The International Writers Magazine:New York
Why would it be worthwhile to spend multiple hours at a train
station in New York City?
Picture it: You
are relaxing on the Long Island Railroad train - really a pseudo-Amtrak
mode of transportation sipping the Poland Spring water you purchased
at the station where you boarded about half-an-hour ago, reading the
New York Daily News, and then, all of sudden the bright sunshine that
had been piercing through your window (enabling you to read) turns pitch
black. Are you scared? No, not in the least; you are excited, for you
realize from experience that as soon as you pass the modern, out of
place Citibank Tower in West Queens, within ten seconds, youll
go under the tunnel, beneath the depths of the sordid East River, and
eventually into Manhattan, the most famous borough of New York City.
As the last three minutes seem to take forever before you can de-train
and step onto the musky platform, you ponder how it is that the architects
of New York City were able to construct multiple amphibious tunnels
over a century ago, when Los Angeles still cant deduce how to
build a public transportation line between downtown and the coast. Nevertheless,
you shake your head, listen to the cacophonous muffle of the engineers
voice, knowing full well that you have arrived at venerable Pennsylvania
Station, on the lower west side of Manhattan. The train ride has ended
but your day has just begun.
Where should you go? Madison Square Garden? Times Square? How about
the Empire State Building, Central park or Macys? Nope, none of
that for you. You just paid your off-peak $13.50 round trip to spend
three hours inside, underground at Penn Station. But why? Well, if you
havent done it, thought about it, or have never been to Penn Station,
lets take you on the proper three hour tour. Its not going
to last as long as Gilligans version, but it may prove more memorable
As soon as you exit the train, no matter what rusty staircase you ascend,
youll be in the heart of the Long Island Railroad portion of the
grandiose station. More often than not, your arrival will be perked
up by a guitarist, classical jazz, and if not that, then some panhandlers
or interesting looking folks. Do not let this deter you, as the intrigue
and hullabaloo are just around any corner.
Food, books, clothing, even K-Mart are all at your footsteps.
While you initial instinct may be to hop the escalators or stairs and
head out into what many call "the greatest city in the world,"
its cold, damp and miserable outside, so you wisely eschew the
elements for the warmth and endless charm of Penn Station. You have
always fancied yourself a "off the beaten path" kind of fellow,
but you have nothing in your portfolio to display evidence to back this
claim. This is your opportunity, and what a story it will make.
Enchanted by the olfactory emanations of the surprisingly extensive
food court, you meander your way through the gruff and graceless bodies
of businessmen and tourists until you reach your chosen destination.
The prices are moderate, the service personnel clearly lacking any semblance
of congeniality, but still you press on, order up your Dunkin Donuts,
New York Pizza or whatever your eager palate desires. Since the tables
are usually full, a seat on the floor beckons, and as you sip your Snapple
(a Seinfeld-induced New York favorite), it is now incumbent upon your
mind to make the most of this opportunity, seldom seen nor realized
by most of the populace.
Although there are abundant off peak (i.e. cheaper) trains heading back
toward your point of origin, you decide to wait the extra two hours
to be "one with the people" and partake in one of the many
rush hour train departures. Its mid-afternoon, and Penn Station
is only moderately filled now, so your intrepidness is the prudent decision
in your capricious mind. As you go up to the massive counter to pay
the extra fee for your slight change in plans, you cant help but
gawk at the size of that antiquated looking schedule board above your
head. The board is like the LIRRs version of the hand-operated
scoreboard at Fenway Park. Its classic, and so retro you could
sell it in a trendy clothing store down in The Village.
The big board seems to have every town on Long Island listed, and then
some. As a slut for geography and schedules, you ponder what G-d put
together all of these times and locales; he is the man to which you
bow five times daily. Forget Mecca. Then you look to your right and
see dozens of people staring at another, slightly smaller board, with
listing of soon-to-depart trains. This is where it gets fun.
I have always surmised that one of the ten rituals each person should
participate in before they die is to watch the schedule board at the
Penn Station for five or ten minutes, and then see people get set to
take off when the numbers start flipping, and then of course, actually
take off as the tracks are decided upon. It could be 2pm or 2am and
you still will see a "running of the bulls in Pamplona-esque"
mad-dash to each train. Ive been involved in this ritual and youve
seen it on Seinfeld. But more on that later; youve got a ticket
to exchange over in the middle.
The convenient things about the grandiose middle board is that it lists
all the cities that the LIRR "platforms" in, from Woodside
to Montauk Point (more than 100 miles out on the tip of the Island).
So, if youre not sure if you need to ride the Babylon line or
the Northport line, as long as you know your point of destination, youll
surely locate the train to meet your needs.
The lines are failry short since it is pre-rush hour, and more so since
there are about two dozen employees manning the booths. You tell the
man on the opposite side of the glass that you'd like to "upgrade"
to a peak-time ticket. Your money is in hand, but he says, in a quasi-incoherent
New York accent, "pay for it on train." You walk away, satisfied
with his response, but wondering what all those operators are there
for if such is the case, and since 99% of people buy their tickets in
quicker fashion at the automated kiosks right in the station, anyway.
Oh well, not your problem in the least.
As you day progresses, you nibble on other snacks, read the seven local
New York papers, listen attentively as the PA announcer rattles off
the cities for each distinct train line: "Stopping at Woodside,
Bayisde, Kew Gardens, Forest Hills, Jamaica, Rockville Centre, Baldwin,
Lindenhurst, Merrick, Bellmore, Massapequa, Massapequa Park, Copiague,
Amityville, Wantagh and Babylon. Change at Jamaica for the train to
Brooklyn and West Hempstead. Only the first four cars platform at Woodside,
Bayside, Kew Gardens and Forest Hills..." You gotta love that!
You also wonder if that is a tape of that guy's confident, veteran voice.
Maybe he does radio for the Knicks, who happen to be playing that evening,
right above you in "The World's Most Famous Arena."
After touring the Amtrak pavilion area, the NYC subway tunnels way in
the depths of the building with their turn styles and people moving
even faster than the people at the train station, you are content to
find a couch, a potato knish or some hot nuts, and read the book you
just purchased at the bookstore. But there are no couches, so you conveniently
locate your floor spot which eagerly awaits reconnecting with you.
About ten pages into the David Brooks novel, you nod off to the melancholy
- and now familiar - sounds of Penn Station. You are finally awakened
by the announcer's voice, not to mention the fact that it's 4:45pm and
the station is about 20 times more crowded that before. People look
at you like you are a homeless man with your coffee, trash wrapper and
drool hanging gingerly from your salty lips. You decide that you might
as well catch your train.
The big board says that your train to Rockville Centre is at 5:06pm.
Thus, you saunter through the masses to the infamous medium-sized board
to look for the track from which your train leaves. You do not see "Rockville
Centre." It is now you realize they list the trains by the terminating
point, so you turn right and eye the kiosk with the multiple, multi-colored
train schedule maps. Thankfully, your geography skills are strong and
you deduce that "RVC" is on the train line to Babylon (or
Freeport?) and thus that is your train to board. The lights of the board
that everyone else is eyeing begin flashing, and the letters and numbers
are flipping like some old-fashioned pinball machine on acid. The track
is announced for the train to Douglaston and half the people run as
though they are searching for the last crumb of cake along the Ivory
Coast of Western Africa.
Now, your train is next. You look around at the hundreds of others,
silently surmising they are headed for the same train. You figure out
where the tracks are, from 15-20, in order. Then, in about two minutes
(roughly 11 minutes before your train departs), the numbers start flipping
again and everyone's attention turns toward the board. You feel like
you are filming a movie, but this is the comeliness of New York life.
Track 16! You locate that number but it is too late as the seasoned
droves of quick-moving folks have nearly knocked you over to get through
the doors and down the broken escalators to the waiting train. As you
come down the stairs, you are somewhat surprised to see that, despite
the hundreds of rushing folks, the train is huge and there is ample
seating since its origin is here in Manhattan.
You slow down. There is a beer man, ala the ones you see at sporting
events, selling cans of Bud and Bud Light at less than ballpark prices.
You purchase one and wonder if you need to drink it down before boarding.
After concise deliberation, you realize this is New York, and so that
won't be the case. That is the cherry on top of the whole appeal and
allure of this memorable day for you.
You park your butt on a seat next to some odd-looking fellow and the
conductor reassures you that this is the train to Rockville Centre.
He begins rattling off the locales we will go through and you relax,
crack open the cold one and reminisce of your "off the beaten path'"
day. And what a story it should make.
© Ari Kaufman December 2005
http://calea.blog-city.com (Sports, Travel)
by Ari Kaufman
America to find the 'Field of Dreams'
Ari Kaufman in Pittsburgh
Ari J Kaufman
Ari J Kaufman
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