We had around twenty minutes to get to the nearest Metra Electric station (Van Buren Street), which would have been a bit tight, but probably doable. The schedule I had showed that we would have had a wait of more than 40 minutes had we missed it, and we'd rather not have had to wait that long. Besides, it was raining, and we didn't have an umbrella. So I decided to take a taxi to the station. I could have taken the taxi all the way to the Museum of Science and Industry, but we wanted to ride the train.
I told the driver, "Van Buren Street Metra Station." He looked puzzled. Lisa tried to tell him "South Shore Line," but the driver had fixated on the word "Metra" and tried to take us to La Salle Street Station, which is a different line. Finally we showed him the Chicago transit map, and he expressed great surprise at there being any station at all where we were pointing. After fumbling around a bit, he actually stopped right where we needed to be, more by chance than anything else. I gave him his $8 and we escaped from his taxi and ran down the tunnel into the station. I think it's possible that we might have gotten there faster if we'd walked, although we would have been very wet had we done so.
I'm glad the station was staffed, because it was much faster to just ask for two round-trip tickets to the station where the Museum of Science and Industry is than it would have been to figure out how to use ticket vending machines for a system with which I'm unfamiliar. We made our train with two minutes to spare, although as I examined the schedule, I found that there had been another train ten minutes later that would have gone express to 55/56/57 St (where we were headed) and arrived only five minutes later than we actually did. The rain hadn't let up when we got there, but it's only two or three blocks to the Museum, and it wasn't cold, just wet, so we put on our floppy hats and toughed it out.
There was quite a queue for tickets. I got in line and sent Lisa off to look at the exhibits in the unticketed area, particularly the Burlington Zephyr train. Lisa had previously told me that the only add-on to the basic admission we wanted was the U-505 submarine exhibit. After maybe twenty minutes of inching through the line, I had our tickets and joined Lisa.
Although I've been to the museum before, I haven't seen all of it, and hadn't even seen all of the train stuff, so much of this was new to me. I got to see the Zephry interior for the first time, for instance, and I'd not been inside the submarine before. Although we spent roughly six hours in the museum, we still didn't cover everything because we like looking at things in detail. There's clearly enough material to cover another full day just for this museum. I could see spending a full week just doing the various museums around here, and still not see everything.
When I bought the U-505 ticket, I had to specify a time for our tour. Rather than take the next-available entry (about 12:30), I specified the 14:30 admission. That turned out to be a mistake. I'd expected that we'd do the sub tour and then have lunch. However, the museum's food court closes at 14:30. We did stop for a morning snack at 11:30, but by the time we were hungry (and clear of the sub), all that was open was the small café with the big queue and the little selection. More about that later.
After seeing the Zephyr, we headed up to the train exhibit, the star of which is engine 999, at one time the fastest locomotive in the world, or at least in the USA – rail historians argue the case, and I'd rather not get into the details here. We looked through all of the rail displays in great detail, then went upstairs to the airplane exhibits, including the replica Wright Flyer and a full-sized 727 that is suspended over the hall. The 727 had an actual United Airlines pilot answering questions, and Lisa happily talked about aviation with him for a while.
After looking through several other galleries, it was getting on close to 14:00, so we made our way toward the U-505 exhibit. However, we were running late enough that we couldn't go through the full pre-exhibit experience with the dramatic re-telling of the taking of the U-505 by an American sub-hunting squadron. We got to the boat itself with around five minutes to spare.
Was the sub tour – a $7/person surcharge – worth it? I think so. They take you through the carefully-restored submarine and through lights and sound effects (plus the tour guide's narration) re-create some of what it must have been like on board the cramped German U-Boat. The guide pointed out that the boat's captain was 6'2" – only one inch shorter than me – and I'm surprised he didn't have to wear a hard-hat. Even knowing that there was no clearance about me, I managed to whack my head once on a low-hanging pipe.
While Lisa had her camera out taking pictures before we went aboard – photos are not allowed inside the sub, they told us – I was carrying Kuma Bear on the outside of his pack and had the pack in front of me. This led to an odd experience that shows the value of Kuma's backpack having a good safety harness. While we'd been in the first portion of the sub, the guide had demonstrated how dark it could be by shutting off the lights and playing the sound effects of a sub in silent running. I heard a young English girl's voice complaining that she was scared and an exasperated mother trying to shush her. As that scene ended and we moved to the next section, but before it started, that young girl ended up near me. She spied Bear and tried to grab him!
I fended off her hand and said, "No, I'm sorry, but you can't have our Bear."
She asked, rather petulantly, "Why not!"
I tried to be polite and avoided the "Because he's not yours, kid!" and instead said, "Because he's very precious to my wife and is nineteen years old and a little fragile sometimes." She didn't seem convinced, but her mother told her to back off.
That little girl seemed to me to act like a stock character of the Bratty Little Girl for the rest of the tour, although she didn't get too boisterous. I tried to stay friendly, and helped Kuma wave good-bye to the girl as she left the sub ahead of us. It was a disconcerting experience. At least the kid didn't have sticky hands.
We have nothing against children, and they aren't the only ones who have tried to grab Kuma Bear from Lisa's backpack, and therefore Bear never travels outside his pack without a firm safety harness. I do wish that people would keep their hands to themselves, though.
This was when we discovered that it was now too late to get lunch, although our bodies were telling us it was high time for it. Instead, I got a coffee from the café, and Lisa had a "U-505 Sub Sandwich," while I ate one of my Glucerna meal substitute bars. I wouldn't want to live on those food bars for a long time, but they are better than nothing, and I don't dislike them."
We had just about two hours left before the museum closed, but our energy was running out, so we gave some rather cursory walk-throughs to several other exhibit areas and then looked in the gift shop. Lisa had seen a small zipper bag elsewhere in the museum that claimed the bag was on sale there, but we were unable to find it. With less than fifteen minutes before the next train downtown, we decided we'd had enough and called it a day at the museum.
I enjoyed my second trip here, and could easily see coming back again.