I have vivid memories of the monorail at Meier & Frank's Santaland—big, silver, rickety and beautiful.
I first saw that monorail in 1993 when I was 2 years old, back when our city's Santaland was a funky cavern of wonderment on the 10th floor of the Meier & Frank building. In those days, it was in a vast, dim room, and Santa held court from a throne above Pioneer Courthouse Square. I remember sitting on his lap, and asking him for an Arthur the Aardvark toy.
But, for me, Santa was a sideshow. The real attraction was always Santaland's Louden SuperTrack monorail, a kid-sized train that dangled from a track on the ceiling. I was obsessed with trains and I found it exhilarating to climb the stairs to trundle around the room, looking down on Santaland from on high.
Unfortunately, in grade school, I grew too tall to ride. When I realized the train had a height limit, I was incensed. Briefly, I remember trying to scheme a way to somehow hoodwink Santa's goons into allowing me on.
Soon after that, Meier & Frank was rebranded by Macy's. Santaland was downsized, given gaudy lighting and moved to the basement. The kid-sized monorail was retired and replaced by a tiny, unrideable toy version.
In November, Macy's announced it was selling its downtown Portland location. With the store slated to close in spring 2017, this is probably your last chance to stop by Santaland.
So I went for one final visit. And I noticed something—the original monorail, displayed in the basement just around the corner from where kids sit on Santa's lap. It looked basically the same, although some of the doors had been removed. There were no elves to stop me from cramming myself aboard.
Sitting on that train one last time should have been bittersweet, but for me it was just sweet. At age 25, I got to catch the next best thing to one last ride.
GO: Santaland is at Macy's, 621 SW 5th Ave., through Dec. 24.