Share

Did You Know?

Thanks to our generous donors, Active Trans is able to carry out our important work throughout the Chicago region.

Thanks for the ride, Mr. Powell!

There’s a reason taking the bus or train is called “public transportation” or “mass transit.” It involves a lot of people getting around together.

I’ve always been a fan of taking transit because of the opportunity to get somewhere and hopefully have positive interactions with other people. For me, it’s about the journey. Sometimes it can be repetitive or dull, but more often, I enjoy the opportunity for reading, listening to music or getting crushed by my free chess app.

Over the years, I’ve had wonderful interactions with other people on the bus or train, and also with operators and conductors from Pace, Metra and CTA.

One of the most engaging, friendly CTA staff people I’ve ever met is Michael Powell. During his 36 years as a CTA train conductor and operator, Powell made a deep and lasting impression on countless people who rode his train.

If you ever took the Red Line and your operator told you, “May the Force be with you” or “it’s only Monday — the Bears will win next week” or “If you just woke up, that last stop was Belmont,” that was Powell.

He would frequently chat and connect with passengers. Not at every stop, but always in a way that made a difference in your commute./

At the end of his career, I was fortunate enough to be taking the train to work more often instead of my more usual bike commuting (thanks, polar vortex).

In December 2013, Powell (pictured right) started sharing with riders comments like “thanks for riding everyone, I’ll be retiring at the end of the year” and “my name is Michael, I’m retiring soon, I’ve got a granddaughter on the way and a lot to look forward to, it’s been good knowing you.”

Passengers around me would shout out and talk about what a great guy he is and how much they would miss him. Dozens of people would rush off the train at each stop and go to the front car to shake his hand or take a picture with him.

Powell grew up in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood and attended University of Illinois at Chicago. After college, he applied for numerous jobs, including ones with the Chicago Fire Department and CTA.

In 1978 he started working as a conductor on what is now the Brown Line.

He met his wife, Elaine, on the train. They had their first date at a pizza joint near the Kedzie stop on the Brown Line.

With their first grandchild on the way, Powell is shifting into retirement. He and his wife hope to travel more together — by train of course.

And Powell will continue to expand his model train empire that covers almost their entire basement. “When I was a kid, I just dreamed of having something like this,” he said.

Many articles have been written about Powell. One of Powell’s frequent passengers, Melissa Thornely, even created a video short of his last ride. 

Powell’s wife Elaine and some of their kids appear in the video. “I met him on the train,” said Elaine Powell. “I might as well ride the last one with him.”

We hope Elaine and Michael Powell have many more train rides ahead as they travel around the country.

Mr. Powell, may the Force be with you, always.

Video credit Melissa Thornley with the assistance of Cutters Studio.