I stood hard against the tiled wall and made room for the rush of human traffic trying to pass me. I was thinking about insanity and the blindness of powerful people to hold sacred something that once had beauty and class.
Beauty and class are rare commodities these days.
I was in the bowels of Penn Station, somewhere between 7th Ave. and 8th Ave. Somewhere between 34th St. and 31st St. Somewhere below the giant oval that is Madison Square Garden.
Somewhere, somehow something was missing.
I was waiting for the Adirondack, the train that would take us to Albany where our car was parked. I looked around for the great wooden benches. All were gone. I had to wait inside an enclosed “waiting room” filled with plastic and metal seats. The fast food outlets all sold the same wraps and bags of chips. Somewhere, I’m sure, was a bar. The small kiosk that sold the several daily newspapers were now Hudson News stores where I could get a hundred copies of Elle, Glamour and Men’s Health. I’m sure there was a shoe-shine, but I wouldn’t know where to look.
I thought of the thousands of GI’s who kissed their Bronx girlfriends good-bye during WWII. Some of them came home. I thought of the many others, soldiers, men and women, who went off to conflicts. Some came home.
I thought of an out of work salesman heading for Chicago…there was a possible job waiting for him. Sometimes he came home to get his wife and head back to the Windy City to start life over.
There were the thousands of runaway girls (and boys) who could afford a train ticket from Wichita or St. Paul who came to the City in search of fame or fortune, or just wanting to disappear into the masses. A few made a new life. Most didn’t. But at least they were solvent enough to afford a coach seat. The ones who couldn’t save enough from the waitressing job in Akron, had to arrive at Port Authority Bus Terminal. So many ended up on 8th Ave. selling themselves for a bottle or a vial.
I looked for the Grand Staircase. I found only escalators. Where were the places where people stood and embraced? Saying “Good-bye” or “Thank God you’re home”. There was no place to stand and embrace. Everyone was hurrying to somewhere.
Pulling rolling luggage, everyone stood looking at the big black board for the next LIRR departure or the next Amtrak arrival.
There was no place to stand and think. So, I stayed pressed against the tiled wall.
I’ve looked at the archives of Old Pennsylvania Station. Things looked better in Black & White. That’s the insanity. The City razed the old station and built the place where I was now standing.
I saw my wife through the glass partition. She was waving at me to hurry over because the Red Cap was going to help us get to Platform 7. The northbound Amtrak, the Adirondack was on time.
The small bottle of water (water used to be free) cost about $3.00. A bag of peanuts made me $3.25 poorer. I looked over the turkey and cheese wraps. More bread than turkey and cheese combined. I thought about Ptomaine. I passed on the wrap.
I slipped on my backpack, walked past four National Guard soldiers with AK-47’s on their shoulders and met my wife.
Before we boarded, I swallowed the diuretic I was taking. Try dealing with that forty-five minutes later in a small bathroom on a train that swayed like sailboat in a gale.