Monday, July 09, 2007


Here is what Alice saw last month waiting for her train to Boston from New York City. Penn Station Amtrak main floor afternoon rush hour. Hundreds of people standing in a big circle - with not a single dog! - all watching a big board. Waiting for their track number to pop up. As soon as it did, bunches of them rushed to their gate making long lines blocking the entire floor to claim their favorite seats. No natural light. Stuffy mechanical air. Not a place for dogs, said Alice. That's another reason I wasn't invited on that trip.

Alice had been to that station many times before to catch trains to Long Island. She'd heard stories about how nice the old station was before it was scraped, shoved all underground, and topped with Madison Square Garden. "Garden"?! Ha, she says! "Square" as in a charming outdoor plaza? Ha! Too bad but at least memories of it survive. Wouldn't it have been nice she thought, to wait under this big glass and steel sky instead of the hell-hole that is the Penn Station's Amtrak area now? She can do that inside her head instead.

Below it's still the same old Manhattan subway. She took it Uptown to Lexington Avenue at 77th Street via the 7th Ave/Broadway line and the 42nd Street Shuttle. She admitted it took her a long time to figure out how to catch those three subway trains by looking at the subway map and longer amount of time walking around underground particularly to get from the Penn Station Amtrak platform to the first subway platform. (Yes, she had to "redo" one escalator at Times Square Station to find the right platform to the Shuttle. Signage there is bad. But not as bad as the highway signs in Arlington, Virginia.)

Deep down on the 42nd Street Shuttle it still looks over 100 years old. Built for short people. Big steel beams and girders. Hot and humid. No one makes eye contact with anyone else down there. New Yorkers' idea of "personal and private" time and space. (Those people need a shake of the cobwebs and a sunspot to soak in.)
Waiting on the platform for the Shuttle made Alice think of Jeffrey the space monster from "Men in Black II" who roamed the tunnels eating subway cars. And made her think about what Professor Weisman says would happen if people disappeared from the City. The subways would flood completely within days, all the steel holding up the roofs would erode away, all the tunnels would collapse creating rivers in a few years. A long, deep one would flow right down Lexington Avenue. But, perhaps Park Avenue would still have its little long park bordered by herds of stationary yellow taxi cabs.

As her Amtrack train popped out above ground leaving Manhattan, she looked back towards the City. Many people in her car, including her, silently stared at the space where the Twin Towers used to be and she thought about all the people who built and rebuilt the City and those who live there now. And, of course, thought about the very happy dogs she'd seen prancing around Lexington and Park Avenues and those sniffing the trees and grass in Central Park.