Commentary: Planes, Trains and Automobiles – The V&R Version

Here Comes the Milwaukee District-West!
Photo by Randy Stern

Being smaller than the late John Candy, I had to admit playing to being very close to playing his part.

Or, was it the Steve Martin character I was channeling?

Put two-and-two together, and you are correct in discussing the two main actors from the late John Hughes' 1987 masterpiece "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." This past Tuesday, I was living the movie – well, almost.

To get to the Midwest Automotive Media Association Fall Rally at the Chicago Northwest Marriott, I literally was going by plane, train and automobile. Let me explain how…

It began pre-dawn at home as I walked out of the house with my carry-on and backpack laden for bear. To save costs, I used the Twin Cities' Metro Transit to get to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for my Delta Air Lines flight into O'Hare. It is a normal routine for me to do so, as Metro Transit actually is efficient in getting you to the airport. The key is the Hiawatha Line light rail (to be named some color when the Central Corridor Green Line opens up sometime while I am still living here). The light rail drops you off at both terminals (Terminals 1 and 2 – formerly known as Lindbergh and Humphrey) and is a short walk to one of the security checkpoints.

A tip for the savvy traveler: If you are not checking in any baggage on your flight at Terminal 1, when you make your way out of the light rail station and walk towards the elevators. Take the elevator to the top floor and there is the security checkpoint. This works best when you are flying Delta as the skywalk connects two key concourses for the airline at the MSP hub.

One disturbing change over the past eight years living in the Twin Cities has been the use of smaller regional jets for this important corridor out of MSP. The MSP-Chicago run is one of the busiest in this region, connecting business fliers between the two cities. Thanks to Southwest Airlines, larger carriers had to reduce their fleets to regional jets to balance out the loads lost to the discount carrier at Terminal 2.

Having never flown Southwest, I decided to stick with what I know – Delta. Sure, I could get a much lower fare on Spirit Airlines, the ultra-low fare carrier that just opened up business at Terminal 2, but I felt more comfortable and confident in Delta's ability to get me there.

They did. To accomplish this, I had to upgrade my seat to the front row of coach. It was worth the $19.00 to get legroom for the 53-minute airtime above Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. However, I was missing something – elbow room. I am not a thin person, but it would be nice if I had some space to bend an arm against the window. Bad move on my part getting a window seat – should have stuck with the aisle. Maybe I will choose my flights better next time and get a real jet – like an Airbus A320 or a Boeing 737-800.

Regardless of which airport you are flying in, if you choose not to rent a car or pre-arrange transport to your non-Loop destination, you have no choice but to take the Chicago Transit Authority "L" into the Loop. I keep on kicking myself in the head by missing flying into Midway because of the shorter time on the Orange Line into the Loop. Instead, I took the Blue Line out of O'Hare – a 40-minute run that sometimes stop for no reason along the way. The Blue Line is all too familiar – as is flying in and out of O'Hare. Old habits are hard to break sometimes.

There were two reasons for going into the Loop that day. One, since I figured I had enough time before heading out to the hotel in Hoffman Estates, I was hoping to get an inexpensive shirt for the next day. I had one, but I was afraid of being "out of place" at the Rally. It turned out that I was not. Even better, I did not buy anything in the Loop – except for lunch.

By the time lunch was starting to digest, I was already at the Ogilvie Transportation Center for my ride on Metra to Barrington on the Northwest Line. The reason for this routing was that the hotel told me to. The Marriott in Hoffman Estates has a contract with a shuttle service to take me to the hotel, as the station was the closest in proximity. Why in the hell could they not have some form of transit service to the area? It is in Prairie Stone – a major business center in the Northwest Burbs! Yes, I get that no one uses the Pace bus out in that region, but for someone trying to save costs on travel, it would make some sense…

The train ride was a lucky run. As I bought my ticket, the train was boarding. It was another hour to Barrington – landed gentry, if you will. I could sit down and relax, but I had to arrange for the shuttle – now a car service – to meet me at the station.

As I got off at Barrington, my thoughts were to find a Lincoln Town Car with my name on it. It took a while, but it turned out to be an older minivan. Sure, I would consider this an "any port in the storm" moment, but I remember being told how much it would cost me to get there via this minivan – I was actually expecting a Lincoln to pick me up.

Twenty-five dollars later, I arrived at the hotel. I felt my pre-dawn wake-up by then. I needed to shower up by the time we had our welcoming dinner for out-of-towners (like me). I needed to use the Jacuzzi – which did not exist on this property. Hell, I could have used a strong drink – something with Grey Goose in it.

The point to all of this is simple: Who says getting there was half the fun? It is for a great cause, mind you. Being there for the MAMA Fall Rally was more important than the journey itself.

Not once did I go the wrong way – as Candy and Martin did in the movie. Nor did I wreck anything en route to Hoffman Estates. Now that things have improved on the professional front, I could afford to do things a bit better transport-wise for the next meeting or event out of town.

Then again, I could always use a sense of adventure to shake things up. After all, I was the one who took Megabus to this year's Chicago Auto Show since my budget was practically minimal.

This is what I get for being a masochist sometimes.

About the author


  1. Avoid traffic hours Travel time between O'Hare and Chicago downtown would be around 30-45 min. Definitely schedule a town car service from a local Chicago limo company.

Leave a Reply to Billy Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.