First and foremost, thank you to everyone who tagged along on this year’s Itasca St. Patrick’s Day Parade. We had a great year, and this was one of our most well-attended St. Patrick’s Days in recent memory. The Yard Social Club began organizing Metra trips following the last “perfect storm” year where St. Patrick’s Day landed on a Saturday and the trains and downtown were far too crowded for our liking.
And, of course, this year was just like that as well.
First and foremost, even though we planned ahead and negotiated an official 65-person group rate with Metra, the railroad was still caught off-guard by just how deep we rolled from Itasca. While some of that was no doubt part of overall crowding on the system — our 9:23am train had a whopping ten cars, compared to the MD-W’s typical 6- or 7-car consist — no one told our train crew that they had a large group boarding at Itasca. Likewise for the flip trip on the 4:30pm train out of Union Station. I’m looking forward to touching base with Metra and giving them some constructive feedback based on our experience.
Secondly, I apparently wildly misjudged the level of interest in discounted tickets this year. Probably a combination of the Weekend Pass going up to $10 this year and me scaling back our group size after eating a few tickets last year, we had 63 of our 65 tickets spoken for before I arrived at the pre-party. While I’m happy that so many of you chose to use our online registration to get your tickets before the day of the event, having a better idea of the level of interest further ahead of the event would’ve allowed me to change the group size with Metra before the event and get more people in the discounted rate. (Metra’s Group Rates rules require any changes in group size to be submitted no later than 21 days before the event, and requires payment in full no later than 14 days before the event.) While I don’t think the base price will change for 2019, here’s an early warning: prices for tickets will go up for people who aren’t registered by the end of February.
Thirdly, downtown was far too crowded. I will give the Berghoff kudos for expanding their bar area, which made our traditional first stop much more enjoyable. However, our secret is officially out in regards to The Bar Below: while the bar wasn’t that crowded at first, bringing a group of 80 people to a single bar will wildly swing how crowded that bar feels and how fast we can get drinks at the bar.
The good news is, thanks to some upcoming leap years, the next “perfect storm” year won’t happen until 2029. Hopefully next year will be a little less crowded downtown. That said, I did have a few ideas to make next year run smoother for all of us:
- Earlier coordination with Metra. I plan on working more closely with Metra next year to make sure Metra has a better idea of what to expect when we roll into Itasca. We get our discounted ticket rate by using Metra’s group fares, which means Metra (theoretically) knows to expect a huge group to board on certain trains. While Metra can’t guarantee private train cars for groups (obviously), if the train crew knows ahead of time to expect a group of 80 people, they usually try to hold a car for us. (Each Metra car officially seats about 125 people.)
- Variable trains home. Every year, some people opt out of our discounted group tickets since that 4:30pm outbound trip isn’t attractive for many people. (I know others of you just humor me and buy our discounted tickets, knowing you’ll need an extra fare to get back to the suburbs — and I thank you for that.) However, with a large enough group, we may be able to reach a critical mass to allow for variable trains home: Metra’s group fare rules won’t let the group rate be a blank slate for any train you want (as someone inevitably finds out the hard way every year, no matter how many warnings I put on the registration forms and the tickets themselves), but I may be able to finagle splitting our group up onto two or three different trains home. Of course, this involves ticket holders to plan ahead and anticipate what train to take home — and y’all aren’t the best planners in the world, and definitely not moreso after a day of drinking. Furthermore, there needs to be a certain critical mass of people in the group for Metra to entertain group rates. Here’s my proposed set-up for next year; please leave me some comments and feedback on your thoughts and how interested you would be in the various options:
- 9:23am inbound: We all leave Itasca on the 9:23, per tradition.
- Early outbound: small group (25% or so of the total group) gets the 1:30pm departure, which lets you join us for the Berghoff and The Bar Below, then head back to Itasca early.
- Traditional outbound: reserved for about half of the group, our traditional 4:30pm departure gets us back to Tree Guys by 5:30.
- Late outbound: the last 25% of the tickets would be reserved for people spending extra time downtown and taking the 8:40pm train home.
As always, your thoughts and feedback are always appreciated, so contribute your two cents in the comments below, or send your hate mail straight to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d like to thank the entire McDonald family once again for being such gracious hosts, for starting this tradition years and years and years ago, and for continuing to put this great event together year after year. See you next year!