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Monday March 31, 2003, 02:53

After midnight on a Sunday doesn't so much feel like a Monday morning as it actually IS a Monday morning. I haven't checked my calendar lately, but something tells me that one of these days I'm going to lose an hour of sleepy awake time, and it bothers me to know that I don't know when this is. I am fairly certain that it is not ten minutes from now, so I will refrain from worrying excessively at this point in the evening. Morning. Whatever.

It is this point of the evening, after I have done what I am going to do for the day, and I am sure that I am not going to be able to concentrate any more on work to actually accomplish anything useful, that I sit down on the sofa, turn on some classical music on NPR, and read the portions of the Sunday Times that I can actually stomach which, these days, turns out to be most of the parts that have almost nothing to do with coverage of the war. I choose not to think of this as denial, which would imply that I wished to shield myself from the world around me, but merely as a small bit of refuge from that same world in which I am forced to live. Besides, that same NPR station that is bringing me so much peace when the world is asleep (though, as we all know, the city is not actually asleep) will bring me up-to-the-minute war coverage as soon as I wake up tomorrow. Later today. So I put aside the first section of the Times which, these days, will no-doubt show a photograph of a soldier, or perhaps a building in Iraq, or a truck driving through a crowd of people, and focus instead of the City, Job and Style sections, all of which will feature war coverage in their own way, but with a much more story-like quality, which I can actually stomach.

From the paper I learn that the city's new smoking ban, which will soon allow me to return home from a bar not smelling like a wet ashtray, smacks of a government trying to stick its nose just a bit too far where it doesn't belong. I'm learning that dressed down pants are actually more dressed up than I would have guessed from looking at them. And I'm learning that the pile of GI Joe action figures I have at my parents' house may in fact help the US win the war. I'm reading the newspaper for stories. Not news stories, but sit-around-the-table-and-shoot-the-shit stories. The kind of stories that don't necessarily come with so much baggage that merely bringing them up is likely cause some sort of great schism in whatever rational discussion may have been occurring before (as is the case with anything relating directly to the war).

An article I read this weekend noted incidentally the proposed (is it still proposed? I have such a hard time keeping up) move of Penn Station from the underground hole that now houses it to the current main post office branch in the city, just next door. If ever there was a worthwhile use of public funds, that would have to be it. The city can take whatever other steps it feels it needs to in order to revitalize itself (the article itself was about the development of the far west side of Manhattan, an area so foreign to most New Yorkers that it really is known only for its enormous conference center) but the restoration of what should be one of the most important transportation hubs in the country to something that people would actually like to spend time passing through is something about which I feel very strongly. Grand Central Terminal strikes within me a chord each and every time I pass through it. The main hall of the terminal is one of the few public places in New York that I can think of that is truly awe inspiring, especially with the restored ceiling. That the original Penn Station was ever torn down for the abomination that exists there now fills me with sadness and anger, and I am only glad that Grand Central didn't suffer the same fate.

I feel like New York doesn't have very much public history. Every inhabitant of the city has a story, whether it's one of living in the same house where he was born and raised, to finding a new life and a new home far from family and friends. We all bubble over with personal history, but when it comes to our surroundings there seems to be a desire to destroy and rebuild. Which is not all bad. The city is a living tribute to its people, and with a constant tide of fresh meat, there should be a turnover in the buildings and spaces that make up the city. But there is a new building going up on St. Marks Place that feels like something out of the mall near the town where I grew up, and the World Trade Center site, while vitally important, will put a brand new face on the skyline of the city: the most public of all the faces it has to offer. With such constant change, there needs to be some solid footing on which everything else can stand. There is a piece of a jail downtown by the courthouses that has been preserved as a half-wall and a plaque. There is the fort down by the bottom tip of Manhattan, and there is the glass-covered foundation of the tavern that served as the original center of New York City. But nobody knows about them. Nobody really stops to read the signs, to think about the history. And people do walk through Grand Central everyday, heads buried in newspapers, minds elsewhere, who do not stop to look up, to marvel at the enduring beauty of such a space, and that is just too bad for them.

Visitors to the city are these days greeted by the greenish glow of the underground lights of a low-ceilinged madhouse that serves as the entry point for almost anyone visiting New York and that's just embarrassing. A friend of mine said that Pennsylvania Station reminded her simultaneously of Japan in appearance and England in organization, and anyone who has traveled to either country knows that these are not exactly the features that one would want to emulate while creating a hub for mass transit. A modern replacement in a grand existing structure would go miles in improving a visitor's first impressions of this city.

The new station should be ready in 2008. In the mean time, I'll try not to look so sad when I need to take Amtrak out of the city. I mean really, Penn Station makes me want to vomit. Really.

Toymakers Study Troops, and Vice Versa
One Leg at a Time
Sorry, Old Boy, the Mayor Says 'No Smoking'
Far West Side: a Vision of the Far Future
Penn Station Deal Sealed
3D Renderings: Penn Station
New Station To Be Named After Moynihan

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