Monday, August 5, 2013

Making a Scene: I Remember Penn

Looking back on the glory years of Penn Station from the year 2053.


Editor's Note: One of my goals for the next few months is to try and produce one humorous short scene per week. I will be submitting all of these to the "Shouts and Murmurs" blog on The New Yorker Website and all the entries that don't make it (whether funny or not) will land here from time to time.

Manhattan, New York — 2053

Well, kids, that was an exciting game wasn’t it? I really thought the Knicks were going to pull it off there when Patrick Ewing IV almost put back that Kyrie Irving Jr. fade away. We’ve got a good team, but not a championship one. I just don’t think we’re going to win the title this year—not with M.J.’s grandson playing so well on that great team they’ve assembled down in Charlotte. They say that talent skips a generation, but that Jordan family is ridiculous. M.J.’s grandson is better at basketball than both his sons were, and M.J.’s sons are better at running a team than he ever was. If Charlotte wins another title this year, the NBA is going to have to institute some kind of “nepotism policy”; it’s really getting out of hand.

Watch that hover bus! God, I always get confused after Knicks games now. This new Madison Square Garden is nice and so is the entire Mayor Michael Bloomberg Hudson River Park (You should’ve seen what it used to look like over here. It was just the old Javitz Center and a desert of unused dirt!). But I miss the days when you could just leave MSG and go right down to Penn Station to catch the train back to Long Island. Those were simpler times.

What? Your dad never told you about all that? What do you mean you don’t care? God, my son needs to do something with you two boys.

That’s right, Penn Station used to be just below Madison Square Garden. When I was younger, I’d take the train to New York all the time to see concerts and Knicks games. I had the stomach to go see the Knicks before Carmelo came to the team all those years ago. Tickets were cheap then. Only forty bucks for some of the worst seats in the Garden. Not like the 300 bitcoins per seat you have to cough up now. And you can barely see above all those iScreens in the lower mezzanine. Yes, it was a glorious time. You could go to a game or a Phish concert and then just stroll downstairs and close up the bar at T.G.I. Friday’s before heading out to the Island on the last train of the night.

Oh, T.G.I. Friday’s? It was this restaurant chain we all used to go to with lots of stuff on the walls. You know, like license plates, old sports memorabilia and photos, lampshades—all kinds of junk. We’d eat stuff like pot stickers and mozzarella chili kickers and shrimp cake steak sandwiches.

Anyway, Penn Station had lots of stuff besides that. There were other kinds of bars down there too. There was this place called Tracks were you could drink and get clams and fries and meet all kinds of different women—er, people—and just bide your time before getting a tall boy beer and popcorn for your ride home from work or out to Montauk and the Hamptons.

That’s not true! I’m not only talking about drinking and bars. In any case, I was a young man then. You’ll see one day.

It was a real hub down there. It wasn’t glamorous like Grand Central Station—where all those Westchester snobs took their efficient rides home on their quiet train cars to their stonewall lined homes near the Hudson—but it had character. When a train was announced on the big board, people scuttled in every direction without rhyme or reason. Bags swung in the air, women zigged and zagged and there was a healthy general disregard for human well-being. Heck, just standing against the wall was a hazard. You really had to be on your game when you stepped into that terminal. And during the summer, forget about it! The only equivalent to Penn Station on a summer Friday that I can think of was probably the gladiator battles at the Coliseum in Ancient Rome.

No! I’m talking about the real ones, not the guys from that “ancient” Russell Crowe movie.

Sure, the remodeled station we have now is great. Mayor Lhota did a fantastic job fighting hard for progress during his time in office and then Mayor Kidd brought the whole thing together in the end. (He was a hell of ball player in his day too! All his on court and coaching leadership really translated well to civic duty.) But it lacks the old grit, the crowded passageways, the crappy pizza, the disgruntled travelers, and the long bathroom lines. It lacks the surprise of seeing what kind of crazy person would stumble into the sitting area while you waited for an early morning train!

But listen to me—I could go on like this all day. Flag a cab will you boys? I’m tired and we have a long trip back out to the Island. At least we get to sit in that beautiful new Penn Station while we wait.


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