Christmas tree in stable condition after El journey

Dec. 23

By Anthony Campisi
For PlanPhilly

Can you take a Christmas tree on SEPTA?

I wasn’t sure, but growing up in a family that bought 8-foot monstrosities every year, which had to be decorated using a small ladder, I felt like I didn’t have much choice in the matter.

As one of 36 percent of Philadelphians who live without a car, I was faced with two choices if I wanted a tree: convincing a taxi driver to take me home with the tree tied to the roof or lugging it home myself on SEPTA.

I chose the latter, slightly less ridiculous, option, calling up SEPTA’s customer service line one morning before heading off to work to see if the authority has any rules banning Christmas tree travel. After all, no sense buying a tree that I’d have to drag it all the way back to West Philly on foot.

The prevailing opinion was that I should be able to take the Market-Frankford El home because, well, people take strange things with them on SEPTA all the time. I just had to wrap the Christmas tree in a plastic bag so that the needles didn’t get all over the station platform and train car.

Now, to put theory into practice.

I had noticed a couple days earlier that there was a stand at the Christmas Village in Dilworth Plaza selling Christmas trees and dropped by on an unseasonably warm 60-degree day after work to find my tree.

After finding the perfect one — about 5-feet tall and thin enough to carry on my own —  I had the two people working the stand duct tape a large garbage bag to each end to catch any falling needles. (They were curious whether my plan would work, having sold several trees that people took home with them on buses and down to the concourse on trains.)

I then made my way down into the City Hall station concourse, getting amused looks as I tried cradling the tree in my arms while simultaneously gripping a bag with a rather larger Christmas tree stand. I heard one woman, selling Christmas decorations, say that she was happy that someone was getting into the spirit of the season.

I was able to get onto the El platform without incident, waving my TransPass at the station cashier and asking to use the handicapped entrance — though he wanted to know if I would consider giving the tree to him instead.

I was able to get onto the train without any problem — people cleared a space for me to stand in the vestibule — though several did say that the train’s smell was improving thanks to the pine.

The only problem occurred when I was past 30th Street. A woman, obviously upset about something, had been silently crying in the seat adjacent to the vestibule where I was standing.  She decided to vent her frustration more forcefully and began pounding on the side of the car and screaming.

Normally, when someone does something like that, I move away so I don’t get caught between the angry person and the train car. But moving the tree to another vestibule while the train was moving would be too difficult, so I tried to position the tree between the woman and me, planning to use its bulk as a shield.

Thankfully, she calmed down by the time the train reached 40th Street, and I was able to get off at 46th Street without incident.

Now came the hard part: hauling the tree six blocks home. Though my apartment is closer to the Route 34 trolley, I had decided to take the El under the assumption that it would be easier to fit the tree through the wider doors. And plus, I find stepping down from the vestibule on a trolley difficult with groceries from a Trader Joe’s run. I wasn’t eager to find out what I would have to do to get off with a pine tree.

I reconsidered that decision sometime around 46th and Chestnut streets, when I began experimenting with different ways of carrying the tree. At 6 feet and 145 pounds soaking wet, I’m probably not ideally suited for the task of Christmas tree transportation.
Hoisting it over one shoulder was probably easiest, but before I discovered that I had alternated between cradling the tree in front of me with both hands, hoisting it onto my back and using one of the garbage bags as a handle. I can only imagine what people were thinking, as I was too busy cursing myself, the tree and the very notion of Christmas to take much notice.

After several rest breaks — which were complicated by the fact that I tended to place the tree on the ground with the top facing down — I managed to drag the tree up the steps to my building, into the elevator and finally got it set up on a corner of my living room. At which point I collapsed in a heap on the floor.

So for those who want a more eco-friendly way getting their holiday cheer on, I say take SEPTA. Just one small suggestion: Bring a friend to help with the carrying.

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