I mean, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert by any means. But I thought I knew a thing or two.
After all, I’ve seen Elf approximately five billion-jillion times. (And I will continue to watch it five billion-jillion times because watching Will Ferrell eat spaghetti with maple syrup and jelly beans on top really never gets old.) I’ve also seen all those creepy claymation Rudolph movies. And every single year when I was a kid, I’d sit on Santa’s lap, and I’d tell him I wanted Barbie Fashion Plates, and he’d get me something that was totally not Barbie Fashion Plates, but, still, I felt like I really knew the Big Guy, you know?
Whelp, I was proven wrong once again. Because last week I actually went to the North Pole.
Yes, THE North Pole. Even the sign said so!
And it was totally nothing at all like what I was expecting.
But I get ahead of myself.Really the whole point of my going to the North Pole, was not so I could hang out with Santa and a bunch of elves, but because I wanted to ride on the Pere Marquette 1225, an old steam engine train run by the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan.
Every year before Christmas, the train is transformed into the North Pole Express, complete with a stop in the North Pole, and ever since I heard about it last year, I’ve been wanting to go.
And if there’s one thing I love more than cheesy Christmassness and trains, it’s cheesy Christmasness combined with trains.
And, well, the North Pole Express was every bit as cheesy and Christmassy and trainy (totally a word) as I expected.
The conductor was a total real deal conductor in a fancy old timey uniform.
He stamped our tickets with a stamp in the shape of a teeny tiny train engine on the way there.
And then he stamped them with a stamp in the shape of a teeny tiny caboose on the way back.
There were kids decked out in their Christmas pajamas. Including the kid sitting in front of me, who kept on popping up to look at me, because apparently the sight of a full-grown woman wearing a felt Christmas tree on top of her head is weird or something.
And there was even a “Hot Cocoa Class” of seats where people were able to drink unlimited amounts of hot chocolate with all manner of whipped cream and toppings.
Sadly, those tickets were sold out when I booked, so my friend and I were in the less excitingly-named “Commuter Class.” Which came with unlimited amount of… umm… stares from small children.It wasn’t until we hopped off the train an hour away from Owosso, that I started to think that everything I thought I knew about the North Pole was totally wrong.
First of all, we were still in Michigan. Ashley, Michigan, to be exact.
Secondly, the train was greeted, not by Santa and his merry band of elves, but by hobos.
And, finally, I counted at least two liquor stores in the tiny three-block town.
Not that I’m complaining about any of this. Because Michigan and hobos and liquor are, seriously, some of my favorite things.
In fact, now that I think about it, I should probably just move there.Our first mission in the North Pole was to find food. Because that’s usually my first mission when I go anywhere.
I was thinking we’d be stuck eating candy canes and sugar plums and snow. But the food choices were much more diverse than that. There was a cafe offering pizza and hotdogs, a saloon, an ice cream shop called Bearadise, a Czech bakery and a soup kitchen, which was run by hobos. Because of course it was.
As tempting as it was to eat hobo soup, we settled on donuts and hot cider and a cookie the size of my head. Because going to the North Pole should not involve a balanced meal — it should involve lots of sugar, amirite?
We then poked around the shops. Which, again, were a lot more diverse than I was expecting. I was imagining the North Pole would be full of shops selling useful but boring North Pole things, like reindeer feed and sleigh polish.
But instead there were a number of cute craft shops, a studio of glass blowers and some guy carving wooden bears out of chainsaws.
There was even a building with face painters and a caricature-artist and some guy who juggled bowling balls and balanced a bike on his head.
Again, this was totally not what I was expecting from the North Pole. I mean, if anything, I expected the entertainment to consist of Christmas carols being sung by drunken elves and reindeers jumping through flaming hoops.
Okay, I’m really kind of sad there were no flame-hoop-jumping reindeers. But the bike-on-his-head-guy was pretty cool.After spending two hours in the North Pole, the train was ready to board again, and that’s when Santa Claus showed up to bid us all farewell.
If I had had any doubts that we were actually in the North Pole before then, those doubts quickly disappeared when I saw the Big Guy.
I mean, just look at him. He’s the Real Deal For Real, amirite?
I even had half a mind to march up to him and ask him where he’d been keeping all the Barbie Fashion Plates I had asked for year after year.
When we got back on the train, we were greeted with a card on our seat with a jingle bell attached and the word “believe” on it above a picture of Santa Claus.
(But I’d believe a lot more if I maybe got those Barbie Fashion Plates you owe me. Just saying.)What’s the cheesiest holiday thing you’ve ever done?