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At the New Moynihan Train Hall, and the Zen of Going Nowhere


After slowly wandering around the Moynihan Train Hall, opened earlier this year in the James A. Farley Post Office Building across from Penn Station, an Amtrak worker approached me and asked if he could help with directions. “No,” I replied, “I’m just here to look at the station.” 

Moynihan Train Hall, between Eighth Avenue, Ninth Avenue, 31st Street, and 33rd Street in Midtown Manhattan

I wasn’t taking a train anywhere, not an Amtrak train to Philadelphia or to Boston. I was here to look at this impressive, even enlightening building. The architectural design is somewhat restrained and serious.

Bright signage at the Moynihan Train Hall

At a time when the idea of actual travel is just picking up, for some New Yorkers like myself, just the novelty of seeing a new transportation project in the city seems to suffice. It’s like mental preparation for taking an actual trip. 

Looking up

I remember catching Amtrak trains at the old Penn Station, not the beautiful and monumental edifice that was torn down beginning in 1963 to make way for Madison Square Garden, but the funky modern one across the street. After grabbing a coffee and pastry at nearby Zaro’s pastry shop, I would stand with many other luggage-laden travelers inside the central hall, just staring at the train board for departures. When the train platform was announced, we would hustle over to train exit and get in a long line to show our IDs and tickets before boarding the train. It was mayhem at holiday time.

Passenger waiting area

Now, I’m standing in the Moynihan Train Hall and looking lost, perhaps lost in nostalgia for the time of chaotic crowds. Here and now, during a pandemic, there’s almost at existential element to waiting. Have I died, and this is where I am now, looking up at the sky over New York City through the skylights? I considered taking the escalators downstairs, but given my mortal frame of mind, I had no interest in where those would lead.      

Waiting for the return to normal travel

While the new train hall is dedicated to former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, much of the new station bears the markings of current Governor Andrew Cuomo. Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, the governor has often repeated the state motto, Excelsior (“Ever Upward”), E Pluribus Unum (“Out of Many One”). The “Ever Upward” at this location seems to lead to future retail. 

Memories of "the stairs to heaven"

The Amtrak worker guided me to the baggage area. There I saw a little museum to the glory that was once the old Pennsylvania Station, one of the greatest Beaux Arts buildings ever built in New York, designed by McKim, Mead and White and finished in 1910. The collective trauma brought about by the actual demolition of Penn Station set in motion a new preservationist spirit in New York City and beyond. 

Finally, I did go somewhere from the station. I followed the subway signs and took the A train home.

And in that balloon, my dear Dorothy, you and I will return to the land of E Pluribus Unum.

- THE WIZARD OF OZ

Update, June 2021. Walking Off the Big Apple will be taking a break, of uncertain length, to explore new trails. Will keep you posted, and I mean that quite literally.

Related on this website:

Bye Bye Penn Station: Mad Men Takes on an Epic Battle. August 24, 2009

George Bellows in New York:Rambles and Excavations. January 2, 2013

Scenes in the Public Domain: New York City Views from the The New York Public Library. January 14, 2016

Images from Saturday, April 10, 2021. 

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