Light-rail officials had to wait until the day after Christmas to show off their shiny new train set. But the select members of the public who took a ride Friday thought the experience and what Metro can do for the Valley was well worth the wait.
After all, this public transit system's arrival was delayed by more than 20 years of intense debate, so what was another day?
"This is really cool," Gilbert resident J.J. Halchishick gushed as the train rolled through west Mesa on the way back to the departure point of the Tempe Transportation Center.
Added wife Kim, holding infant son Thor: "It's a good ride, and quiet."
The preview was the first event in what will be two days of celebrations.
Dignitaries and VIPs gathered for a dinner Friday night at a downtown Phoenix hotel. Then, beginning today, the public will have the opportunity to ride for free. There are grand opening ceremonies in Tempe, Mesa and Phoenix, and then parties will be held at stations all along the 20-mile line.
Free rides continue through New Year's Eve.
The Halchishicks were among hundreds invited to ride the trains on what turned out to be a raw, chilly morning. It was so cold, some passengers boarded nearly an hour before departure because the cars' heaters were running.
Attendees came from across the Valley, and were chosen for a myriad of reasons: J.J. Halchishick works at a Phoenix paint store located along the rail line on Camelback Road, but Tempe resident Andy Lottman won a contest on a local radio station.
Gail Fanning, a teacher's aide at a north Phoenix elementary school, won a contest to write a jingle for Metro, while local rock promoter Danny Zelesko asked a favor of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon.
Gordon was not in attendance, as spokespersons said he was feeling ill. But kicking off the preview event were his peers in Tempe and Mesa.
Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman first laid down the law, pointing out Metro's board of directors long ago passed zero-tolerance policies on rudeness, loud radios, drunks, open containers and in any way harming $1.4 billion worth of trains and tracks.
"This is too important a community investment to have it damaged," Hallman said.
Hallman then praised Metro as a tool for creating a sustainable community and for igniting $4 billion worth of private development in Tempe.