Mini Transportation Odyssey – Chicago to Marquette
by Larry Krieg
Spoiler alert! the Indian Trails bus arrived in Marquette precisely as scheduled, at 5:20 AM today, Tuesday August 16, 2016. Congratulations, Indian Trails!
Now, what about the trip?
Chicago to Milwaukee, Amtrak Hiawatha #339: While I was waiting way at the back of the line to board from Union Station’s North Boarding area, a very good-looking young couple from Italy arrived wondering if this was the line for the Milwaukee train. I agreed that it was, and the young man made several remarks (in very basic English) about how primitive, crazy, and inefficient this boarding “system” is – a long line, with no indication what train it’s for. I couldn’t agree more. Our friends at Amtrak have made a good deal of progress since 2012, when MARP’s Chicago Union Station Passenger Action Taskforce presented them with recommendations about how to improve boarding and other aspects of passenger experience at Union Station. But there’s definitely room for improvement. Trains from the South Boarding Area are handled differently now…but the Hiawathas still board using a soup-kitchen-style line.
Hiawatha #339 is primarily a commuter run, as you’d expect of a train leaving at 5:08 PM. It was quite full, but ran well, arriving in Milwaukee 4 minutes early.
Milwaukee: Beautiful new transportation center, totally tied up in a knot of expressways. With two hours and a quarter to wait, I thought I’d explore the famous Milwaukee beer scene. Good luck! Every way I looked, freeways, parking lots, a huge post office, and a decades-old brick warehouse proclaiming, “Self Storage coming soon”. Oh – and a wholesale coffee roaster. Inside the station, a small convenience store and lots of vending machines. A sparkling new transportation center, welcoming travelers to a wasteland.
Pardon my frank disappointment.
(But they do have free WiFi!)
Milwaukee to Marquette: I’d expected the bus from Milwaukee to be pretty empty. Wrong! Every seat was taken, and one or two people may have been turned away. (Indian Trails mentions in the fine print that purchasing a ticket does not guarantee a seat. That’s not what I’d call user-friendly! How about a reservation system, rather than just selling tickets?)
The Deluxe Motor Coach was just a few weeks old – one of a batch financed by state and federal rural transportation funds, and wrapped to promote “Pure Michigan” tourism in luscious photos of northern Michigan’s most alluring attractions.
Inside, the seats were comfortable…but a bit narrow. By the time I got in, the only free double seat was very close to the seat ahead, on account of the handicap access door, which required an especially wide seat-spacing behind. I was barely able to squeeze in, and leg-room was exactly that: room for the legs, as long as you don’t have to move them.
A friendly young man named Ben joined me on his way to Ironwood, in the far west of the UP. Unfortunately, our friendship did not prosper. Although (unknown to him) my shoulder was pressed against the window, he asked if I couldn’t give him a little more room. I’m not sure he believed me when I said I couldn’t move an inch further.
Relief came after we dropped passengers off in Sheboygan and Manitowoc, so Ben was able to move to the seat ahead and spread out a bit more; after that, we both got a little sleep.
The trip began and ended in darkness, so I have no idea what the east coast of Wisconsin looks like.
Sorry to sound so negative, but the fact is, this is not a way of visiting the UP I could have recommended to my Mom and Dad.
Escanaba: Indian Trails uses a hub-and-spoke system, with four routes converging in the western UP at Escanaba. Buses from Milwaukee, St. Ignace, Hancock, and Duluth meet approximately between 1:30 and 2:00 AM to trade passengers. (I wonder how many residents of Escanaba are aware this takes place?)
I was pleased to see Kay Chase get on the bus at sit down a couple of rows ahead of me, having taken Indian Trails buses from Kalamazoo through East Lansing and St. Ignace. Kay is the author/editor of MARP’s On Track news bulletin, and a veteran public transportation.
The trip from Escanaba to Marquette was about an hour and a half, uncrowded and uneventful. I got a little writing done on this blog before dozing off, thanks to more generous space between seats, having been careful to avoid the narrow row.
Marquette: Six or eight other travelers disembarked when we arrived at the Marquette County Transit Authority, our station for Marquette. This location is at the far west end of Marquette, behind a large shopping mall. Unfortunately, it isn’t connected to the mall, and buses don’t run there until 6:35. Other passengers had apparently made arrangements to be picked up by friends and family in their cars.
So Kay and I set off in the dark walking. And it was really dark. Kay was using her memory of a route she’d mapped to her lodging, and I was using Google maps with GPS on my phone. I had a flashlight, and apparently Kay didn’t, so I was hesitant to go my way when she went hers, but resourceful Kay disappeared into the darkness as I followed what appeared to be the best the route to downtown Marquette. I caught sight of her for a moment as our paths briefly converged, and I’m confident she reached her destination, but I haven’t seen her since.
Just as it was beginning to get light, I encountered a Hardee’s restaurant and stopped in for coffee and a muffin. I gratefully used their WiFi as I caught up on-line things before setting out to the conference hotel. It took about an hour total walking to get there, not including the breakfast break.
So here I am in Marquette, without using any automobiles between Ann Arbor and here! Yes, you CAN do it! The only question remaining is, if you have a choice, would you want to do it?
I’ll wrestle with that question, including what might make it more appealing, when I head back. Meanwhile, there’s a rail conference and tour to attend!
— Back with you on Friday — Larry