Fellow travelers, we all know this feeling of stepping off a plane into a strange city and following the signs to baggage/transportation, trying to get our bearings and find our way through these sometimes labyrinthine airports to just get out of these unattractive hubs — the whole thing with air travel nowadays is that you have to do it, and while you’re doing it, all you want to do is escape from it. I know that feeling well lately.
Well, I have arrived in Philadelphia, and it was different. I lived here from 1993-2000, and I stepped off the plane and knew exactly where I was and what I had to do: I strolled unerringly to the train terminal, got on board and paid my fare (which had gone up $2 since I was last here), and rolled off to my destination. It was great. I’ve missed the familiar litany of stations called out by the porter as you travel through the city, and the ease of just taking one of those big bench seats and relaxing while traveling.
I got off at the 30th Street Station, had to go say hello to the big guy with the wings (Old train stations are built like temples, have you ever noticed? Vast spaces with ceilings lofted far above you, and with fabulous winged art deco icons to get you in the right mood), and then knew exactly what I had to do to get to my hotel — take the Market-Frankford line to University City. It was so liberating to stand in that cathedral of transport and realize that I could easily go anywhere. I could have gone down those stairs and taken a train to Trenton and New York, no sweat, and it would have been a pleasant, stress-free rockin’ ride. Anywhere. I was tempted.
Compare the great Eastern urban transit options to our train station in Morris, Minnesota—a sad and shabby relic, abandoned. We’ve got the wide horizons, but there’s a pinched feeling as well, that there is no way out. Cars have closed us off more than they’ve opened us up, I think. Those horizons become a void rather than a destination. They turn us inward rather than making us cosmopolitan.
Small town America is a fine place to live, but man, I want to see more connectedness than the isolation we’ve got now. Places like Europe and the East coast always seem to have more openness — and in large part it’s due to the fact that you can go anywhere.