Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Railway termini are our gates to the glorious and the unknown."

^E.M. Forster
     For class this week (guess which one?), our assignment was to go to a place we'd never been before, leave all of our electronic devices behind, and just take notes. We then had to take our notes and condense them into a 1-2 page Gonzo-journalism-style article (we just watched Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas).
     I went to the 30th Street Amtrak station, which was built in the 1930s in this fantastic Art-Deco style. It was awesome. I loved being there without my phone. It was just me and a place. No infinite connections to the mass of information of the Internet, no quick way to contact other people. Just me and the train station.
     There was a part of me that was disappointed that I couldn't check my Facebook or look things up on Wikipedia. When I sat down that was what my brain expected me to do. But it was wonderful to disconnect for a little while and find myself simply present in the real world.
     I took a huge amount of notes. I would have shared them all with you, but they're far too long for anyone to be interested in (including me, probably). So here instead is my gonzo-style article. Enjoy!

I step off the SEPTA train at 30th Street and hurry to get to the stairs to escape that horrible squealing that, for whatever reason, every Market-Frankford train makes. 7 steps, then 12. Why not 8 and 12—make it an even 20? More stairs to (thank the Lord) get out of the station. 17 and 17. Seems like a strange number. But that doesn’t matter at all. What does matter is that I’ve made it to the 30th Street Amtrak station. 
As I step inside, I’m bombarded by the smell of too much food. Dunkin Donuts. Taco Bell. Pizza Hut. Saxby’s. Nathan’s. Ben & Jerry’s. Wendy’s. Auntie Anne’s. Subway. Aw, geez, Subway? One gross Subway smell into another. I wade through this barrage of fast food chains into the main concourse and am overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the place. The columns, the high ceilings, the long lamps, the statue that kind of reminds me of the one in the Central Services building in Brazil and consequently freaks me out just a little bit. It’s just… awesome. 
I pick an empty bench and sit down. I reach for my bag to pull out my pen and notebook, but there  is this part of my brain that expects to be checking my phone, and that’s childishly disappointed that I don’t have it. God, am I that absorbed by my phone? I like to think I’m not, that I’m more connected to the world around me than those other people buried in their technology. It turns out I’m more like them than I thought, and I don’t know whether to feel relieved or indignant about it. 
The sound in this place is fascinating. The size of the room means that you can hear absolutely everything and absolutely nothing at exactly the same time. It turns into this indistinguishable mass of noise, with this weird ambience that sounds like a constant, quietly-mumbling crowd. It always sounds like voices, but you can never make out words. The schedule above the information desk changes occasionally. It’s not digital, which is surprising but also welcome. It makes a nice “flipflipflipflipflip” noise when it changes, and there’s something kind of soothing about it. 
It’s interesting to me that a building whose sole purpose is for funneling people in and out of trains is so extravagantly beautiful. There’s no event here, and that’s precisely why I came. People don’t come here just to come here (except me, I guess). People come here just to leave it again. This is the place people go on the way to their events. The Art-Deco lamps and columns go unnoticed, because the people there didn't go there to see them. 
(Admission: while sitting on my bench writing I came to wonder what the style of the building was. I thought it was Art-Deco, but I wasn’t sure. That techno-hungry part of my brain threw a tantrum when it realized I couldn’t look it up right then and there. It is Art-Deco, it turns out, but I was surprised by my reaction to not having Wikipedia at my fingertips.) 
Anyway. What happened to that interest in making even the places of passing through worth looking at? Grand Central Station, Ellis Island, Musee D’Orsay, none of those were built for anyone to take any particular joy in being in them. They were for people-moving. For transferring people from one place to another. Was the extravagance to make a good first impression or just because the builders felt like it? If we spent so much time on those places, why don’t we also spend the same amount of time on the buildings people have to spend all day working in? 
Maybe I should have found an event to go to. This is supposed to be journalism, after all. But there’s something more interesting to me about the non-events, the things that happen in between actual events. Those non-events get overlooked by people too interested in what’s considered important. But I’m of the opinion that it’s the so-called “boring” things that make us human, and it’s high time that we start reveling in those things, too.
Have a lovely day!
~Snooty Crumb