As a kid growing up in a car-centric American city, my first introduction to public transit came from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers’ bright-red Trolley conveyed me and all my fellow television neighbors from the rug in front of the living room console television to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
It was just a model train, but even as a very young child I understood the metaphor. Through this magic streetcar, everyone could get from their current location to a very distant one, all at once, and efficiently. Trolley was recognizable and dependable. Unlike Lady Elaine or Prince Tuesday, Trolley never let you down. It was a profound, quiet endorsement of the effectiveness of mass transit.
Of course, it was also a pretend one: the Neighborhood of Make-Believe was just that: a fantasy to which Trolley was yoked. Or so it seemed; The careful, repeat viewer—which was everyone, of course—would later notice a revelatory detail that unlocked Trolley’s even greater power. In the show’s opening credits, the camera pans over Mr. Rogers’s scale-model neighborhood. Just when the episode title appears, there’s Trolley, trundling down the quiet streets of the ordinary world!
For those who grew up with Mr. Rogers and now have their own families, it’s a little difficult to watch the old show. It aired its last new episodes in 2001, two years before Fred Rogers’ death. PBS stopped syndicating the show in 2008, although episodes can be found occasionally on local stations and on some streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video. In its place, The Fred Rogers Company has co-produced a new series for a new generation: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.