Best CTA Employee to Go Out Smiling

Michael Powell

Critics' Picks

The Red Line conductor known for his uplifting, unorthodox announcements—"Cheer up, it's only Monday," "Don't forget your coffee," "May the force be with you"—retired last December after nearly 36 years driving CTA trains. During the 59-year-old's final run, on New Year's Eve, fans rode the entirety of the Red Line, passing out doughnuts and encouraging other riders to write Powell thank-you notes. Devotees doled out high fives, fist bumps, and hugs to Powell at each stop. "I met a lot of people who said I made a difference in their lives, that I touched them and made them feel better," says Powell, whose uniform was an old-school blue-and-white-striped conductor getup. He met his wife, Elaine, on the CTA—she was riding his train and decided to introduce herself. In retirement Powell tinkers with the model-train collection that takes up much of his Morton Grove basement, and he's enjoying spending time with his first grandchild, but he says his main task is being his wife's chauffeur. "I don't make announcements when she gets out of the car, though," he says, "Maybe 'watch your step' sometimes." The CTA once asked the devout Christian to stop announcing "God bless you," but Powell still thought of his job as a way to praise people, "to brighten their day." Our commutes are certainly less cheery without him. May the force be with you, Michael.