Commuting in Chicagoland -- and Loving it!!!

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April 23rd 2007
Published: April 23rd 2007
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Downtown ChicagoDowntown ChicagoDowntown Chicago

As seen from the train that came from Midway Orange Line (CTA)
After weeks of phone panel interviews, online exams, and numerous resume revisions, I finally got a job at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, or CME, or "the Merc". CME is the largest futures exchange in the United States and the second largest exchange in the world for the trading of futures and options on futures. Cool eh! I have never worked for a finance company before; so imagine how excited I was, err, aside from the fact that I have recently been doing my own personal study on playing the stock market, etcetera, etcetera.

Flying Between Midwest States (Detroit to Chicago)

My friend Luisa drove me to the DTW airport (Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport) together with her roomate who was flying to Florida for a vacation. It was 12 noon when my plane took off. We landed on MDW (Chicago Midway International Airport) also at 12 noon. Timezone difference: 1 hour. Travel time: a little less than an hour.

Michigan and Illinois are Midwest states separated by Lake Michigan -- the largest freshwater lake in the US and the 5th largest lake in the world. So, with this in mind,
Midway AirportMidway AirportMidway Airport one of the two major airports in Chicago. I wanted to take a picture of the interesting ceiling decors -- tiny planes hung and arranged to form another plane, or bird?! Hehe!
I tried to observe what the view would be like from the plane.

The plane was moving westward. On the last 20 minutes, I've been staring through my window, mesmerized by the lake (Lake Michigan) on my right. South of the lake, I saw some tall buildings. I was wondering if it was Chicago already, but maybe not, it could have been Indiana. I could have been right because it took a while before I finally saw more and more buildings west of the lake! Hmmm I was starting to guess which of those buildings is the famous Sears Tower.

My friend have been waiting for me at the airport, by the luggage carousel. I prayed hard that this time, I get ALL of my luggage. I felt so relieved I did, because I need those clothes to get to work on Monday! I am glad my experience in Detroit did not happen again. Then, my friend and I took a cab to my hotel, Extended Stay America, which is just 2 miles south of the airport.

In case I got you confused about Chicago, Detroit, Illinois, and Michigan.... Here goes a little lesson on US geography:
Sears TowerSears TowerSears Tower

A peek at the Sears Tower from below the CTA Train also known as the L Train -- "L" for elevated

Detroit is a major city.
Chicago is also a major city.
Michigan is a state.
Illinois is also a state, south west of Michigan.
Detroit is in Michigan.
Chicago is in Illinois.

Don't feel bad. It's okay. I never cared till I got here anyways.

Seeing Downtown for the First Time

As soon as I checked in at the hotel and put down my luggage, my friend and I took off for Evanston to find myself an apartment. Evanston is a suburb north of Chicago. On our way there, we passed by Downtown Chicago and had my first glimpse of the Windy City.

We didn't know where to wait for the bus so we had to walk to several stops and wait for whatever bus passes by! We spent 45 minutes doing this and we finally got our ride at the Ford Mall which is quite far from my hotel. The bus then took us to the Midway Airport, where we were at, just a couple of hours ago. From there, we took the "L" train. L for elevated. It's actually the CTA train that's color-coded. I
Cloud GateCloud GateCloud Gate

Probably the most photographed landmark in Chicago
will tell you more about this in my coming stories/anecdotes.

Naturally, I got impressed with our commute. I never had this experiece in Michigan! And if you have read my entries about Michigan, you'd understand why I'm so happy I got assigned here in Chicago. With a commute system like this, I won't need to buy a car! (Atleast for this assignment.)

So. We arrived Downtown past lunchtime and we were hungry. We took off at one of the train stations and walked a short distance to lots of restaurants and shops! I felt a bit uneasy, being in a new place (again). I mean uneasy in a good way. I know we were in the so-called "Loop" of Chicago but I said to myself, I have a year to explore this big city anyway. We had lunch at a diner across the Clark/Lake Station. I had chicken pita (with fries!) and he had a platter of ribs, shrimp, etc.

We had to hurry to get to Evanston. My new roomate and I have an appointment to see an apartment there. I am so thankful this good friend of mine took time to go with me and
Chicago Mercantile Exchange Data ScreenChicago Mercantile Exchange Data ScreenChicago Mercantile Exchange Data Screen

"I'm ready... I'm ready... I'm ready!"
get through ALL these. I will definitely get lost if I do this alone! We took another train and in an hour's time we arrived at Evanston. All the while we were in the train, I kept on spreading out my copy of the CTA map. It must be embarrassing, but I didn't care! Haha!

I am still not over that fact that there are LOTS of people in the train... and there are lots of tourists walking in the streets... I think I've lived too long in Michigan to feel uneasy with such big crowd!!! I also noticed that people here in Chicago are not always friendly to strangers. In Michigan, bus drivers and passengers say "Good Morning!", "Thank you.", "Have a great day!" (Here I go again comparing Chicago with Michigan. Hehe!)

Downtown, I saw the famous Sears Tower. We also walked from there to the CME building. They are just one block apart! I had to "memorize" and "internalize" these locations in my brain so I won't get lost on my first day at work on Monday! It's rejuvinating to feel this way. It's exciting to feel "new" in a place and scare myself about
CME North and South TowersCME North and South TowersCME North and South Towers

I'm at the South Tower
getting lost. Haha!

My First Day at the Merc

I woke up as early as 5:15 am. I got myself prepared and I left the hotel at 6:30am. It was Spring and the weather was nice; still a bit chilly though. We were at the 50s. I took the bus which took me the Midway Airport. From there, I took the Orange Line train that goes to the Loop downtown. At 7:30 am, I was standing by the entrance of the Sears Tower to meet my technical recruiter. It was soo windy my hair looked like I haven't combed it that morning! After a few minutes of waiting, we finally met. We bought drinks from Starbucks and he toured me around their office at the Sears Tower. Afterwhich, we walked to the CME. It was about 8:30 am. He introduced me to my new boss, etc, etc. The interesting part is this: They have such strict security I felt like going through the airport! Aside from the badge that has to be swiped at the entrance, everyone has to submit their bags to the x-ray security screener! And all employees and contractors do this everyday!
Chicago Board of TradeChicago Board of TradeChicago Board of Trade

It's the farthest building in this picture, along La Salle Street. They recently merged and my first task was related to that.

The main entrance of the CME building had huge LCD screens flashing numbers and product codes (very much like those in the news). I also noticed that majority of the people who come in and out of the building are clad in color-coded jackets. They have alphanumeric codes pinned into their jackets. They either carry newspapers or coffee. "They are floor traders of the exchange", says my technical recruiter. The color of their jackets represent a certain commodity: wheat or lean hog, for example. Cool!

My new boss escorted me to several offices in the building just for me to have a badge. I also got scheduled to have my fingers scanned. I use that badge to get through almost every door in the building. I think I had to swipe it three times to get to my cubicle!

I got introduced to my new officemates. I can say I am lucky to have such a diverse work environment. I will be working not only with Americans but with Indians, Russians and Chinese. Apparently, I am the only girl in my team. And I am the only Filipino in my department!

Lunchtime. I got invited to join
Civic Opera HouseCivic Opera HouseCivic Opera House

Where Pavarotti used to perform. This is just across the CME building.
my three superiors for lunch. We had lunch at the Citigroup food plaza which is one floor below the Ogilvie Transportation Center. I can't believe how much people I've seen walking in the streets downtown! I got overwhelmed with so many people lining up to order food that we had to wait to find a vacant table for us.

I felt so new that I hardly understand what my teammates were talking about. I hear them say the words: options, futures, call options, put options, covered call, generics, butterfly, spread, legs, Christmas Tree??! Waaah! What?!

My first day at CME went pretty well. I am happy I got through it, and I am ready for more challenges!

"So how's it like working Downtown?", asks my concerned (and curious) friends

I am at a loss in finding the one word that will describe my impression of working in Chicago. Maybe I can use the word scary. Yes, scary, but in a good way!

It is Spring and the temperature is still a bit chilly plus it's VERY windy in here. It's rainy, windy, and the sky is always grey. It feels gloomy, actually, with
St PetersSt PetersSt Peters

I "discovered" this church online (Thanks to google maps!). It looks simple from the outside but is beautiful and peaceful inside.
the grey skies, grey streets, and grey buildings downtown. Don't take my word for it, okay. I am trying to describe my feelings as I trod its busy streets. People wear long jackets and boots. People are always in a hurry racing to the train stations. They have earphones plugged into their ears, a newspaper or a book in one hand, a cup of coffee on the other. They take their walk to work seriously. I have the feeling they will walk over you when you faint on the streets! Hahaha! The buildings are fabulous, though. There are new and old buildings preserved for tourists to see. There were also beggars in the streets. The most fun is the one that plays the drums by the bridge and shouts, "Thank God it's Friday!".

There's just so many people who work downtown, whose lives are "controlled" by the train schedules. Now, I am already part of that. Every walk I take to/from the train station always felt like being one of the penguins at the "The March of the Penguins"! I try to catch up with the pace of the marching crowd or else I would bump into someone and
Inside St PetersInside St PetersInside St Peters

This is where I usually go to mass
spill his coffee!

Soaked and Cold

On my third day to work, it was raining hard. I called up a cab at 6:30am to pick me up from my hotel. I followed up at 7:30am and I felt so bad they can't give me one! I had no choice so I walked quite a long distance in the rain to get to my bus stop! There was another person waiting on the same bus stop. He had an umbrella and I hoped he'd offer to somehow protect me from the rain. Nah! If I were back home in Manila, strangers would do that. Anyways, as soon as I found a Walgreens downtown, I bought myself an umbrella for $6.

Smelly Seatmates

I decided to check out the Chicago Public Library at State/Van Buren. I mapped it out thru google maps. (Oh, I must say I love Google Maps! It saves me a lot of time!) I went to the library to try out their free internet access. I walked around the library and I was impressed with the library's amenities. I, unfortunately, was assigned a PC station in between two seemingly homeless people. I do not discriminate but, I felt so uncomfortable with the stink that I can hardly understand what I'm reading in my Inbox!!!

Shocking Sales Tax

I just said I love Google Maps so I looked up for the nearest grocery to my office. I found one at the Presidential Tower. I was so shocked with the sales tax. It's 9%!p(MISSING)lus 2%! (MISSING)Why? I still do not know what each of these figures are for. But I'm shocked. This shocking sales tax makes me miss Michigan. Where are the dollar stores??? I miss the many Dollar Stores in Michigan!!!

My Two-Week Routine: Commuting from South Chicagoland to Downtown Chicago

I have been living southwest of Chicago for two weeks now. My daily commute consists of these:

Walk 0.2 miles from my hotel to the bus stop (10 minutes)
Take the 54B going North to Midway Airport (15 minutes)
Take the CTA Orange Line to Quincy (45 minutes)
Walk a total of 0.3 miles to CME (10 minutes)

Everyday at the Orange Line, I always ride with people with luggages. They arrive at the airport, they hop into the train, and voila! No more cabs! I wish we have these kinds of trains back home in Manila. But my friend joked that we (Filipinos) won't take the train to the airport -- because we prefer to take one or two jeepneys jampacked with relatives that either bid the traveller goodbye or fetch him from the airport. Hahaha!

What makes the CTA Orange Line interesting is the scenery travelling from Midway to Downtown Chicago. From Midway I see factories (some old, some new) and lots of graffiti facing the rail tracks. There's this huge, rusty bridge between Halsted and Roosevelt which is interesting because it seems to be soo old yet charming. It had several yachts below it but I have never seen that place filled with people. I wonder if it's busy during the summer.

The scenery inside the train is equally interesting because most of the people in the train are on their cellphones causing a lot of noise. There were times homeless people solicite help from passengers. In my two weeks I got no longer surprised hearing someone suddenly say,

"Does anyone here have to heart to help me?"
"You look like someone I know! Hey, do you have a quarter?"

There was one time I was on the bus travelling from Midway Train Station going to my hotel, when I boarded an empty bus. There were just two of us passengers in the bus. For some strange reason I have yet to find out, he sat beside me when he has all the rest of the seats to himself! He was a tall man and I got scared. I immediately called up a friend so I would look busy. I never looked at him or paid any attention. My plan worked, though he muttered words I did not hear. Good thing he didn't go down to my bus stop.

I live near the Tootsie Roll factory!

Every morning when I walk to my bus stop, I enjoy the scent of chocolate and caramel. Mmmmmm. I have always wondered where the scent came from till I finally noticed that name of the factory where my stop is at. It's the Tootsie Roll Factory at the Bedford Park. True enough, this part of Chicago is it's "Industrial Corridor". It's also called the Greater Southwest. And
My Bus StopMy Bus StopMy Bus Stop

I spent my first two weeks in Chicago at Extended Stay Hotel, Bedford Park. This is but the closest bus stop. It takes me atleast 45 minutes to commute to work downtown.
since it is near the Midway Airport, there are no tall buildings in this area.

Chicago's Ghetto

My friend Sheng took me further around southest chicago where she works and lives. She kept on telling me that her location is a scary place. I didn't quite get what she meant till she drove me there; thankfully, on broad daylight. We were driving at Englewood which is one of those places known as Chicago's ghetto. Apartment buildings look unfinished and built quite far from one another. There are small shops that seem to have closed down with graffiti everywhere. I heard that even cops avoid driving to that place off-duty.

We continued to drive further west where I live and I noticed some differences. There are more bungalows going west and there are more commercial establishments where I live. I remember seeing a lot of Mexicans in my area compared to Englewood where I see mostly Black Americans.

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24


Southwest ChicagoLand (Industrial Corridor)Southwest ChicagoLand (Industrial Corridor)
Southwest ChicagoLand (Industrial Corridor)

True enough, I enjoy the sweet scent of chocolate and caramel right at this post -- where the Tootsie Roll factory is at -- and where I wait for my bus to work.
Trains, Trains, and more Trains!Trains, Trains, and more Trains!
Trains, Trains, and more Trains!

There are about 20 rail tracks under this overpass bridge. I took this picture from inside the bus that will take me to Midway.
My Train -- Midway Orange LineMy Train -- Midway Orange Line
My Train -- Midway Orange Line

I'm loving Chicago coz if its trains! (Comparing it against Michigan, hehe!)
Factories and GraffitiFactories and Graffiti
Factories and Graffiti

Taken from my Orange Line Train that goes SouthWest
The LoopThe Loop
The Loop

A view from the train as it approaches "The Loop" of Downtown Chicago
Over Chicago RiverOver Chicago River
Over Chicago River

Again, taken from inside the train
Downtown apartment buildingsDowntown apartment buildings
Downtown apartment buildings

Perfect setting for gangster chases (or whatever) hehe.. I just made that up okay...
CTA empty?!CTA empty?!
CTA empty?!

Yah, but only on a late Sunday night

4th July 2007

Hi Marie! how are you? I like your blog its very informative:)
12th July 2007

Thanks Cel! Hopefully I get to visit you there in New Zealand!

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