Penn Station here in New York City is really a mess. No, it’s more than that, it’s a disgrace. Dark, dingy and crowded. And broken down. The escalators were not working when I arrived on the Maple Leaf Friday night and my choices were (1) wait with a hundred other people for a slow elevator or (2) trudge up a long non-working escalator schlepping my own bags.
For those of you who have never been here, Penn Station is entirely underground. It was once a magnificent edifice built by the Pennsylvania Railroad. It opened in 1910 but, thanks to a decision motivated by the quick buck, the above-ground structure was demolished in the mid-1960s to be replaced by a high rise building and a sports arena … which is now apparently going to be demolished.
Working my way up two levels and out onto the street Friday night, I just got pissed. What the hell is wrong with us, anyway? We have now gone through decades when politicians are afraid to tell us what we need to hear: that sometimes taxes have to be raised for the common good. If, for example, a member of Congress proposes raising the federal gas tax to pay for fixing 60,000 unsafe bridges, it’s guaranteed that his opponent in the next election will produce a television spot claiming that “Joe Dokes wants to raise your taxes!” And that’s enough for our uninformed electorate: Congressman Dokes is a goner.
And so, at a time when Penn Station is not only dingy and dirty, but is apparently unsafe, too–there have been two derailments in the station in the last couple of weeks–we have Congress about to consider a budget proposal by the Trump Administration that would eliminate any federal funding for Amtrak.
Five years ago, on my way to Russia, I stopped for three days in Berlin. Take a look at the Hauptbahnhof, their main railway station. Makes ya wanna cry, doesn’t it!
We used to build stuff in America. Big stuff. Beautiful stuff. Innovative, impressive and necessary stuff. Bridges and dams and tunnels and great public buildings. Not any more. Yesterday, President Trump said he’s going to cut corporate taxes. Personally, I’d prefer raising taxes on the richest people in the country if that meant I wouldn’t feel ashamed when passing through Penn Station in New York City.
And who knows? Maybe the goddam escalators would be working.