For four years, Michael Babbitt has ridden the rails to the North Pole aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s Polar Express. A grandfather of eight, the 68-year-old helps organize other volunteers as the classic children’s book comes alive. This year, the Polar Express marks its 25th year with daily trips from the Akron Northside and Rockside Station through Dec. 21.
I get to ride a train for two hours with 60 to 80 people celebrating the holiday season — and I get to do it as often as I want.
On the Polar Express, everybody is a character. One is a trainman. There’s at least three other people on the car. They help serve the hot chocolate and cookies. They greet everybody that gets on the car. They help write nametags. They introduce the people to Santa, they follow Santa with a box of bells, because Santa’s got bells.
You might help lead the “Ho-ho” song contest, where we try to get the men, the adult men, in the spirit because they’re the ones that hang back the most. If you do it right, it’s a party. It’s a two-hour party.
As you get to the North Pole, the kids look out the window. The elves are jumping around, and the kids are like, “Look at that one! Look at this one!” The kids obviously get a kick out of it, they enjoy it. But I think the parents benefit the most.
The first time I got home I just sat there, because I was emotionally drained. It was a big deal. I looked at my wife and said, “This is the most fun I have ever had in my life.” — as told to Tyisha Blade