Conducting the Polar Express


Every once in a while, my running world and my personal life “run” in parallel. That is not much of a surprise really as many runners have running as the center of their lives. In any event, a recent parallel for me centered around the “North Pole Express.”

A few weekends back, the Immaculate Conception School of Newburyport held one of its major fund raisers, the “North Pole Express.” Based on the story of the “Polar Express,” it highly regarded by people who have taken it in the past and for those in neighboring towns and locales who try to emulate it. In fact, tickets for the four trains (of seven cars each) sold out in just three days this year! The success is driven by the members of the school from teachers to parents to the students who all work hard for the weekend (and planning for this takes many months) with the goal of making this event a success for all. And each year it is a success!

As a parent of three IC children, I volunteer each year for the NPE.  Over the past few years I have been involved with cleanup, distribution of the hot chocolate and setup. More specifically, for the first two years, I broke down the village at the end of the night and cleaned the trains (in rain, snow and extreme cold I might add). Then last year I was on the operations teams that loaded and unloaded hot chocolate, cookies and other items needed for the trip to the North Pole after each train came back in. This year I was back with this team again but I also had an additional duty as well: I was also a conductor on car 7!

  Leading up to the NPE, I was told that the passengers are “here to see the conductor.” As a result, I needed to act the part well because people were paying good money to attend after all! The conductor was also the leader on the train and had to coordinate the food servers and readers along with its passengers for the 70 minute ride to/from the North Pole (though honestly they have their own “marching orders” so that part was easy). On the Friday night before the trip, you could say, based on all of this “responsibility” that I was a bit “unsure” of how I would do the following day. While I coach kids and have been doing such for a while, I have never acted in such a role – call this prerace jitters!

  So the next morning, I arrived at the NPE about 35 minutes before the train was set to leave and upon entering my car, I found out that the members/staff of car 7 were all first timers in their respective positions. I looked at this as a positive as we were all in the same boat and we could all figure it out together though ultimately I still needed to perform well. I greated the riders as they got on the train, scanned the script and plan for the trip and then the train lurched forward and we were off!

As we went down the tracks to the North Pole, we and the guests of the car, would proceed to sing songs, play games, share stories, serve hot chocolate and cookies as well as see Santa, Rudolph and Frosty on the voyage. As my voice was wiped out from a cold I got earlier in the week, I had some kids sub in for me singing songs and they did great. Our reader was awesome and the servers were fantastic. We worked together on the 12 days of Christmas and kept our smiles on (which was not hard to do given the group of jolly folks on board). I spoke to many kids and families about where they were from and what they were asking Santa for. It was truly a great 70 minutes!

Now that I have had time to digest the events of the day on the “North Pole Express,” I am left with the feeling that I want more! I have the itch to continue to be a conductor – like the itch to run races (tougher ones at that). I loved my role as the conductor. When I coach the young ones in soccer each spring and fall, you see what drives the kids and what buttons to push to make them better. For the NPE, the “button” is Santa and you are there to make the trip enjoyable and share in their “belief” of the jolly man in the red suit. There is nothing like it!

Ok, there is one thing like it. When I ran my first half marathon earlier this year, I was worried that I would not finish and they would find me on the side of the road, out of energy and wiped out. I stressed about this in the days leading up but just like my morning when I got to the NPE, I just put the jitters aside and started to run. As I trudged down the race route for the half, my jitters went away – for the NPE, it took just one smiling face and a singing kid to remove the jitters as the conductor. 

They say you always remember your first time –  as a conductor I will never forget it! And thankfully they did not find me on the side of the tracks run over by a reindeer!

Thanks for reading


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