Thankful: Mario and the Brown Line.

I'm thankful for my train station. I can see the Brown Line from my living room, where I'm sitting right now. I watch trains roll in from both directions, their fluorescent interior lights orange-blue through the newly bare branches out my window, the warm glow of the heat lamps , the dwindling number of people waiting to go somewhere as it grows later.

I can even hear it from my bedroom, especially after a fresh snow, when it's the only sound that can cut through the silent white blanket.

There's a tiny Dunkin' Donuts in the lobby, by the farecard machines. The employees bustling around shoulder to shoulder there recognize me, not to the point where they know my drink, but enough that they give me a warm, knowing smile and understand how badly I must need that jolt when I amble in.

 

And then there's Mario: the real reason I'm thankful for my train station.

Mario is the guy in the orange and yellow safety vest with the broom and the dustpan, who sweeps the platforms and keeps the station neat. He's he guy who empties the trash. And he's the guy who makes my day every time I see him.

I've wanted to write about Mario for months.

He's Hispanic and easily a head shorter than me; he has a rough past, a firm handshake, eyes that sparkle when he talks and one of the loveliest spirits I've ever come into contact with.

 

I talk to strangers. It's a thing. If you make eye contact with me, there's a good chance I will start a conversation.

Mario made eye contact one day, and I actually let a downtown-bound train pass me by to hear more of his story. He was open and honest and looked me square in the eye as he told me about hitting rock bottom with a drug addiction and eventually cleaning up his act — all so he could help raise his nephews and be a man they could be proud of.

I can't imagine how much they must love him.

 

Mario always remembers my name. He can tell when I'm sick or sad; he knew immediately I'd met someone special when I came to the station grinning from ear to ear shortly after I started seeing Mark. He's met my sister; he's met Mark. I've taken the kittens through the station twice hoping to introduce him to them, too.

He's become this happy fixture in my Lincoln Square life, and I'm so thankful to have caught his eye that random day in my train station.