Wednesday, October 20, 2010

772 Lead Me Not Into Penn Station

772 Lead Me Not Into Penn Station

The old dog turned 100 this week. And although the present building isn't the original, there are many things shared by the two and which probably also will be shared by the third, if ever it's built, on the grounds of what is now the Jim Farley Post Office.

Memories of the glorious heyday of railroading? Nah. They weren't nearly as glorious as those who remember them remember them.

What the Penn Stations of yesterday and today share are memories of dirt, cold, heat, delays, arrogance, long lines, cancelled trains, confusion, high priced tourist trap shops, strikes, signal problems, switch problems, inadequate rest rooms, sleeping homeless men and women, busted cars, financial misfeasance, financial malfeasance, lies, ever rising ticket prices, ever diminishing service and just plain idiocy.

First about the "glorious" old terminal. Yes, it had those nifty eagles out front on the 7th Avenue side. Smaller replicas remain in about the same spots. And it had that enormous Quonset-shaped glass roof, a metal skeleton with hundreds and hundreds of small windows that wouldn't let the sunlight in because no one had washed them between 1910 and 1963 when they mercifully tore the place down. Rail history buffs will disagree. The pictures today look great. The real thing was a dump.

In '63 they put up another one. Madison Square Garden on the top, Pennsylvania Station one floor below ground, shared with NJTransit, and the Long Island Railroad, owned on and off by the PRR one floor down from there. Atop the Garden, an office tower. Gotta give 'em this: that was much more efficient use of the space in jam-packed Manhattan.

But not much inside changed, other than appearance. Nor has it since opening, even with the advent of computerized electronic switching, shared responsibility between Amtrak and the LIRR. The trains remain late and dirty. The station itself looks okay, but don't look too closely. They've got all that expensive decor. Murals, engravings. Plaques. Slightly improved restrooms and waiting rooms. BUT THEY STILL CAN'T RUN A #$@*(^*(*%^ TRAIN ON TIME. And they still can't give you realistic information. And they still can't stop finger pointing when looking for the cause of problems that delay you.

Amtrak is a better tenant than was the PRR, though why it switched most of what's left of its interstate lines from Grand Central is a total mystery. The LIRR is better as a state-run commuter line than it was in private hands. But Penn Station still is Penn Station. Stand clear of the closing doors, please. The 6:35 express to Seaford will be leaving in just a few moments. (Announcement made at 7:15.)

Happy Centennial, Penn Station. May all our dreams and wishes about you come true.


--Like to play practical jokes on your machinery? Here's one for your GPS. Get on a road that goes in four different directions without a name change and confuses the little gizmo.

--From the fear-of-finding-half-a-worm-after-biting-into-the-apple-department: ever worry that one day you're going to start the car and back out of the garage before opening the door? Hasn't happened here yet, but let's start looking at installation prices, nonetheless.

--A Wessays™ salute to one Shahed Hussain, which probably isn't his real name. Hussain was working undercover for the FBI and cracked a case in which several people planted what they thought were real bombs outside some New York synagogues. Shows how stereotypes work against you and cooperation saves lives.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

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