Midtown Plaza's Christmas Monorail - Rochester,
Story by Luke Starkenburg, photos courtesy
What a wonderful surprise! In early 2002, we
learned from Luke Starkenburg that a historic department store
monorail is still in existence. Luke shares his memories of this
classic ride in the form of an essay that he wrote for his English
class. We have since learned from Ron M., photographer of these
wonderful images, that "the community sentiment demanded
that they put it back up as it had been missing for some years.
However, Midtown plaza is now under new ownership and is slated
to be turned into a center for performing arts, so those may be
the LAST [images] I get to take." Let's hope that this wonderful
living memory is saved for future young riders! And now, Luke's
memories of the Midtown Plaza Monorail...
I climb the steps in anticipation. Just in front of me is a
little boy sucking on a sucker; behind me a girl with a bright
red stocking cap. I have taken my hat off before getting in line.
The forward shuffling feet of bright-eyed children reach a platform
and turn, climbing another set of stairs. Dad and Mom are waving
to me from the dimly lit, crowded mall floor, surrounded by many
other expectant faces of parents, all watching their children
make their way up towards the highest platform. My parents wrap
arms around each other as they watch me take my beloved monorail
ride again this year.
The monorail rolls in and stops in front of the little makeshift
elevated station. "Make room for the kids getting off,"
a big guy in charge yells as he unlatches the clip on the bottom
of the monorail. The whole chrome side of the two-car train flips
up like the DeLorean car in the movie, "Back to the Future."
The train load of youngsters scramble out and down the stairs
as the rest of us waiting in line lunge forward to be the first
to the monorail train. The front seat, the prized seat, is taken
already so I jump in the next available seat. "Watch your
hands," the big guy rumbles as he swings the entire left
wall of the miniature monorail down into place and latches the
latch. "Keep your hands inside the monorail," he thunders.
Inside the dark train, all the children glue their eyes to the
windows and wait for the train to start. Some eyes reveal fright
at being so high up while others reveal utter delight. The ivory
seat beneath me is hard plastic and a little uncomfortable. My
head scrapes the top of the little train. I'm getting too big
for this ride, but I don't care. I'm in the monorail, the ultimate
Christmas treat Dad and Mom plan for me each year. The monorail
moves forward at a slow speed, moving unevenly, and takes a left
We enter a hollow papier-mâché mountain with
silver shiny stars hanging from the false top, creating a mystical
setting inside the mountain. I stretch my arm through the small
metal frame window and touch a star hanging close to the train.
"I finally touched one this year! I'm big enough now,"
I scream to myself. I reach for more stars, but only touch the
one before my train departs out the other side of the mountain.
I can hear the wheels rolling on the track above my head over
the obnoxiously loud children's Christmas music. I don't care.
I love the monorail! The train takes a jerky left, and then a
right, and then another jagged left making its way around the
mall atrium. We rumble past the big Christmas decorations suspended
from the ceiling. I feel tiny compared to them when I'm near them
and am in awe that it is possible to be so close. In the middle
of the center court stands an enormous bright Christmas tree;
beside it sits Santa holding two little kids. Dad has run up to
the second floor of the mall and is walking quickly to keep up
with the monorail. He yells to me and I smile and wave back furiously.
I can tell he is enjoying this as much as I am as he walks with
the train until it rounds the next bend to the left.
My train stops, waiting for the other monorail to leave the station.
The reaction to the pause is mixed throughout the monorail, but
I'm glad for the wait. This allows me more time on the train.
Fifteen seconds pass before we start rolling around the last bend
and on to the station. The monorail stops, the side flips up and
all the kids hop out and scurry down the rickety stairs to embrace
their parents. I don't want to leave, but I'm scared of that big
guy who's ushering us out. I reluctantly leave my monorail and
walk down the stairs to my parents and family.
We leave the mall soon after, my dad dragging me the whole way.
I love the monorails and I don't want to leave. I want to ride
it again. "You can wait until next year," Mom assures
me. I haven't been to that mall for eleven years now, but every
Christmas the anticipation of going to the Rochester Midtown Plaza
returns. I want to reach out and touch the stars again and hear
the noise of the monorail wheels rolling above my head. I know
the ride isn't as big and grand as I remember it those years ago,
but I still want to go back to that fantasy world of my youth.
As I'll look into the faces of the riders of that little old monorail,
it will become real, big, and grand to me again. A memory of my
childhood floods me.
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