I had a very small window of opportunity over the weekend to see Carrie Schneider’s just-opened 12 x 12 project at the MCA. It was late Saturday afternoon, and I had about an hour and a half to take the El into the city from Oak Park in order to see the show before the Museum closed. So, I was a little annoyed when the announcement came on that the Blue Line would end at UIC/Halsted, which meant I’d have to take a shuttle to Jackson in order to catch the Red line. (I hate shuttles, even though there are always plenty of them and they don’t slow you down all that much). Much internal bitching and moaning ensued. I made it to the MCA with 40 minutes to spare, watched Schneider’s video “Slow Dance” until they literally kicked me out of the room, then got up and called my husband to pick me up at the Ridgeland station so I could take the Green Line home. I caught my first train without incident, but fucked up and took the hateful Brown Line instead of the required Green by accident (this, because I was on my iPhone trying to download OMD’s Romance of the Telescope, which features prominently in Schneider’s video). I could see that planned dinner out with my husband rapidly disappearing down the tubes (the parents’ night out at our local children’s art studio would end promptly at 8:30). Dammit. I got off the Brown, waited for the Green, told myself repeatedly DO NOT LOOK AT iPHONE. And then…..what the hell *is* that??? A train, wrapped like a present in sparkly twinkling Christmas lights and other holiday fizzies, zooming into the station.



I was momentarily blinded (and, just for a second, terrified). Christmas carols spilled out merrily from the train, and my god…there is a Santa Claus. There was also a sleigh and a couple of reindeer and a beefy guy in a black ski mask who I think was supposed to be Santa’s helper. Only later did I learn that this was the CTA’s fabled Holiday Train and I had totally, accidentally caught it! People plan all day for this and I did it without even trying! Wheeee!

I shoved myself into the train, which was packed with bodies. Inside, it’s like a fucking Nora Ephron movie. Everyone is grinning, laughing, excited that they’ve found the CTA equivalent of the golden ticket. Me most of all. The interior of the train glows red and green–a bit sickly, but still nice. IMG_0393There are tinsel and red bows everywhere. Even the rail poles are wrapped in candy cane striping. I cannot stop beaming – I know I look like an idiot but I don’t care. It’s the holiday train! The woman next to me is even more excited than I am. She’s young and pretty, wearing a bright orange wool coat and a cream-colored knitted cap and is singing out loud to every carol–even to Alvin and the Chipmunk’s Christmas Song. At one point, the train jerks, and she stumbles backwards. The dude behind her, the unsmiling one who’s kept his earphones on the whole time, touches the back of her coat and gently steadies her. She turns to smile at him. He doesn’t look nearly as fierce anymore. They talk for a bit, and I imagine a meet-cute scenario where they fall in love and get married. People get on, then reluctantly off. Everyone is so into this train, even the ones who are trying to act like it’s no big deal…they wind up smiling too. We’re all looking right into one another’s faces.IMG_0396 A guy catches my eye and mugs at me, and I laugh. I can’t quite believe it, but I think I have found myself in the middle of an authentic moment of Christmas cheer. It’s exhilarating, and I am filled with love for everyone on that train. Seriously.

Then, it was my stop. I jumped off, cell phone at the ready to capture as much of the train’s exterior as I could in the few seconds I had before it zoomed off into the night. Do you ever have the sense that every twist and turn in an otherwise trying day was leading you toward one, singular experience – one that might only last a few minutes or even seconds, but was still big enough to justify your entire existence that day? For me, yesterday was one of those days that led to one of those singular moments. Thank you CTA Workers. You rock. Happy Holidays too, y’all!






Claudine Isé