The next stop will be… disappointment

Posted on May 22, 2012


The writing’s on the wall.

I spent literal days coming up with the just-right decorative theme for my apartment. Star Trek was the obvious choice, but I decided to relegate that to the bedroom instead of exposing potential visitors to a wall full of collectables and photos of myself with starship captains, hitting them like a barrage of figurative photon torpedoes. So I settled on my next-favorite topic — trains. How lovely would it be to greet guests with a room filled with vintage CTA property and photos?

The CTA’s website wasn’t a big help — it sells reprints of El routes for $35 (if you frame them, it’s a mere $180). Ebay didn’t have anything, either. After some due diligence, I stumbled across a website of a museum that was selling a bunch of old donated CTA signs. And it was none other than one of my favorite places in the world — the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Ill.

The museum had all the signs listed online, so I picked out a few I liked and called them up, hoping to speak with Dave who was in charge of sign sales. No answer. This was on a Friday, and I was actually heading back to Woodstock the next day, so I thought it was be an opportune time to swing by the IRM and hopefully catch a ride on the feng shui express. My brother and I made it to the IRM and managed to track down one of the guys associated with the museum — everything is run by volunteers — who told us that, basically, everyone there that day was too busy in meetings to help us, but I should call Dave and make arrangements to return another day.

Somewhat disappointed, I waited a few days and then called Dave several more times during the week and left messages. They were never returned.

Several weeks later when I was home again, my mother and I decided to give acquiring the signs another shot. We stopped by the museum, again, and I explained that I had money in hand and was willing to pay for a couple of the signs I had picked out based on what was displayed on the website. We were directed to the museum’s president, and I explained my situation — not a difficult one — that they basically had old junk for sale, and I was willing to shell out cash money to their volunteer-run, always soliciting donations museum.

“Well, I can’t do that,” said the president. “You’ll have to come back in a week and talk to Dave.”

I explained to him that Dave’s existence was approaching mythic proportions, but it seemed as though tracking him down the following Saturday was my last recourse.

So, a week went by. And one last time my mother and I trekked to the IRM. Stopping by the office, we were told that, in fact, Dave had decided to grace the museum with his attendance that day. This was more progress than I had made in the last three weeks. We made our way over to the buildings and grounds shed where Dave was, and I finally was able to explain what I wanted to the person who had in his possession the artifacts that could earn my apartment its Chicago authenticity.

“You’ve been told wrong,” said Dave. “Those signs are in deep storage. I can’t just go and get them. You have to order them online and we’ll ship them to you.”

It was then that the IRM became one of my not-so-favorite places. And what the hell is ‘deep storage’ anyway? Did they bury the signs underground in some type of secret bunker? How was it that an organization that depends on the passion of volunteers and the support of donors couldn’t dig out a route map that used to hang in an El car? Maybe all the guys there were just too lazy to or too involved in their own projects to care.

Or maybe the organization itself, much like the CTA, is so poorly organized that nobody knows what’s really going on or who’s in charge of what.

That’s probably the most troublesome sign of all.

Posted in: Lakeview