I’m writing this post from the train. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work from home for the entire pandemic–I’ve only gone into the office a handful of times. It’s surreal to me to get on the train, to resume a “normal” commute, even if it’s only one that happens very infrequently.
After years of riding the LIRR, as a commuter and simply to visit family and friends, things have definitely changed, pandemic aside. The new Penn Station is AMAZING, and certainly less soul-crushing than the previous iteration. Well, the new part is more uplifting, at least, and if I still have to venture to the less airy and spacious part, at least it’s only a brief visit.
I’ve always loved grand, elegant train stations, even if the actual reality of travel by train no longer lives up to this. Union Station in DC, Penn Station in Baltimore, Heuston Station in Dublin, Waverley Station in Edinburgh, the Gare de l’Est in Paris… all are beautiful, special places. Even–and maybe especially–Grand Central too. It’s strange to think that the beautiful Penn Station was knocked down to make way for something frankly not very nice at all.
I was reading a book earlier this year, set in the 1950s, that described the old Penn Station so beautifully and elegantly. It makes me glad that at least things seem to be shifting back to celebrating beautiful instead of just practicality. A commute–especially a long one, which seems to be de rigeur in the New York metro area but astonishing to the rest of the country–is difficult enough. Why not intersperse a bit of beauty into something monotonous? What does that harm?
I think–I hope–that after the pandemic a lot will change. We, as humans, have spent so much time looking at our lives and during this pause, seeing what works with our society and what doesn’t work. We have had more time to take our time–so many people, without four-hour round-trip commutes, have been able to rest, to recharge, to look at things and see what needs to be fixed. I hope that we all remember these things, when the pandemic finally starts to recede (get vaccinated!!!!) and change things.