all the cars stuck in traffic while you zip by! As I got off at Chicago station (yes, that is the name of the station!), I asked a woman on the street where the hotel was; I said that it off Wabash Street. When I asked her, the funniest thing happened: she pointed out,
“First off, it is not “Wah-bosh”, it is “Wa-Baash”. You don’t put that much emphasis on the first syllable. Also, emphasize the a in “bash”. Pronounce it like you would the word bash. Ok? Your hotel is one block down, then make a right.”
That humorous interaction over the name of street was such a ice-breaker for me! I thought I’d have an awkward encounter with my first native Chicagoan, but it turned to be a friendly, if not funny moment! I was stumbling to say Wabash right, but the woman kept laughing whenever I was butchering the pronunciation. Nonetheless, it was a welcome change from the stone silence on the subway and the airplane. Had I not jumped on blue line, I wouldn’t have made my first contact with a Windy City native, and over a street name!