LINCOLN PARK — If you've gotten on the "L" at the Armitage station, there's a good chance you've met Janet Martin.
Martin has spent most of her 21-year CTA career helping customers at the Brown Line station in bustling Lincoln Park.
But calling Martin's work customer service is an understatement.
Wearing a big smile, Martin greets everyone — and we mean everyone — with "honey" or "baby." When she's not helping tourists use the Ventra machine, she's striking up conversations with customers, who happily divulge details about their travels and lives.
She's so beloved that customers refer to her as the "mayor of the Armitage Brown Line station."
"I love talking to people and helping them out," Martin said in between helping customers.
"You'd be surprised [to know] that the people really don't know the system. You know how people vent to people behind the bar ... They do it to us, too. You can learn so much about people."
On a recent Thursday afternoon, several regular customers came into the station just to visit Martin, including Norma Estrada, who has worked in the neighborhood for two years.
Estrada, a regular customer, greeted Martin with a giant hug. During the embrace, Estrada said, "I love you so much, you know I do."
"She's an angel," Estrada said of Martin. "She's always smiling. She's always helpful. She loves everyone."
One of 12 siblings, Martin grew up on the Near West Side off 18th Street. Today, she lives in the Illinois Medical District with her son and grandchild.
Martin never planned on getting a job with the CTA — it just happened, she said. Over the years, she held just about every job within the CTA train system, including conductor, before landing in customer service.
Martin was first assigned to the Armitage station before the Brown Line overhaul. During that eight-year stint, she fell in love with the area and the customers.
So when she got a new assignment as a flagger, it was hard to say goodbye. Her regular customers even passed out fliers, begging CTA to let her stay.
"My boss said, 'Janet, what did you do to the people at Armitage?' He said 'I got this thick book with all of these emails,'" she recalled.
"It touched me. I've always said from that day on: [I'll] come back home. This is home," she said.
True to her word, Martin recently came back to the Armitage station, where she reunited with all of her regular customers and continues to gain new ones daily.
Paula Conrad is one of Martin's new fans. Conrad, who moved near the station within the last few years, said Martin's appeal is simple: "She shows kindness in the smallest of ways."
"She really starts everyone's day on such a positive note. She doesn't have to do that. She takes it to a different level, and it's an example for everybody," Conrad said.
Martin said she plans to retire in 5½ years, when she hits the 26-year mark.
Until then, she'll be posted at the Armitage station, loving every minute of it.
"People gravitate toward a positive, uplifting spirit ... that's just me," Martin said.
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