Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Can you actually miss the distinct stench of Smelly Train Guy or the uninvited gropings of an alta cocker? I need to get out of the city more.

Yesterday, I had to go to Philly for a meeting. There once was a time when out of town travel for business was exciting for me. That has since gone and past. I’ve now officially been apart of the workforce for so long that I run the danger of being complacent. Philly is a little over an hour from NYC via Amtrak Acela so it’s sort of like a normal commute for most suburban folks. I can see why some people I know live near Philly and commute to NYC. The cost of living I suppose is just slightly lower than in the NYC area.

I’ll be honest; I’ve never taken an Amtrak train before. This was my first excursion into rail travel. The MTA subway doesn’t count in my book. Any romanticized notions of rail travel flew out the door for me. Geez. Where was the taffeta? Where was platform 9 ¾? If Anna Karenina was alive today, I doubt she’d throw herself onto the Amtrak train tracks.

First, there is the whole getting around Penn Station thing that throws me for a loop. How anyone can find the appropriate track beats me. My platform, track 5, was tucked behind the police station booth. The most romantic thing that happened was the 30 seconds I had to make it onto my train before it departed. After that the romantic ideal disappeared.

Train platforms are dark, dirty and dank. There also seems to be a lot of construction work being done in various parts of the station. I don’t know what it is but the rail platforms seem dismal. NYC Subway platforms look bright and cheery compared to the platforms I stood on Monday and that includes the stench filled areas on 42nd Street, Canal Street and W4th Street.

The train ride itself wasn’t bad. It was like a regular subway commute except with larger chairs that recline and more legroom. I was surprised to see so many industrial areas though. I know that New Jersey and Pennsylvania have large industrial areas but it’s not like I drive to these areas. If the scenery wasn't an industrial park, it was of swamp land. Huge tracks of swamp land.

Industrial areas, to me, are like giant geometric puzzles. Everything seems to be a distinct shape or pattern. Power lines, Silos, Tanks, Freight cars and Highway overpasses flow into constructivist works of art. Cold and precise, this living art blazed past and became whirls of shapes. I felt like I was playing a game in Highlights where I had to locate 5 triangles in a picture.

Where air travel feels compressed, rail travel feels cold and desolate. I know this doesn’t make sense but I felt less connected to my surroundings on the train than I’ve ever felt on a plane in flight. Maybe it’s the lack of personal space one feels on a plane and subway car that makes it slightly more comfortable for me. I live in a city where personal space is a luxury and now I’ve gotten to the point where too much space feels eerily creepy.

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