The contest, in which the public voted for the best tales of romance that bloomed among SEPTA trains, trolleys and buses, for the first time this year included submissions from a number of same-sex couples. Among the 14 winning pairs were two same-sex couples, including Gretchen Dykstra and Eva Baker, whose 20-year relationship was sparked aboard the R5.
The pair was part of a group of commuters who sat together on their daily ride to their suburban jobs each day, with Baker headed to Ft. Washington and Dykstra to Ambler.
While they rode the train together for more than a year, they had little interaction until one day in 1992, when Baker spotted Dykstra waiting alone for the 53 bus back to Germantown after they disembarked from the train.
“We were at the Wayne Junction stop and she got off and was waiting for the bus under this overpass,” Baker said. “It was a really dangerous place so I walked up to her and told her she shouldn’t be waiting by herself and offered to walk her to the corner.”
After that encounter, their daily commute was often spent getting to know one another better.
“Whenever I’d see her waiting to get on the train I’d get excited,” Dykstra said. “She would always wear sunglasses on the train, which I thought was funny, and we would just get to talking every day.”
While discussing music, Baker told Dykstra about the 90-minute mixtape she made that consisted entirely of U2’s “Lemon” on a loop, a funny anecdote that Dykstra said embodies the humor that the pair has shared over the past two decades.
“She has the best sense of humor of anyone I’ve ever met and just this infectious laugh,” Dykstra, 41, said. “Even if I have a crappy day and come home totally stressed out, she can say something goofy to make me smile. We’re very different people but we really complement each other well. I can’t imagine, and I really just don’t remember, her not being a part of my life.”
Baker, 43, shared similar sentiments.
“I can’t imagine not being with her,” she said. “I love her, and I respect her.”
The couple, who now lives in Olney, was prompted by friends — with whom their SEPTA beginnings is common knowledge — to enter the contest.
Dykstra said it didn’t occur to her until after she submitted their entry to question whether the contest was open to same-sex couples. But she said SEPTA treated their story just as it did the heterosexual contestants.
The couple encouraged Facebook friends to vote for their submission and ultimately got 416 “hearts,” placing them among the top vote getters, along with a male same-sex couple.
Fifty-five couples entered the contest, and thousands of supporters cast votes.
The winning couples were invited aboard the “Love Train” Feb. 12, a specially designated El that headed from 13th to 69th streets to tour the Mural Arts Program’s Love Letters display, followed by a champagne reception at SEPTA headquarters.
“It was so much fun,” Dykstra said. “It was really low-key, and the SEPTA folks were very welcoming and treated us just like everyone else. We felt very welcomed and really part of the group.”
Although the trip came as an early Valentine’s Day excursion, Baker said she and Dykstra try to embrace the meaning of the holiday throughout the year.
“We don’t usually do much for Valentine’s Day because we keep it real every day,” she said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate her and that I don’t say, ‘I love you,’ and she says, ‘I love you, too.’ It’s an everyday thing. Valentine’s Day isn’t just another day, but it’s just one day that’s part of the whole fun of being together every day.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.