Prom night on a passenger train bound for memory lane
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 24, 2009 - It’s been 10 years since my high school prom, and instead of celebrating by reuniting with my prom date (she lives in St. Louis, which is only noteworthy because we both grew up in Seattle), I decided to check out the zany event known as MetroLink Prom.
Last year, roughly 80 MetroLink devotees donned formal wear and rode the rail across the city to demonstrate their support for Proposition M, the ballot measure on funding the transit system that ultimately failed.
This year, even without an impending vote serving as the backdrop, nearly twice as many people took part in the second annual prom Friday night. Co-organizer Liz Kramer, wearing a glossy gown, necklace and tiara, at once marveled at the size of the group and seemed focused on the daunting task of herding the throngs. She had help from fellow event organizer Claire Nowak-Boyd, easily identified by her MetroLink corsage.
“We’re here to show that MetroLink is still fun,” Kramer, known as Miss MetroLink, ;told me minutes into the event. “And we’re here to make sure people understand that riding public transit is a good time because silly things happen. Riding transit is inherently political, but we aren’t making a political statement.”
Well, most people weren’t…
That didn't include Chris Andoe, who said he hoped people at the event would be vocal supporters of future campaigns involving MetroLink.
“This prom could be the start of a counter-movement to the powerful one that doesn’t support light rail,” Andoe said. “MetroLink is one of the biggest assets in St. Louis and a lot of people are trying to dismantle it.”
Andoe came not only with that stump speech prepared but with an entourage -- friends dressed as his bodyguard and his political manager -- and an outfit that screamed royalty. His gold suit and crown came in handy, as Andoe was voted MetroLink king by applause. Confidence? Cockiness, even? "I'm planning to work this," Andoe said before the vote.
He was joined in the royalty court by Shayna Helm, a St. Louis Community College-Forest Park nursing student and Starbucks barista. The speech that won her the queen's crown: "I like purple. And I want world peace."
The winners, who had never met before, shared a dance on the Clayton MetroLink platform to the unmistakably ‘90s ballad “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith. For this dance, the lyrics were changed to “I Don’t Want to Miss This Train.”
On this night, people cheered wildly when trains arrived to a station. They smushed into MetroLink cars all the way from Clayton to the Arch-Laclede's Landing station. They welcomed new passengers with songs and applause. Some revelers danced near the train doors -- whether or not they could hear a tiny portable music player one of the organizers brought along for the ride.
MetroLink Prom is the kind of event where anything goes. A man was among the contestants for prom king, and two women were up for prom queen. A runner-up for the crown won loud cheers for wearing a kilt. People posed for pictures in front of banners that were in held in place by other prom attendees.
This was prom without curfew (unless you count the last train that leaves around midnight) or chaperone (unless you count the Metro officials reminding people to steer clear of the edge of the track.)
None of this creativity came as much of a surprise: This is the same group, mind you, that wore black dresses and veils and held a mock funeral to bring attention to cuts to Metro bus service in the spring.
Peg Dodel-Britt, who goes by the name “Krazzy Peg,” came to the event along with five other people from the Meetup.com group “Livin’ Life to the Fullest.” Dodel-Britt said she typically only rides MetroLink to baseball games. But she was intrigued by the idea of a prom on the move.
“Because I’m crazy, anything like this, it turns me on,” Dodel-Britt said.
And this year, MetroLink was also along for the ride. Adella Jones, vice president of government and community affairs for the light-rail system, rode along with the crowd to see what the event was all about.
“I heard about it last year after the fact, and I was upset I missed out,” Jones said. “It looks like people are having a good time. This is certainly a new way to integrate MetroLink into evening plans.”