Thursday, September 11, 2008

Union Station, Washington DC

I'm sitting on a platform bench in the entrance atrium of Union Station in our nation's capitol, watching a slice of our country walk by. It's a calming, enjoyable experience. A class of college art students is pencil sketching the architecture about them, interrupted by their phones and flirting. I'd tease them a little, but I'm typing on a laptop with my mp3 player's headphones isolating me into my own little world, right next to theirs but not part of it.

For some reason, everyone looks happy. Everyone. Maybe travel by train is more relaxing? I'm soon to find out on the run up to Philly. But from the soldiers, politicians, grandmothers, and mennonites I've seen, it must be. This is not an airport. It's grand. People are walking slowly and, like the art students, looking around. Enjoying an ice cream or an ice coffee. Sitting for a few minutes. Looking at the others, me, the tourists, the drawings. People filter in and out of the shops, out of the staging area. It' s not hot. There's an assumption that things will run on time.

It contrasts with the anxiety and dim sweaty futile frustration of airports. They're not taking off their shoes, removing their belts, displaying their toiletries in order to pass through security. I'm going to have to leave this calm comfort soon; get up and walk to the platform and climb onto a train with my bags. But I'll be able to pick a seat, look out the window, see the countryside which exists below the clouds through a window large enough and without the shade in the up position for taxi, takeoff, and landing. It will take an hour or two, and then I'll get off, in another grand station in Philadelphia, and catch a subway line out to the airport.

Airport, I have a date with you tomorrow afternoon. I'll be there an hour and fourty-five minutes early, with my ID and my boarding pass ready for scrutiny. I'll fight for a seat in the aisle, or window, or, please no, not the middle! We'll cram into the can, wait our turn, rumble into the sky and keep seated, belted, for an hour and a half then approach and landing with tray tables up and electronics off and wait for the plane occupying our gate to pushback before we can remove our seatbelts so we can unfold ourselves from the worn contortions of our seat's debilitating curves too close to our fellow passengers and stumble out into the stank air of the jetway push past the slow walkers and the next flight's passengers blocking escape to freedom to the bathroom to the baggage claim through the gates across the peoplemovers up the elevators into the car down the exit spiral through the checkout line across the surface streets and onto the highway for home garage bed morning coffee.

Oh yes, the train will be relaxing.

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