Love is in the fare

Longtime Route 15 operator decorates trolley for Valentine’s Day.

Hop on the Love Trolley: Gary Mason (l) and his son, Telvin Mason, stand in front of the Route 15 Trolley they decorated on Sunday. Mason will operate the Valentine’s Day decorated trolley at least until Sunday. PHOTO COURTESY OF HEATHER REDFERN.

By Melissa Komar

Passengers will be lovestruck upon boarding the 15 this week.

SEPTA operator Gary Mason, 55, struck again on Sunday, spending the majority of the day decking out his Route 15 trolley to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

This will be the first time in three years Mason has decorated the 15 for the holiday — he alternates between the 15 and the 10 out of the Callowhill Depot — but, it’s a love affair that spans decades.

“So, something told me to come over here and do Christmas and Valentine’s Day because I haven’t been over here. I want to come over and share love somewhere else,” he said in between decorating the trolley. “I’ve worked for SEPTA 33 years next week on the 28th. I’ve always been quite fond of trolleys and streetcars. As a little boy, I always wanted to operate a trolley.”

About 25 years ago, Mason noticed a fellow SEPTA employee at the Elmwood Depot who was decorating his trolley.

“And, when he stopped doing it, I was inspired by him doing it and I took over and started doing it,” Mason said. “I’ve been doing it ever since.”

For the week of Valentine’s Day, Mason decorates the exterior and interior of his trolley with lights and garland, making hearts. A heart frames the solitary headlight on the front of the trolley, the arrow of the heart seemingly piercing the light.

“Sometimes that’s the problem. People see lights and they think Christmas, but we also use lights for more things than just Christmas,” he said, laughing.

Inside, passengers will be greeted by the sounds of love.

“There will be love music, like soft rock or R&B, a little Motown here and there,” Mason said.

Out of his Christmas, Halloween and Valentine’s Day decorate trolleys, the Love Trolley reigns supreme.

“I hope [the passengers] just get a different ride, a different feel, enjoyment and maybe get encouraged to go home to their loved ones and remember them on Valentine’s Day,” Mason said. “It’s just to make them feel good and put a smile on their face if they’re having a bad day.”

And, the love trolley is meant to touch riders of all walks of life, regardless of their relationship status.

“I want them to feel good even if they don’t have a love,” Mason said. “Mostly everyone falls in love even if they just love their car or their dog. Everybody can relate to love.”

Telvin Mason, 25, helped his father decorate this year’s Love Trolley. His favorite is the Halloween trolley.

“It’s always fun. I get to spend time with my dad, listen to music, eat snacks, talk about sports and decorate and see this beautiful thing come alive,” he said.

“It’s easier [with Telvin]. I’m starting to get older, so he’s coming out to give me a hand because me doing myself is a little tiresome,” the elder Mason said, laughing. “I’m happy for that.”

Another source of happiness is driving both the Route 10 and 15 trolleys, each serving as a sojourn from the other.

“One of the things I enjoy about operating streetcars is they bring back the nostalgia of the way the trolley looked. It reminds me of the trolleys I grew up on as a kid,” said Mason, who grew up in Southwest Philly. “The 15 trolley still has that old-school look.”

And, while the old-fashioned look is the appeal, Mason likes to provide a unique experience for his passengers.

“I try to choose holidays many people recognize and relate to,” Mason said. “I try to break up the monotony of riding on a regular vehicle.”

The Route 15 Trolley #2337 will be decorated for Valentine’s Day until at least Sunday. Mason operates the trolley during the “graveyard shift,” from 12:24 a.m. to 10:49 a.m. For a Route 15 schedule, visit septa.org/schedules/trolleys.