On Van Galder from Wisconsin to O'Hare (2023)

Catherine Jagoe Gate

Van Galder Bus company during 70 years
was the number one transportation choice for southern Wisconsin
and northern Illinois to O'Hare and downtown Chicago.

hBefore heading back to the Van Galder bus, listen to music and watch out the window as the bus makes the big turn on the ramp to join I-90 and the hundreds of miles of southern Illinois plains. The spiky fuzz of blue checkered wallpaper. Engine knocking. For the last thirty years, Van Galder has transported you between Madison, where you are and where you are not, and O'Hare, where you board a plane to other countries, other homes, other lives, other versions of yourself. It is the first –or the last– stage of an often painful journey and transformation.

In Wisconsin, the Van Galder is a rite of passage for budget travelers from all walks of life: students, retirees, the frugal, and the working poor. The Van Galder company, founded in 1947, is proud of its "luxury motorcycles". The phrase is a holdover from days gone by, the heyday of the mid-20th century, when I-90 and the O'Hare were built, when the footrests and seat belts that Van Galder still mentions were the latest modern conveniences. More well-meaning travelers take a plane from Madison to Chicago O'Hare International Airport. Everyone else gets the Van Galder. It is a time capsule that travels through space, carrying passengers to and from foreign countries. If we can say of a bus that it is a place, then it is liminal and empty: a threshold, a support, a space where one stops and passes at the same time.

The brand of the company is "safe and reliable service". You don't have to wonder if the bus runs on a particular day or if it works in columns of departure and arrival times; It follows the same schedule: six buses to and from the airport each day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, including Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, and other holidays. Van Galder goes through roadworks, storms, floods, tornadoes, blizzards. Two company mottos: "Van Galder will take you there" and "We run until they close the highway." Or unless there is an act of God, like a global pandemic. The Van Galder will be closed for two months this spring, an unprecedented measure.

Van Galder is a Dutch name. The prefix "de" means "from" a specific place of origin or residence. Galder is a town in the Netherlands. It is your experience that Americans often ask where you are from. resent the question because there is no answer, or the answer is too complicated. By the time you were eight years old, you had lived in eight places: England, Ireland, and Nigeria, followed by France, Spain, and the United States as an adult. This is how you often answer: "Madison." After all, you live there longer than anywhere else. "No," the person replies. "Where are youRealDo you think about this on the way to the airport? O'Hare, Chicagoans have boasted that it handles more people in a year than Ellis Island in its entire existence.

Van Galder is often mispronounced as Van Gelder, as if he is performing some kind of symbolic emasculation, which in a way Midwestern culture also does. On board you wear compression stockings, baggy yoga pants, and sneakers—nothing fancy or flashy. The few passengers who speak to each other do so in a low voice. Drivers are fermented and phlegmatic. His movements are slow and deliberate, as is his speech. In other places they may be broken, but here the frustrations are under control. "Midwestern fun" is often underestimated in other parts of the country, but the emotional vulnerability experienced on transatlantic travel means one is often grateful not to be treated like bus drivers elsewhere, with absolute dislike. They are crazy, but they are not rude.

The trip with Van Galder to O'Hare takes three and a half hours and passes with a slowness that sometimes seems unbearable. By car you can complete the journey in two hours. But in Van Galder, there are four stops: Dutch Mill Park 'n Ride, followed by the Rust Belt cities of Janesville, Beloit and Rockford. The bus will be pulled off the road at each bus and will wait for the specified number of minutes, even if no one gets on or off. And drivers never speed up. They adjust the cruise control at a steady rate: fifty-five, sixty-five, seventy, whatever you say. The drivers flash their lights and wave regally as they pass the approaching Van Galder bus like a traffic light between the lines.

IIn Madison, the route begins and ends downtown, on Lake Mendota, at the University of Wisconsin Memorial Union, with its distinctive (yellow, orange, red, blue) colorful metal chairs and round backs. and stars. In summer it is full of students in shorts and flip flops. There are sailboats and windsurfers on the lake. In winter it is icy and calm. People pour out of Union's double glass doors, sipping their travel mugs of coffee, blindfolded, rolling bags across gravel and salty sidewalks.

With all the luggage loaded and passengers boarded, the driver climbs in, stows the cooler behind the seat, checks the intercom, and adjusts the height of the windshield. He closes the door. A loud whistle sounds as the bus inflates and floats in preparation for departure. He greets free passengers with a "hello guys," like a cowboy in an old west. The 'o's are played wide ('Wisconsin' becomes 'Wiscahnsin') or closed, dark and northern, as in 'folks' or 'road'. He talks a lot about the do's and don'ts in this room and always ends with "Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride."

The first stop is on the outskirts of Madison, at Dutch Mill Park 'n Ride, a shady spot on E. Broadway, just off the Beltline and the freeway. In the bustle of traffic, you've got the Greyhound bus stop, an Arby's, a Phillips 66 gas station, the Days Inn and Sleep Inn across the street, boxes and wrappers in the parking lot, always an atmosphere and strange men and loners prowling like wolves. .

Forty-five minutes later you arrive in Janesville. The bus departs from I-90 and passes used car dealerships, Nissan, Olive Garden, a Mazda dealer, and an auto repair shop before arriving at the terminal. In South Beloit, the first stop in Illinois, the bus passes Goodyear Tires and the Sunnyside Cannabis Dispensary and stops at the McDonald's east of I-90, which has now become Fas Mart/Fas Fuel Travel Plaza, as The native Spanish is accustomed to dropping the last "t" in "quickly", as he had called it. "Fast", you think, means fast, but also firm, tireless. The last two are more relevant to this process than the first.

The road becomes noticeably rougher as you cross the state line into Illinois. Rockford got its name because it was already a crossroads, a heavily used road that crossed the Rock River. In the first half of the 20th century, it had a prosperous furniture and agricultural machinery industry. But in the 1990s, unemployment was so severe that the city was ranked in the top ten worst cities in the country.

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Today there is only one stop in Rockford, but before there were two. What was removed (because the site itself was demolished) was the Clock Tower, which housed a Museum of Time. There were watchmakers in this town. Rockford Watch Company produced the first key-winding watch: three railroads ran through Rockford, and watches were popular on the railroad. Van Galder's journey, like a pendulum, measured time, his own and that of others.

Before O'Hare, you pass the bright parking lot of the Chrysler Assembly Plant in Belvidere, full of working cars. Then, in Schaumberg, Illinois, a strange anachronism: the 11th-century substitute castle with its battlements, pinnacles, and shields. It was built by a company called Medieval Times, which organizes jousting tournaments with knights on horseback and "medieval dinners" for tourists. It is a popular place where people pay a lot of money. Surprisingly, the dinner menu consists of sweet corn and tomato biscuits, garlic bread and coffee, ingredients unknown in 11th century Britain. The medieval part, of course, is eating turkey thighs and ears of corn with your bare hands. There's something appealing about the silliness of this.

When you look out the bus window, you float in an eternal and implacable present. Van Galder means to you raw and tired and often, especially on the way back, a strange kind of brokenness. When you're away, you're tired of rushing to finish work and get ready for travel in time. Relieved, you can do nothing but sit, wipe your tears, and watch the fields and plains go by. You dread the long hours of sleepless nights on the plane, the miserable and uncomfortable night you spend sitting upright in your seat, with a stranger on either side. or, if you're lucky, a cool window with an opening large enough for whatever you attach to the arm of the chair to slide through. But for now there is only the bus, the road, the sky.

Returning to Wisconsin is a different story: you're stressed about your native England or your adopted homeland of Spain. All the familiar sights of the Illinois-Wisconsin countryside suddenly become strange and alien: the scale and flatness of the landscape, the sweltering heat and humidity, or, depending on the season, the toe-numbing cold. Stinking snow and ice, a bewildering lack of fences, hilltops, variety, color, and trees. You move as if you were sinking underwater, floating on land between time zones, exhausted from eighteen hours of travel. You long for sleep and rest from movement. When you finally disembark, after nearly twenty-four hours of constant motion, it takes hours for the fluids in your inner ear to settle. The world is still unstable. You're not on Earth yet. And your soul is somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

tThe landscape the bus traverses is flat without the grandeur of the Great Plains, and the views are often ugly. The immense biodiversity, beauty and fertility of the grasslands and oak savannahs that existed here before colonization have been woefully diminished. Without a doubt, the journey with Van Galder is colored by the lonely years of driving this route in his Toyota Tercel, to a track in northern Illinois, consumed by the desire to be somewhere else and the fear of the weather: sweating in spring. and autumn. and the horror of slippage during the long winters, your little craft is echoed by the roar of eighteen-wheelers, dazzling you with their splashes, trying to steady the car against the dangerous suction of their wind tunnels.

However, there is often a strange gift associated with this bus journey: you feel taken out of your shell, cut off from your routine, suddenly able to see with great clarity and tenderness the broad landscape of your life, as you live your life in silence. catches. environment in your brain. You observe the people around you with great empathy and detail, imagining their lives. You listen to music and contemplate the labyrinthine path that your life has traveled, as if you were from a great height.

Her love-hate for Van Galder and the journey into the worlds he represents is her love-hate for America. According to Galder, what is barren and soul-destroying is America: the dreary acres and acres of corn and Roundup Ready soybeans, commercial crops genetically modified to produce no seeds. It is the United States that is reliable, that is comfort, convenience and reliability, that is absolute predictability. They offer you a solid guarantee that it will be delivered safely to its destination. America that strives to make travel to the outside world from the confines of this continent not only possible, but easy.

But Van Galder can also be reassuring. Just like when you took the last bus home, you got to the Union at 2:35 am. and there were no taxis. You were the only person left on the bus, you slept the whole time in the back seat next to the bathroom, dressed in your bag, exhausted from the journey and the pain – the pain of being apart, the pounding of the sea from a migraine. – And the driver said that he had finished his shift. Did you need a ride home? You carefully said yes, worried about what awaited you, but he dropped you off in the campus parking lot and waited with his lights on for you to start the Tercel. Then he was lost in the dark. ■

Catharina JagoeHe is a translator, poet and essayist who has published eight books and three chapbooks. his poetry bookBloedwortelit won the 2016 American Poetry Award, the 2016 Wisconsin Writers Council Award, and was named a 2017 "Outstanding Work of Poetry" by the Wisconsin Library Association. His nonfiction will be published in 2016.Handkar XLanthology and received an Outstanding Citation in 2019.The best American essays.. His most recent essays appear inMemoir Magazine, The Coachella ReviewInunder the gum tree.

cover image ofTimo Kousela(creative commons).

Belt Magazine is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. To support more independent writing and journalism in and throughout the Rust Belt and the greater Midwest,make a donation to belt magazine, ofJoin from just $5 per month.


Where does Van Galder pick up at O Hare Airport? ›

O'Hare Airport Shuttle Bus Pick-Up

Zemke Boulevard . Our buses will no longer leave O'Hare from the Bus Shuttle Center or Terminal 5. Now, riders will board at MMF Bus Bays #5, #6, or #7. The MMF is accessible from each terminal via the Airport Transit System.

Where does Van Galder stop at O Hare? ›

Our bus stop for departures from O'Hare is located at the Multi-Modal Facility (MMF) at 10255 W. Zemke Boulevard.

Do Van Galder buses have WIFI? ›

Seating up to 46 passengers, our premium coach provides more leg room for added comfort. Complete with a restroom and overhead compartments. Added amenities include WIFI, outlets and in motion satellite. There is a table for on board for added fun.

How much is parking at Van Galder Rockford IL? ›

Parking at van galder rockford is $3 per day. Add the bus tickets, and which is cheaper depends on the duration of your trip.

Where do you park at O Hare airport when picking someone up? ›

Main Garage - Hourly

The main garage at O'Hare International Airport is adjacent to the domestic terminals with hourly parking located on Level 1. Hourly parking is for short-term parking (less than three hours). Daily parking​ is available on Levels 2-6 of the main garage and in the outdoor Lots B and C.

What terminal is O Hare bus shuttle center? ›

The Shuttle Center is conveniently located at O'Hare International Airport between Terminals 1, 2, & 3. To reach the Bus/Shuttle Center from the Terminals: Follow the sign to the Ground Transport/ Baggage Claim, one level down.

What train runs to O Hare airport? ›

The CTA Blue Line provides service directly into O'Hare Airport(Opens in a new window).

What hubs are at O Hare? ›

O'Hare is unusual in that it serves as a major hub for more than one of the three U.S. mainline carriers; it is a large hub for both United Airlines (which is headquartered in Chicago) and American Airlines. It is also a focus city for Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines.

What is the cheapest transportation from O Hare? ›


The journey should take you between 60 - 90 minutes depending on your final destination. The Blue Line 'L' train will take you from O'Hare Airport to downtown Chicago for about $5.00. This is the cheapest way to get you to your destination.

Can you park for free at Rockford Airport? ›

For your convenience for pick up and drop offs, you may park free in the Main Terminal Parking lot for up to two hours. In addition, there is a cell phone parking lot available for passenger pick ups.

How much is a bus ticket from Rockford Illinois to Chicago Illinois? ›

How much is the bus ticket between Rockford and Chicago? The cost of a bus ticket from Rockford to Chicago starts at just $16.99.

Do you have to pay to park at Rockford Airport? ›

Customers parked in main terminal parking or any of the remote parking lots will be required to pay parking fees.

Where is Uber pickup at O Hare terminal 3? ›

Pickups are located between Terminal 1 and 2 (Departures level) and between Terminal 2 and 3 (Departures level), as well as the Arrivals level of Terminal 5.

What terminal are domestic arrivals at O Hare? ›

Terminals 1 to 3 are referred to as the domestic terminals, and these 3 terminals are connected to each other via pedestrian walkways. Terminal 5, the last terminal to be built, is located a short distance from the other terminals, connected by shuttle services and the Airport Transit System (ATS).

Is the people mover operating at O Hare? ›

Closed since early 2019, the ATS reopened in November 2021 but had been operating on a reduced schedule until the system reached full operation for the first time on April 18.

How do you get to the multi modal facility at O Hare? ›

Passengers take the free Airport Transit System (ATS) train service from Terminals 1-3 and 5 to the MMF. Scheduled line-run bus services are allocated to Bays 5, 6, 7, and 8 (if needed) at the MMF.


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