Getting To New York City 

[Baltimore's Penn Station]  
Overview of Baltimore's Penn Station, on St. Paul Street well north of the center of town. Penn Station services Amtrak and MARC trains.  


[Sculpture at Penn Station]  
The controversial sculpture in front of Penn Station. One thing you can say about it: it's hard to overlook.  


[Train entering station]  
The "Vermonter" pulling into the station. "All aboard!" (Nobody actually said that, but it would have been a nice touch.)  

I got up at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, an ungodly hour, but I move pretty slowly early in the morning and don't like to rush. By 6:40 a.m. I was ready and called a cab. The cab arrived promptly and we had a quick and easy drive through the light traffic. Cab fare came to $8.00.

Baltimore's train station is called Penn Station, just like New York's. It was built during the heyday of passenger train service so it's now an old building, but it seems to have been lovingly tended all those years. The architectural style is the somewhat ornate but solidly-built and formal style of public buildings popular in that day. When you walk through the door, you enter a big open atrium that has a beautiful stained-glass ceiling. Heading further into the building, you enter a rather ordinary-looking waiting room, though with high ceilings.

In front of the train station, there is a controversial piece of public sculpture on display in a small plaza. It consists of flat stylized depictions of a man and woman, with the two sculptures intersecting at 90 degrees. So far, so good, but now consider that the sculpture is made of polished aluminum and is 51 feet tall! A recent newspaper article indicated that most people consider the sculpture to be out of place and irrelevant to the city. The sculpture was also featured in the "Zippy the Pinhead" comic strip, which prompted another explanatory article. (Zippy occasionally features odd or interesting roadside Americana.)

At the station, I stopped at the little restaurant for a breakfast sandwich and while watching CNN on TV, saw that a bunch of protesters got arrested in New York yesterday. The police hauled off 250 bicyclists/environmentalists supposedly because they were blocking access to buildings, a claim the bicyclists dispute.

Frankly, I was a little concerned about today's protest march becoming disorderly, resulting in mass arrests. The web site for the march had information on what to do if you're arrested, but I really didn't want to use that information. I am by nature mild-mannered and very law-abiding, and I didn't want to run afoul of the law today. It was an important consideration that the march organizers promoted their event as legal and orderly. But feelings in a crowd can sometimes get out of control, and police might overreact and sweep up everyone in the vicinity, including the meek and mild-mannered.

I hung around the waiting room in the station, feeling like I was in a time-warp or on a movie set. The whole place was so old and dated, and even the concept of passenger train service seemed rather quaint and anachronistic. The train to New York even had a nickname, The Vermonter, since it eventually winds up in northern Vermont with connections to Montreal. Business was pretty slow to start, but as time went by, more people showed up in the waiting room.

A few minutes before the scheduled departure, we all ambled down to the trackside platform to await the train, which was a few minutes late. The train pulls into the station, opens its doors, and waits only a moment before closing the doors and departing. You really need to be waiting on the platform when the train arrives, since they don't wait for stragglers.

The passenger cars had half the seats facing forward and half the seats facing backward. I wanted a window seat on the shady side facing forward, but all those seats were taken so I sat on the sunny side. The conductor collects your ticket then places a small paper chit in a metal track along the edge of the overhead baggage rack, to keep track of who paid and which seats are occupied.

The seating arrangement reminded me of airplane seating, but the train seats were much more spacious and comfortable. It did feel a little weird that there were no seatbelts. The ride was somewhat bumpy but not unpleasantly so. On an airplane flight, it would be called moderate to severe turbulence and would be a cause for concern, but in a train on the ground, it was no problem.

It was an interesting trip up to New York, and time passed quickly. Just north of Baltimore, the train crossed a couple of rivers on low bridges, and I looked out to see small boats anchored in the river. People were enjoying a quiet Sunday morning on the river, that is, until the train came roaring by. I got a brief glimpse into a tree-lined cove, and saw a man rowing a dinghy to shore. Later on, the train crossed the Susquehanna River on a high bridge, and I looked out to an unobstructed view of the head of Chesapeake Bay. As we passed through Philadelphia, the train passed right next to the Philadelphia Zoo, and I saw children and adults wandering about and enjoying their day. I also saw a big tethered helium balloon at the zoo that gives rides, like the one at Port Discovery in Baltimore. Philadelphia seemed to specialize in junkyards, since we passed numerous yards filled with wrecked cars, rusty scrap, and smashed and crushed appliances.

I like looking out the window on airplane trips, but from way high up you only get the big picture. It's a great way to observe the topography and landforms, as you watch rivers, plains, and mountains slowly scroll by. On a train trip, though, you see everything from ground level, so you see all the details—individual people, cars driving down the street, people's houses and their backyards. The train travels so quickly that everything goes flying by in a second. In your brief glimpse, you see things almost as if frozen in time.

The train made a few scheduled stops, but overall it was a fast and pleasant trip. For a Sunday morning, it also seemed surprisingly busy, especially as we passed through the New York metropolitan area. Since I never rode the train before, it had never registered on my mind as a viable or popular mode of transportation, but other people obviously use it a lot. I'll have to keep it in mind for future travel.


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