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Five ways cash and power can help you beat the crowds in Chicago

Jean Paul Sartre famously declared that “Hell is other people.”

By that standard, traveling through busy Union Station is about to get a little less hellish — but only if you’ve got $10 to spare.

The Legacy Club, where passengers can pay for a comfy chair and a little peace and quiet while they wait for their train, opened Monday, and is the latest place where Chicago swells can insulate themselves from the hoi polloi.

Short of moving to the state’s wealthiest suburb, Winnetka (average median household income: $202,000) and never leaving your house, here are four other ways well-heeled Chicagoans can ensure they never rub elbows with their poorer neighbors.

On the train

Car 553 might not look like much from the outside, but it’s the last private rail car in the U.S. | (file photo)
Car 553 might not look like much from the outside, but it’s the last private rail car in the U.S. | (file photo)

A luxury waiting room is all well and good, but it’s not going to help you once you need to get moving. Then you’ll be wishing you had your own private rail car.

While such luxury is these days typically the reserve of royalty, the U.S.’s last private rail car, Car 553, runs between Chicago and Kenosha on Metra’s North line. For a $900 annual fee, plus a Metra pass, around 70 members can ride into the city in their own rail car, which is hitched to a regular Metra train.

The service has run on and off for more than 80 years. An earlier incarnation had a barber’s chair, friendly games of Bridge, and remained in the downtown station throughout the day, so wives could shop and drop their purchases off with the porter, but that stopped before World War II.

Today’s service is less luxurious, but still a step up from public transit. Member Jan Carlson explained the appeal to the Tribune’s Richard Wronski in 2009:

“You can get a lot of work done […] I hate to say it, but in the regular [Metra] car, it’s all children crying or cell phones going off endlessly.”

And on Car 553, she added: “You don’t stick to the seats.”

At the game

Soldier Field executive suites | (Bears marketing material)
Soldier Field executive suites | (Bears marketing material)

Sitting in the cheap seats at Soldier Field ain’t cheap. Regular season single game tickets start at $106 a pop.

Still, regular working stiffs sneak in. So if you want to take in the action and the atmosphere at a civilized reserve from your fellow fans, you’ll want an executive box. The “best experience in the stadium” starts at $28,800 for 20 tickets and 5 parking passes. That gets you into one pre-season game and one regular season game. Food is extra.

But you do get a private elevator to the suite level. And, according to the Bears’ marketing material, the knowledge that 35% of your fellow attendees will “classify themselves as Presidents, Vice Presidents, C-level executives or owner of their companies.”

At a concert

Even rich folk get the Blues. And sometimes they like to listen to the blues, in comfort, surrounded by people who understand their problems. The House of Blues “Foundation Room” club has them covered. Members can drink at a private bar and eat in a private dining room, then watch the show from their own balcony.

The private road

The McCormick Place Busway is has security gates at both entrances/exits and stretches from 25th Street to Lower Randolph. | (Jessica Koscielniak ~ Sun – Times )
The McCormick Place Busway is has security gates at both entrances/exits and stretches from 25th Street to Lower Randolph. | (Jessica Koscielniak ~ Sun – Times )

A private train car might be nice, but nothing says power and privelege like a private road that lets you beat the schmoes sitting in downtown traffic. Only a handful of politicians, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Toni Preckwinkle, have a key to the magic underground highway known as the McCormick Place Busway (though convention buses can use it, too), as Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg discovered in 2013.“The big black Chevy SUV headed east on 25th Street, then abruptly turned left under the Stevenson Expy. and paused before a steel gate. The armed driver lowered his window and inserted a plastic card into a scanning device. The steel gate slid away and the car roared onto an empty stretch of pristine highway, a straight shot into the heart of downtown Chicago. “Where are we?” I asked. “The Magic Road!” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle laughed, explaining that it is a special highway that permits government officials to speed on their way without having to suffer traffic delays.”“Rahm Emanuel calls it the ‘Bat Cave,’” she said, while I was still trying to digest news of a highway I hadn’t known about running just east of Michigan Avenue.