Tag Archives: Penn Station

My Trip to Delaware, Part Two: Amtrak

15 May

May 15, 2013

My boss and I boarded the train. No matter what Penn Station looks like above, below it is as grimy as any other NYC train station.

I took a window seat a couple of rows back from my boss and settled in. The seat was comfortable and there were outlets under the window so I was able to charge my iPod during the ride. Eventually someone sat next to me and the only minor inconvenience of the entire trip was that, to charge his laptop, the power cord had to run past my legs to get to the outlets.

I pulled down the tray from the back of the seat ahead of me and took out my book. I planned to read and listen to music on the trip, and maybe even catch a nap. For the first five minutes I stuck to the plan and read a couple of pages, but then we came out of the tunnel, left the city, and in the blink of an eye were in, well, not the country, but rural back roads. It reminded me of Batman where the Batmobile leave the Batcave and is instantly in Gotham city, only in reverse.  I knew we were in New Jersey because the train tracks took us through some seemingly endless swamps.

At this point I put down my book and never picked it up again. From here on the scenery fascinated me. None of it was beautiful in the traditional sense, and in fact much of it was downright ugly, but all of it had as undefinable sense of Americana to it. We didn’t pass through expensive neighborhoods and fancy towns, we rode through the old industrial Northeast, a place of abandoned factories, rusty hulks of cars, trucks, trains, and buildings, a place of old towns, run down homes, and on the whole, shadows and remnants of an America where people actually built things and sold things to each other.

My only regret is that I could not take pictures from the swift-moving train.

brasovFactoryAt one point we passed an abandoned Congoleum factory. Congoleum still makes floor tiles and other flooring products, but they left this area years ago. The factory still had the faded letters on the smokestack, but the main building was, like most of the factories we passed, in a state of collapse. Whole walls were gone, you could see right through the building. I passed dozens of factories, but none of them looked like they had produced a single item in the last three decades.

Meanwhile, the swamps of New Jersey were left behind, but not before one of the stranger sights I saw. From the moment we entered the swamp, a series of telephone poles were running parallel to us through the water. They were all half-sunken in the swamp but the lines were unbroken, giving the impression that they were still carrying live phone lines. But before the poles ended, the phone lines from the last pole went directly down into the swamp. They hadn’t fallen, they left the pole at a taught 45 degree angle and went, purposefully it seemed, into the swamp.

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Immediately after that Twilight Zone scene we roared over a bridge which, hand to my heart, seemed to be made entirely out of rust. The rain let out a totally cartoony sounding “choo-choo!” and we were on solid ground.

If you want to see the rustic side of America, you must travel by train. But be warned, this route really puts the rust in rustic. I saw so many rusted out vehicles that my eyeballs needed a tetanus shot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmerica’s back roads really are fascinating. On a side track, I saw a genuine Northwest Pacific cattle car. On old billboards I saw faded mottoes. (“Trenton makes the world takes.”)
I saw backyards where people constructed whole other houses out of tires and old toys.
I passed through an area that may have been part of the New Jersey Pine Barrens where I saw nothing but fields and fields of downed trees left over from Hurricane Sandy, and other than the train passengers, probably no other people would see them.
I saw one grove of standing trees where hundreds of white plastic bags were hung from the lowest branches, none more than six feet off the ground. They looked might they could have been bird or animal feeders but I could not tell.

The economy really hit this area hard. Amtrak and other rail lines, just by their very nature, are going to run through industrial or poor areas, but I saw towns with almost no people on the streets at 9 am, shopping centers that were open but whose parking lots were empty, and many, many homes in desperate need of repair.

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This may all sound sad and in many ways it was, but I did not take my eyes off the scenery the whole trip.  I arrived in Wilmington and put my book back in my bag, only four pages read.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

My Trip to Delaware, Part One: Penn Station

14 May

May 14, 2013

I was going on a very inconvenient two day business trip to Delaware. The Company I Am employed by was sending my team to Wilmington for two days of, well, honestly nothing much. I’ll get to the point of the trip later, if I can find it. The thing to recall is that the meeting was scheduled across Tuesday and Wednesday. No the beginning of the week, not the end of the week, stuck right in the middle.

We were all going by Amtrak and were meeting in Penn Station. For me, living in Brooklyn, this was not big deal. My luggage consisted of only what I could carry in my backpack. I made sure to bring a book to read- The Exorcist- and a journal to write in. And it was a good thing I brought the journal because there was a lot to take note of, starting with Penn Station.

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Penn Station is one of the major transportation hubs in the City, located right under Madison Square Garden. (MSG bills itself as The World’s Most Famous Arena and they are right.)This is either a stroke of genius or a stroke of lunacy, placing the busiest railroad center under the busiest sports arena in one of the busiest sections of midtown. I have to think that this was planned for the ease of Al-Qaeda. There, you get a unique mix of businessmen and women, Knicks and Rangers fans, the homeless, tourists, and, I assume and hope, more NYPD surveillance cameras than even Michael Bloomberg can count.

To get to Penn Station you descend a large escalator located right under the Madison Square Arena sign and you better be paying attention because the number one hobby of folks on their way down is drinking coffee and shoving.

As you get to the bottom you arrive at a large circular mall. One side is lined with newsstands, seedy coffee shops, and dirty snack bars. The other side is lined with newsstands, seedy coffee shops, and dirty snack bars. Only the companies change. Even the homeless look identical. In the center of the circle, forcing you to go around, is a ticket window. The tracks are on the other side of the circle. This section of Penn Station is currently under renovation and has been my entire adult life. The estimated date of completion is ∞. However, since this New York, we know that the real date of completion will be about 10 years later.

I was lucky enough to be there on a holiday, the Annual Clearing of the Hobos. The men’s room entrance was flanked by what appeared to be an honor guard- two rows on either side of the door of uniformed policemen, backed at a discreet distance by heavily armed soldiers (seriously, yes. Penn Station was and still is full of heavily armed soldiers.) Down the center of the parade route were “escorted” an endless stream of filthy homeless sorry, I can’t be politically correct on this, they were too disgusting to be simply homeless. One man was clad only in a garbage bag wrapped around his waist. This was already in full swing when I arrived and went on for another 10 minutes.

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However, the police did nothing to the rest of the homeless loitering around or laying down in the station. I was waiting with most of the other travelers near the arrivals and departures sign waiting for my team. I have to give the Penn Station maintenance staff credit for trying to keep the place clean. Unfortunately it was a losing battle.  For example, a business man would drop a newspaper into the garbage can. Problem was, the garbage cans were designed to be very wide to hold a lot of trash but they had very small openings. I saw this happen a few times. The business man would drop his paper into the can, but it would actually either get stuck in the small opening or just sit on the outside of the can. The homeless people each had what seemed like their own designated can. In other words, any trash in or around the can was theirs and when I once saw a homeless woman get too close to another homeless woman’s can the “owner” of the can hissed at her until the interloper moved on.

So a newspaper would land on the outside of the can and a homeless person would immediately swoop in from their position just a few feet away and grab the paper. But at the same time, a Penn Station employee would try to get to the can first to stuff the paper deep inside. I feel sorry for those guys because not only is it their job to outrace homeless guys for garbage but they also have to wear little red bowties with their uniforms.

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New York Magazine called Penn Station the Community Center for the Mole People and I think they got it right.

Overall Penn Station was dingy. Superficially it resembles an airport terminal with shops and waiting areas, but airport terminals don’t have a layer of grime or roving packs of trash-stealing homeless. To be fair, the homeless were not a problem for me, in that they did not harass me or anyone else as far as I could see. The huge numbers of police and soldiers might have had something to do with that.

Al this time I was waiting for the other three members of my team to arrive, including my direct supervisor. I met up with her first. She then confirmed that the third member of the team was in the station, somewhere on line behind us. We were not able to confirm if the fourth person was even in the building when our train was called and we went to the tracks.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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