Jerry Zezima: All aboard the Polar Express

On a December eve, very recently, I stood outside in the cold darkness dressed in my pajamas – and not for the first time, for I frequently go out in my PJs, much to the consternation of neighbors, shopkeepers and, not least of all, the police.

Anyway, there I waited, amid a gathering crowd on a train platform, when I heard a conductor cry out, “All aboard!”

I ran up to him.

“Well,” he said, “are you coming?”

“Where?” I asked.

“Why, to the North Pole, of course,” was his answer. “This is the Polar Express.”

And so it was. I was among countless excited ticket holders, young and old, who boarded the train in Kingston, New York, for a trip to the home of Santa and his elves. They would also be on board and, unbeknownst to them, would have to listen to my silly wisecracks as they mingled with the passengers. I’m lucky I didn’t end up on the bad-boy list.

Accompanying me were my wife, Sue; our younger daughter, Lauren; her husband, Guillaume; and their daughters, Chloe, 9, and Lilly, 6, who are most definitely on the good-girl list.

The train was filled with other children, their parents and, on this special trip, their grandparents, all in their pajamas.

Chloe also wore a Santa hat and Lilly wore a conductor’s cap.

When the real conductor, Jay, came by to punch our golden tickets, he noticed Lilly and allowed her to punch her own ticket because, of course, she was a conductor, too.

“I don’t have a ticket,” I confessed. “I snuck on the train.”

Jay knew it was a fib, so he smiled and said, “I could throw you off, but I won’t.”

Then he punched my ticket and, with a hearty chuckle, added a smiley face.

Hero Boy, one of the characters in the famous book by Chris Van Allsburg, came by in a bathrobe with a hole in the pocket.

“I have a hole in my head,” I told him. “And I go out in my pajamas all the time.”

Hero Boy smiled weakly and said, “Merry Christmas!”

Then, wisely, he moved on down the aisle.

Next came a character from the film version of the book, the Hobo, who asked, “Do you believe in Santa Claus?”

“Of course!” I exclaimed. “In fact, I’m almost as old as he is. We hung out together as kids.”

The Hobo chuckled and moved on, too.

A guy named Justin, dressed in a white chef’s outfit, walked up with “The Polar Express” in his hands and asked me to turn the page as the story was being read over the loudspeaker.

“I write books, too,” I told Justin. “Maybe my next one should be ‘The Geezer Express.’”

An elf named Camilla stopped by with hot cocoa, which I slurped, and cookies, which I munched.

“Did you bake these cookies yourself?” I asked.

“Yes, I did,” Camilla responded with a sly smile. “Honest!”

When she came back with bells for the passengers, I shook mine and said, “Camilla, your name rings a bell.”

Just then, the jolly old elf himself, Santa Claus, made an appearance, which thrilled Chloe and Lilly, who told him what they wanted for Christmas. They also posed for a picture with him.

When Santa got to Sue and me, he asked, “And what do you want for Christmas?”

Sue said, “How would you like to pay off our mortgage?”

“Ho, ho, ho!” the big guy boomed.

“I’ll take a bottle of brandy to celebrate getting out of debt,” I told him.

Then I posed for a picture with Santa, too.

A little while later, the Polar Express pulled back into the station. It was a magical ride.

“Thanks for not throwing me off the train,” I told the conductor on the way out.

“It’s my Christmas present to you,” he said. “And by the way, nice pajamas.”

Jerry Zezima writes a humor column for Tribune News Service and is the author of six books. His latest is “One for the Ageless: How to Stay Young and Immature Even If You’re Really Old.” Reach him at [email protected] or via