Travels with Charley: An Amtrak-tive Alternative

The scheduled gave me plenty of time to find some of the hidden treasures of the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue at Adams.

Taking the Railroad Less Traveled

by Charles McKelvy

Surely you have taken Amtrak from New Buffalo and enjoyed the ride. Same with the South Shore from Carroll Avenue in Michigan City.

I’m not knocking either method, and, yes, I’ve been there and done that many times, and, yes, they both work just fine.

But if you want to sprinkle a dash of excitement into your otherwise ordered existence, please consider taking Amtrak from Saint Joseph to Chicago and back.


Allow me to explain:

Amtrak train 371, the Pere Marquette, departs at 8:16 a.m. Eastern daily and puts you in Chicago Union Station, or CUS, at 9:11 a.m. Central. That’s almost a commuter schedule.

It certainly is if your first appointment in the Loop is at 10.

Better yet, the return train to St. Joe—the eastbound Pere Marquette—doesn’t depart Union Station until 6:30 p.m. Central, and, like its westbound partner, it runs non-stop between Chicago and Saint Joseph. Train 370 pulls into Saint Joseph at 9:15 p.m. Eastern, and stops right in front of Silver Beach Pizza, so if you didn’t get enough to eat in Chicago or on the train, you can pop in for a late pizza.

What I like about taking the trains between Chicago from Saint Joe is that they give you a full day in the city with plenty of time for business, pleasure and leisurely dining.

Take my recent trip as an example:

I was a lot lighter when I walked out of St. Peter’s Church in the Loop.

After an on-time arrival at Chicago Union Station, I remained in the station and bought tickets for a future Amtrak trip to East Lansing, and then I took a summer hat to Optimo over on Dearborn and Jackson for cleaning, and then I went to Century Pens on Clark and Jackson to talk pens with Ed Hamilton and buy some cartridges, and then a vegan feast at Native Foods next door on Clark, and then Confession with a wise and merciful Franciscan priest at St. Peter’s Church in the Loop on Madison between Clark and LaSalle, and then some music of the gods for free at the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert (Wednesdays at 12:15 p.m.) at the Cultural Center on Michigan between Randolph and Washington, and a long walk to Cermak and Wabash for lunch at White Castle, and a ride back downtown on the Green Line, and the closer wandering the wonderful galleries at the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue before hiking west on Jackson for a bite to eat at the Corner Bakery outside Union Station and then an absolutely delightful train ride in the dark back to Saint Joe where my car was waiting, after a free day in the lot, to take me home to Harbert, long after the Saint Joe rush hour (such as it is).

Worked for me.

It sure can work for you if you’re looking to add a dash of disorder to your otherwise orderly existence.

Call Amtrak today at: 1-800-872-7245.


Amtrak train 371, the westbound Pere Marquette, comes to collect me in Saint Joseph, Michigan at the beginning of a truly “Travels with Charley” day in Chicago.

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Coming Attraction

Amtrak train 371, the westbound Pere Marquette, comes to collect me in Saint Joseph, Michigan at the beginning of a truly “Travels with Charley” day in Chicago. Stay tuned for the complete story.

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Travels with Charley: “It’s Charley Wonderful!”

A sign of welcome to an old South Sider.

I’d Walk a Mile(s) for a Veggie Slider

by Charles McKelvy

(Chicago, Illinois) Wednesday was a wildly wonderful fall day in Chicago, so as a day-tripper to the Windy City, I decided to walk all the way south from the Cultural Center at Randolph and Michigan to the Green Line station at Cermak.  Why?  Because that is one way-cool station at Cermak, and because I wanted to see what was south of Roosevelt along Michigan and Wabash.  Meaning lots and lots of new apartment buildings and plenty of students and then car dealers and vacant lots, and Cermak just seemed so far, far away, and my feet were getting sore, and when I finally made it to Cermak, I saw a most welcoming sight from my childhood on the South Side in Chicago: a White Castle restaurant.  I said to my sorry old self: Before I get on that train back to the Loop, I’m gonna treat myself to some veggie sliders and lots of and lots lemonade.  And I did, and the most wonderful part of the experience was that when I told the young woman who took my order that my name was Charley, she exclaimed: “CHARLEY WONDERFUL!  YOU’RE CHARLEY WONDERFUL!”  All of White Castle rejoiced, and I was glad, and I soon had those veggie sliders and lots of lots of lemonade to sustain me on my journey of discovery in Chicago.  (And more on that in the next post.)

And now for a northbound Green Line train to the Loop.

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Wrong-way Train?

Amtrak train 370, the Pere Marquette, prepares to depart Saint Joseph, Michigan on October 18, 2017.

(St. Joseph, Michigan) So there I was—having just detrained from Amtrak train 370, the Pere Marquette—preparing to shoot a video of the train’s departure for Grand Rapids, when, lo and behold, some rather inebriated (to say the least!!!!) patrons from Silver Beach Pizza, which abuts the tracks, declared that the train was going the wrong way, because, well, because the engine wasn’t pulling it toward Chicago.  I know; I know:  confusing to say the least.  Yes, Amtrak normally runs its two runs between Grand Rapids and Chicago with a live locomotive on one end and a gutted locomotive, or dummy engine, on the other, so they don’t have to turn the train in Grand Rapids.  So, yes, it did appear that the train was going the wrong way as it departed Wednesday night from Saint Joe for Bangor, Holland, and its final destination of Grand Rapids.  I began to explain to the confused revelers just what was happening, but they were too deep in their cups to care much, so I just made my video and had a good chuckle, because, yes, been there, done that.  And, if I had pointed my finger at them, I would have been pointing three fingers right back at my (now) sober, old self.

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High-water Mark?

Hey, what happened to our beach stairs and walk? I guess Lake Michigan has a mind of her own.

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Tracking Shots

(Harbert, Michigan) Crossing the CSX tracks at Youngren Road on Tuesday afternoon.

Then 10 minutes later at Prairie Road.

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Migratory Behavior

A good day for migration. If you’re a goose or duck, that is.

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