All Aboard for Happiness.

Although not a Christian, I found riding the Chicago Transit Authority’s Holiday Train this evening one of the top ten most exhilarating experiences of my past year.

Especially heartening in this time of push coming to shove on so many budgetary fronts, when even our parking meters don’t belong to us anymore, is how the CTA still goes all out to fill the train with light and color, music, and happiness. The investment in holiday glow pays off in the glow of riders of all generations, those for whom the season wouldn’t be complete without the Holiday Train, and those who just happen to luck into it while waiting for the next ride home. The Holiday Train, pure and simple, is an expression of love. The CTA employees who knock themselves out decorating every square interior and exterior inch of it, who program the seasonal pop over the P.A. system in the cars, who ride handing out candy canes and good cheer, who plan and disseminate the schedules, who work to make the Holiday Train happen every year (this is now the 18th for the train), deserve our warmest thanks. They really do bring joy to the world—or at least one significant corner of it.

It is also good, in these days of cold and snow, to have a reminder of why we live in Chicago. One ride on the Holiday Train will counter a hundred of those “what am I still doing here?” moments. It is an answer all in itself.

When you ride the Holiday Train, you love the CTA right back. And you love everyone else on your train. No matter how crowded it gets, you and the hundreds you’re riding with — you’re all happy. You look at the CTA people and your fellow passengers and for once see them not as bodies but as people. You sing with them. You smile with them. You imagine their stories, and their stories make you feel good. After our ride from Diversey to Kimball on the Brown Line, then back from Kimball to Clark/Lake, we looked at our watches to discover we’d spent an hour and twenty minutes on the train. We couldn’t believe it.

Time flies when your heart is filled with gladness.

As the train continued on and rounded the corner out of our sight, I wondered for a moment if it had all been real, or whether it had been one of those magical apparitions, like the mythical villages of legend and Broadway musical that appear only one day every hundred years.

It was real. May this Chicago tradition always be.

Photos courtesy of Angie Naron’s Flickr photostream.

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