I have a longstanding love-hate relationship with the CTA, one that has most definitely been treading into hate territory the past week since I sprained my foot at the hands of an overly aggressive bus driver. However, in spite of all my present mass transit rage, there is still one aspect of the CTA that I'm willing to celebrate, one which remains untouched by the deprivations of the current economic crisis, and of which I can muster no criticisms: the Holiday Train. Today, I stood twenty minutes on the platform waiting, sprained foot and all, for the annual Holiday Train to make one of it's three scheduled appearances on the Red Line to catch a glimpse of Santa.
Every December, the CTA rolls out a festively decorated train, complete with a flatbed bearing Santa, his sleigh, and his reindeer. It travels each of the eight train lines on different days, and the CTA provides estimated times of arrival online so that you can coordinate your travel accordingly. I've never caught it when it was going in a direction I needed to travel, so I've never had the occasion to ride it, but I am sufficiently cheered by its mere presence that I don't feel any sense of loss over it.
I became aware of the Holiday Train during my first holiday season living in the city. I had been doing some Christmas shopping, and was waiting for a southbound train to head home. While I waited, a northbound train started pulling into the station, emanating Christmas music. I turned to find the source of the sound when I saw Santa speed by, surrounded by a blur of lights. It was there and gone so quickly, and I was so surprised, I almost wondered if I was hallucinating the entire thing. Of course, I didn't have the presence of mind to take a photo, so I had only my memories as a reminder of the event. I subsequently researched the phenomenon and discovered that I had inadvertently stumbled upon a Chicago tradition.
Last year I didn't manage to catch the train again, but this year I made a point of squeezing it into my December schedule. I felt a little ridiculous waiting for it, as I was clearly the only adult there not accompanied by children, but it was totally worth it. The train pulled into the station with its music blaring, and a very jolly Santa greeting all the passersby. CTA staff dressed as elves passed out candy and oversaw the passengers boarding the train so that the train would not leave anyone at the station. I was sufficiently cheered by its arrival, but the best reactions came from the unsuspecting commuters waiting on the platform to catch their usual ride home. They shrieked with joy, whipping out cell phone cameras and calling friends to tell them about their experience. It was pretty fantastic.
I was particularly pleased to see that the CTA staged the Holiday Train again this year, despite all the budget shortfalls. The Christmas tree in Daley Plaza might have been a complete disappointment, but the CTA (which fails at so many things in general) managed to bear the standard in defending our municipal holiday traditions. Goodness knows we could all use a little extra holiday cheer this year.