Beneath the teeming streets of the City That Never Sleeps is a bustling subterranean microcosm inhabited by aspiring vacationers and weary commuters aching to make their connections via the extensive network of subways and railroads. Given that constant delays and incessant cancellations can so easily facilitate one’s ire from the slow burn of disappoint to a full-blown bellowing meltdown best practiced by Al Pacino near the climax of all his movies, Penn Station provides some relief and distraction from the frustrations of underground adventure-seekers traveling by iron horses. It might appear to be little more than a watered-down strip mall for Hell’s outcasts: but a day in a half in Penn Station reveals a wonderland of eternal damnation for the zombies condemned to the merciless agony of waiting for Amtrak to get its shit together—24/7 and 365!
5 p.m., Friday
The trains are not running on time (again)!
(West Side pavilion—main floor)
Until someone opens up a restaurant chain for shit-kicking alcoholic tourists and balding traveling salesman with fraternity rings called “O’Stupid’s” then this poor excuse for a “N.Y.-style” watering hole with a railroad theme will have to do. All manner of fried garbage can be ordered here, from mozzarella sticks and—holy 80s!—jalapeño poppers to their bastardized version of onion rings: all of which compliment that draft Budweiser and the resentment which comes from overpaying for crappy food in this piece of shit commuter rattrap where the trains never run on time. So drink up with the other Eastern Seaboard travelers because you pretty much know for a fact that your train outta this hellhole ain’t gonna be on time for your sorry ass.
Hey, you’ll probably want to read something on the way home, because it’s a lock that any experience aboard Amtrak is going to be a withering exercise in the slow destruction of your pitiful soul. And you’ll want to just sit in peace for four hours reading a good book, the kind of book which will transport you from the stench of the restrooms and odious perfume of the mad, chattering woman next to you to a place of profundity… but don’t look for such books here. It’s all gonna be chick-lit and Tom Clancy/Dean Koontz/Richard North Patterson bullshit anyway. There’s tons of magazines and newspapers, but you see that shit all the time anyway. The Post or The Times? You’re only asking someone to start a conversation with you, and you don’t need to be reminded of leaving N.Y.C. behind, so just buy some porn. It’s in the back next to the music magazines. What the fuck? (And what else are you gonna read? Arrive— the Amtrak in-flight magazine with its riveting commentary on “Why They Love Baltimore”? Gimme a fucking break.) You might as well buy some porn, because, when you think about it, the latest issue of Club or Score will do more to alienate the pain-in-ass people around you who are going to climb over you every twenty minutes to hit the bar car or obsessively check the overheard storage compartments to make sure no one’s stealing anything out of their rolling suitcases. Because, you know how those people who ride Amtrak are always stealing things…
Aunt Somebody’s Pretzelria
Or whatever the fuck this place is called. Yup, buy a pretzel for that long ride outta town. Like a fucking pretzel is really gonna make a difference in passing time. But savor the possibilities. You know what? Amtrak actually has names for all their trains. So when you climb aboard The Yankee Clipper to rocket you to your destination like an asthmatic turtle, you’ll probably want a crusty piece of twisted bread covered in salt to shove down your throat. Fucking “Yum!” There’s nothing like being bloated while rapidly dehydrating in coach class with a bunch of stuck-up Brown coeds as the scenic garbage-strewn gulleys of Connecticut whisk by.
1 a.m., Saturday
(West Side pavilion, main floor)
This place is looking pretty good right now because it’s open, and hey—your train is never coming. Why not add to your living Hell at a sloppy bar with your fellow losers and see if that one rad chick in the Ann Taylor business suit will talk to you? It’s not like anyone else has hit on her already and she probably won’t scream if you offer to buy her another glass of Franzia rosé.
8 a.m., Saturday
Well, you’re still here and if you can dodge all the Yankees fans and white Harlem residents rushing to make the A Train, why not squeeze into this closet-sized crackhouse of the yuppie damned and wait forever to empty your wallet for a coffee with whipped cream and some bullshit muffinlike confection with a lot of gooey icing? What’s great about this place is how wonderfully the corporation treats its employees. What’s not so great is knowing that the asshole who hates you across the counter has a 401(k) plan and will be able to punch out and leave Penn Station at the end of his shift to go home and listen to Radiohead, while you suck down an eight-dollar chai-venti-mocha and become increasingly likely to commit murder in a caffeinated rage because the unholy corporation which actually had the balls to ask the government for a five-billion-dollar bailout after 9/11 is stranding you in this godforsaken S.R.O. and you’ll never be able to calm down for the three-day-weekend getaway you planned to extricate yourself from the madness of living in N.Y.C.
3 p.m., Saturday
Bank of America ATM
Downstairs across from Starbucks, the action never stops as people keep putting their ATM cards into the slot to open the doors to get in to this glass phone-booth of the future, all the while totally unaware of the fact that the doors are open. Once inside, check your balance and grab some cash because you’re going to be here for a long, long time. Also, there’s a guy outside who will talk to you about his life and open wounds (still bleeding) and just wants to borrow a dollar for some food. He will apologize profusely for disturbing you. His name is Billy or something and five minutes with him can seem like hours, so chat him up and throw him a buck. It’s not like Amtrak has anything to say to you … and hey, pal—you’re still here.
5 p.m., Saturday
(Somewhere, main floor or something)
Well, it’s been a whole twenty-four hours and you haven’t been into this place yet. Maybe you can pick up an early Christmas present for that hard-to-buy family member. Or maybe you just stare at the ties imagining yourself strangling the corporate fucks who run Amtrak, one person at a time…
8 p.m., Saturday
(East side pavilion, main floor)
Since you didn’t buy a first-class ticket and you’re (apparently) not a frequent traveler with some kind of exclusionist plastic card, there’s no point in trying to get in here. Whatever amenities are offered in here are likely to be meager anyway; you’ll get more enjoyment riding in a rickshaw down 7th Avenue at rush hour than you’ll ever find with Amtrak. Maybe you could sit in peace and comfort and catch up on world news as presented in pie graphs by USA Today, but really, at this point, does it make a fucking difference how many people care that Oakland is trading someone to Dallas?
9 p.m., Saturday
(Main floor, West Side pavilion)
When it’s time to tinkle there’s nothing like sliding over the icy-wet tiles of a floor strewn with the asparagus-stench and disease-ridden urine of drunken salesmen or the recently-evicted-from-the homeless-shelter human detritus who defecate with the doors open. An adventure the likes of which could only be described as “Miracle on Ice” were it a monumental staged operatic skating event upstairs at the Garden. But when ya gotta go… there’s nothing like going Penn Station-style! Don’t look at the burly guy next to you. He could have pissed at any other urinal against the wall, but he chose the one right next to you. Somebody out there likes you even if it isn’t Amtrak.
One more for the road. What the fuck difference does it make now? By the time you get to where you’re going, you’ll have about five hours with your miserable family or retarded so-called friends who’ve been partying naked in a Jacuzzi drinking champagne while you’ve been teetering betwixt anxiety and depression and thoughts of self-immolation in a human sewer caked with the frustrations of a million angry passengers. So drink up and enjoy the view of the chick you’ll never land, if there’s one around. Your life sucks and if you’re spending time in Penn Station, you’ll know that the people at the party you’re missing are laughing at you. But you can get your load on and once you’re finally on the train, there’ll be magazines with pictures of girls with big boobs and you still have half a pretzel left to munch on. So—whatever. Enjoy! Hey, at least you’re not back at work until Tuesday…