You know how in scary movies and psychological thrillers there’s sometimes a kid who’s trying to tell the adults what’s going on but no one listens and then everyone gets horribly maimed or dies?
I don’t watch those movies. If I did I’d probably be better about listening to the Boy when he’s trying to tell me stuff that goes against what I think I already know thereby invalidating what I believe to be true regardless of whether it is or not because I can’t at that moment see the bigger picture unless it’s coming at me like the zombie apocalypse.
For instance (you knew this was coming, right?), there’s been a new episode of American Experience sitting on our DVR for several weeks titled “The Rise and Fall of Penn Station.” Not what you’d consider a horror movie.
Unless you’re a rail fan.
A sight you can only imagine
The Boy didn’t want to watch it because of Penn Station’s ultimate demise, but we – being older and therefore, by default, wiser – deemed the show a must-watch. Plus, we had to clear some space on the DVR.
It was fascinating and informative. There was some extraordinary historical and archival film footage of New York at the turn of the last century, phenomenal photos of Pennsylvania Railroad in its heyday, and informative history about undertaking the building of tunnels under the Hudson and East Rivers, as well as the eight acre construction site in the middle of the city.
Another sight you’ll no longer see – long since sent to the scrap yard
What you don’t think about is the displacement of all of the families living in that area, known as the Tenderloin, when all of their buildings and tenements were bought up and torn down.
People used to live there in squalor
Which leads me to wonder … if the low 30′s between 7th and 9th Avenues were known as the Tenderloin, why aren’t the neighborhoods south of there, like Chelsea and the Meat Packing District, known as the Ribs, or the Liver, or the Rump Roast? Why Tenderloin? These are the things which occupy my mind when I’m wired on caffeine.
Inside the light-filled space
The show is absolutely engaging until, after World War II, the Pennsylvania Railroad starts losing money and ultimately decides to demolish the station in favor of air rights and mid-century urban blight, also known as Madison Square Garden.
And then I hear weeping.
Welcome to New York
It’s the Boy - he is weeping as he watches 50 year old footage of the demolition while repeatedly mumbling “fuck you” at the powers-that-be who thought it was a good idea to reduce Alexander Cassatt and Charles McKim’s monument to transportation into a pile of rubble.
The demolition phase
My heart broke. For him and for me, since I was only two when the station came down, and I also never got to see it – all the more poignant to me since I was living in New York during the restoration of Grand Central Terminal. My experience of Penn Station is that of the “rat hole” that takes you down to trains for Amtrak, the LIRR and New Jersey Transit. And a concert or two at the Garden when I was still going to concerts.
When the program was over, the Boy left the room so that he could play with his Trainz simulator on the computer where he is building his own railroad empire. He hadn’t forgotten his distress, but he had put it behind him.
He had known, and had articulated, that he didn’t want to watch that show for that very reason, but we made him watch it anyway. We didn’t listen to his warnings. If this were a movie, I’d be on life-support right now.
If I was lucky.