I know I promised to write the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I am working on it, but first I want to share the tips and information that I learned during my adventure, so here are the facts.
In my last post, I gave the spoiler alert that it IS possible to go from the suburbs of Chicago to Chicago via the Metra train, and from Chicago to Holland, MI and back via the Amtrak train, while remaining in a wheelchair. Did I do it? Kind of….
Here’s the story…..
My FIRST challenge of the day was trying to figure out how to fit the wheelchair in my car. It does fit in the trunk WITHOUT the legs on it; however, there is no way that 2 wheelchairs, “T”, and my parents and I would all fit. Although I had access to a car that would fit both wheelchairs, I did not know if “T” would be able to transfer into the other car since the seat was higher than mine. I worked this out removing the legs of my wheelchair, and making my mom stay at home. (she was disappointed)
First Piece of advice—Know your equipment. It’s size and how it works.
We arrived at the Metra station almost 25 minutes early so I could survey the area. There was some confusion as to which track the train would be departing on, (the signs said one thing, and the map said another) but since I was getting on at the end or beginning of the line, (however you look at it) there would be time to change platforms if needed.
I opted to stay in the shade by the building rather than to cross to the side the sign advised. (Yay I picked the right one)
When the train pulled into the station the ADA symbol for handicap accessible was clearly marked on the car. What wasn’t clear was how I was going to get UP onto the train…
That question was quickly answered by not one but two of the conductors that got off the train to welcome me. I must of looked nervous when I told them this was my first time traveling in a wheelchair, because they were both very quick to assure me that it was very easy and I would be an old pro, by the end of the trip.
I didn’t think to take pictures or a video of the lift at this point because I was too busy soaking it all in. They were right though, it was easy.
I rolled right off the lift ramp to a section of pull down seats for seniors or people in wheelchairs.
If there no one was using the seats, cyclists were able to park and tie down their bikes in front of them.
(There was a sign that clearly said they may be asked to move them if someone needed to use the seats)
I opted to stay in the wheelchair with my back to the wall of the car.
The bathroom was immediately to my left. It also was wheelchair accessible, complete with a transfer seat and multiple safety bars. I can’t speak for the position of the bars etc, as I mentioned in my last post. I pulled as close as I could get, stood on one foot, and pivoted. The location of the bars worked for me. 🙂
Getting INTO the bathroom was no problem. For ME though, getting out proved to be a different story. Again, the damn legs on the wheelchair….smh Let me repeat that first piece of advice…. Know your equipment!!!! I took the legs off the chair and maneuvered out of the bathroom wondering how I had gotten in there in the first place…
Check out the legs on this baby
From the front, they don’t look that cumbersome, but the side shot shows that with the legs attached, my wheelchair is as long as the kitchen table.
The train ride itself was smooth and a bit nostalgic for me. Although a lot has changed since I rode the train to college in Chicago 20 years ago, (they now have a rush hour QUIET car instead of a BAR CAR). The stops and sounds of the train were the same, but the scenery was so different. I had forgotten how many times the conductors punch tickets, and that they called out the upcoming stop.
I spent most of my time talking to one of the two conductors and “people watching”. There was a tiny altercation between two of the cyclists because one dumped the other’s bike while trying to retrieve his own, but it was over quickly. In fact, if I made any recommendations to Metra, it would be maybe a bike rack instead of stacking, but who am I?
When the train pulled into Union Station, I waited until 90% of the people were off the train before heading for the door. The conductor set up the lift for me, which again went very smoothly until I tried to roll off. The “gate” that keeps you from rolling off the lift was stuck and neither of us were really sure how to operate it. Eventually it opened and I was on my way.
Second piece of advice- allow extra time and be patient.
Rolling into the station was a work out for my arms, but it was doable. I’m glad that I waited until the train was almost empty, because I didn’t feel rushed as I SLOWLY rolled inside. I had plenty of time to go outside, find something to eat, and explore the different levels of Union Station. Although all levels of the station could be accessed while in the wheelchair, the “general” signs were vague at best. (in my opinion) Several times I would follow a sign to go somewhere and end up at stairs or an escalator.
If I wasn’t able to backtrack on my own to the nearest ramp or elevator, there were plenty of people to ask for directions, both travelers and employees.
Let’s talk about ramps for a minute…. First of all…..
THERE ARE MANY!!!!
The more I used them the steeper they began to appear. I was literally chanting “I think I can, I think I can” as I was climbing up the last few.
Believe it or not, going DOWN the ramps gave me more trouble. I NEVER thought about the rug/wheel burn on your hands going downhill.
*Advice alert*— If you are “driving” a manual wheelchair….WEAR GLOVES!!! Apparently they sell finger-less gloves for exactly this purpose. Bonus tip- carry hand sanitizer with you, my hands were black…..
A visual reminder to wear gloves
For the most part, even though everyone was too wrapped up in their own objectives to notice things that were happening around them, only a small number of people almost ran into me. Those that did were quick to apologize. Except for the girl that turned on a dime, and tripped over my legs in the process, causing her drink to go everywhere. I’m going with… Karma…she didn’t even apologize….smh.
I found that if I followed somewhat closely behind someone going in the same direction, even though people didn’t see me, they had already sidestepped the person they could see in turn missing me.
As I waited in the “assisted waiting area” I received a call from “T”. She yelled, “This hotel is NOT going to work! I can’t even get into the bed it’s too high.” I responded, ” UM
what do expect me to do about it?” Followed by, ” Ok, then look for another hotel in the area.” I know that I said I would tell the truth, the whole truth….. but I would have to write an entirely different long winded post about the rest of that conversation. In short though, I told her I couldn’t help my train was boarding and to let me know what she figured out.
Boarding call for Amtrak 370 from Chicago to Holland Michigan
Although their website says “Redcaps” (people employed by Amtrak wearing red shirts) are available EVERYWHERE to help people with mobility issues and with luggage, the first time I actually saw them was standing right in front of the platform. In fact, they were all in my way, barely moving as I rolled out to the platform. I am glad that I had the foresight to figure out how to my carry a bag myself because no one was eager to assist.
*Advice alert* pack only what you need and/ or can manage on your own
I rolled down the platform until I saw a conductor who told me where he would be setting up the lift.
Boarding with the lift was a piece of cake until I tried to fit through the door. DAMN legs….grrr. Once I took them off it was no problem. Handicap seating was immediately inside the door of the car, on both sides of the train. There was even a luggage compartment on the floor that I could reach.
Once the train departed, I decided to sit on the Amtrak transfer seat instead of the wheelchair seat. I shouldn’t have. While sitting in said seat I was traveling backward. It took no more than 20 minutes for me to remember why I don’t do backward. Yes I hurled :(, but yay I made it to the bathroom. 🙂
Once that nasty business was finished I tried to roll to the Bar or cafe car for some ginger ale, only to find out that the wheelchair would not fit. It was close. 😦 Plan B.
I thought I would try to distract myself from my stomach unhappiness by posting an update on my Facebook page, msgracefulnot.com. I did not expect to see this video appear. …… and the flood gates opened……. (If you are new to “my world” the video is of my recently deceased GSD, SNUFF.) Back to the bathroom.
I sent “T” a text to see what she decided to do about the hotel. She called instead of texted me to complain for 20 minutes. Her friend helped her into the bed before she left, and we would indeed be staying there. I said, “Okay, see you at 11” and hung up the phone. As I sat there reviewing the days events in my head, I decided to walk to the Bar car. Yes I WALKED to the cafe and justified it by telling myself that I wouldn’t “learn” anything else for the next few hours anyway. I would just resume my test when I was going to detrain, disembark, get off…not sure what it’s called.
When I entered the bar car, I was informed that the closest thing they had to ginger ale was CLUB SODA.
Never having tried it before I decided to give it a try.
It is NOTHING like ginger ale……. ewwww 😦
After I returned to my seat, I stopped the conductor as he passed by to see if he would mind answering a few questions for me.
He didn’t mind.
I briefly explained my “test” and told him that I was not able to fit through the aisle with my wheelchair to go to the Cafe Car. I asked, “What would someone in my position do, especially if they were on a longer ride than me? He responded, “Well people in wheelchairs generally don’t travel alone.”…. My FACE said, “and then you met me.” He said if someone needed something from the CAFE, he would happily get it for them…. shrug ok?
I have several suggestions for Amtrak should they ever decide to update their handicap accessibility information. Cafe access is on my list, if I ever do send them my suggestions, I will provide a link here if that happens.
My conclusion of whether or not the trains are accessible for wheelchair travel is Yes, they are. I am not saying that it is easy or super convenient, but it is doable with enough planning.
2000 words already? I have only just begun….smh I am going to end here for today. If you are interested in hearing about all the dramatic parts of the trip, please check back next week where I will tell you about the drunk guy harassing me, how I broke my finger, and why I almost missed my train on the way home.
Thank you all for spending your time with me. Maybe some of the information I share is useful? I appreciate all of your comments and feedback!