‘C’mon N’ Ride It’

Students, advocates celebrate Metro with prom on trains

| Copy Chief
(Matt Mitgang | Student Life)

(Matt Mitgang | Student Life)

Couples arrive decked out in tuxedos, dresses and fanciful regalia. Some of them eagerly start campaigning for king or queen. Camera flashbulbs go off left and right. The stage is set for what seems like a typical prom.

And then a Metro train dashes out, its roar drowning out the laughter and chatter of everyone there.

The train has just left the Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink station, where those gathered on the platform are preparing for their own brand of prom. Soon the master of ceremonies, Miz MetroLink, who dons a dazzling dress and a glittering tiara, takes center platform and starts the festivities.

“Welcome, one and all, to the second annual MetroLink Prom!” shouts Miz MetroLink, who is actually Liz Kramer, a 2008 Washington University graduate and one of the event’s organizers.

The crowd roars in approval. It’s a cool Friday evening, and more than 160 prom-goers huddle on the crammed platform, most of them in their 20s and many of them University students. Their aims are to celebrate St. Louis Metro, the regional transit system, and show people that riding transit can be fun.

Before the night is over, they will ride the trains to Clayton to crown a prom king and queen, and then ride to Laclede’s Landing in St. Louis for a group photo and to celebrate even more at a bar. Plenty of theatrics await: singing on the trains, dancing on the platforms, and a coronation ceremony.

Metro has taken notice, providing accommodations for the prom-goers and granting photography, though they must still buy tickets. Metro employee Adella Jones has even shown up to experience the event for herself.

“It’s very interesting. It’s a party I wish I had thought of,” says Jones, vice president of government and community relations for Metro. “People get together to go to baseball games on Metro, so why not have prom?”

Outspoken fun with an unspoken message: Support transit

The event is meant to be somewhat silly, Kramer says, though not as tongue-in-cheek as the mock funeral march that the same group did in May to mourn the bus routes that Metro slashed on March 30. And though the event is geared primarily toward celebrating transit in a creative way without getting politics involved, she says the very act of using transit sends a clear message.

“Part of our opinion on this is that transit should be fun, and this event is about remembering that transit is fun,” Kramer says in a brief interview. “But there is a serious message: that you, by riding transit over riding in your car, are making a political statement.”

Attendees note that Metro has been struggling to stay on track since the failure of a sales tax measure in St. Louis County in November 2008 forced the agency to cut more than a third of its service on March 30.

Even though the state gave $12 million over the summer to fund partial service restoration, the money will run out by May, and with the recession hitting the state’s budget hard, the chances of more state funding for Metro next year are quickly dimming.

Transit advocates see a glimmer of hope, though; the November 2008 ballot measure, known as Proposition M, may appear on the county ballot again in April. As a result, many of the attendees hope the MetroLink Prom will serve as an early get-out-the-vote vehicle.

“It’s hope to me that when Proposition M comes around again, people will have come to realize that transit is necessary and cool, and pass the proposition,” senior Melissa Legge says.

Says junior Roshni Shah, as she and fellow junior Franck Lin start campaigning for prom queen and king, “I feel like this is the type of activism that people like to show in St. Louis. It’s diversity, it’s great. People just like to come out and have fun.”

Theatrics, fun times abound

Still, their main concerns tonight are to have fun and to celebrate a system that, for many of them, not only unites them with the whole region, but also joins them all around the common purpose of promoting a transit-oriented lifestyle.

“There’s so much camaraderie, incredible camaraderie in this group,” says St. Louis-area resident Chris Andoe, a recent University of Oklahoma graduate.

When asked about the youth presence at the event, he says, “I think it’s a huge amount of young people who have been silent politically, and they’ve gotten overshadowed by the Tea Party-type people. But you see, they come out. They care about mass transit, and they will come out and support it.”

The train arrives at the Forest Park-DeBaliviere station, and everyone cheers jubilantly. When the doors open, all 160 prom-goers jostle in, packing into every nook and cranny, every seat and open space.

Soon after the train departs for Clayton, the singing starts—there’s no DJ at this prom—and dozens join in for “Build Me Up Buttercup” and other upbeat songs. A couple dance together amid the tightly packed passengers, drawing laughter from all around.

Once at the Clayton station, everyone piles out and onto the platform, where they will pick the king and queen from four nominees. But there’s a catch: Each position is open to both sexes. In the end, two of the four nominees for queen are men, and two nominees for king are women.

The selection process is simple. Each nominee gives a brief and perhaps outlandish statement, and the person who garners the most applause wins. Says one of the male nominees for king, “You should elect me because I’m the only man who had the balls to wear a kilt.”

The winners: Andoe for king, and St. Louis Community College-Forest Park student Shayna Helm for queen. As the attendees applaud, the MetroLink monarchs receive their crowns, pose for a quick photo, and then share a dance to “I Don’t Want to Miss a Train,” a nod to Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”

There’s room for improvisation, too. When a tiny speaker set fails to play the song loudly enough, everyone nearby simply sings it to compensate.

After another train ride, this time to Laclede’s Landing, the prom-goers pose for their group photo and individual portraits outside Metro headquarters. Though some people have gone home, the remaining ones then go to Morgan Street Brewery for food, music and more revelry. Kramer considers the event a major success: Twice as many people have attended this year’s event as attended last year’s.

The last train home departs at 12:10 a.m., but attendees say the fight for transit keeps going.

“We want you to think about Metro,” Kramer says, “to think about the fun you had during MetroLink Prom, think about coming out to help campaign, think about voting yes when we do have transit funding back on the ballot, riding the system, supporting the system, getting your friends out on the system.”

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