Boston Stories II: South Station

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My feet in lockstep: the song of the morning. Jackboot corporate lockstep, navigating another detour around ever more construction. My fellow commuters and I, lockstep to offices, feet pounding on the stairs, echoing into the day that will not be free for us. I hate the station in the morning. Hate the Red Line platforms, and the stairs and the detours, the smell of mud and welding sparks, the sound and feel of concrete-busting drills and ball-busting foreman. Plywood barriers, vinyl tarps, broken PA announcing broken trains. Cold concrete of the walls, always the hint of a rebar about to pop out and always a drip of water from the ceiling. I hate the broken station, hate the broken morning.

Until I reach the top of the escalator and emerge in the station proper, under the giant clock, like the old destroyed Penn Station. The light pours in from the floor-to-ceiling windows in front of the tracks, and I’m suddenly liberated from the bowels of commuter hell and gently placed in a grand civic institution and a distant era. I smell coffee from Rosie’s Bakery and croissants from Au Bon Pain and fresh flowers. I peruse the stacks of the news stand looking for a book instead of heading for work. I am stimulated and liberated and the day is new.

After work my head pounds from the day. I return, buy bad food served in cardboard and Styrofoam and find a table in the grand concourse, not wanting to go back to the subway and back to my room and roommates. The voice of the conductor booms through the station, in the most wonderfully enunciated, stilted English I’ve ever heard.

The Prov I dence local…with stops in ….CAN ton… MANS field… AT tle boro… and …SOUTH… AT tle boro… now boarding on …track… niiiiiiiiiiine

All around the sounds of suitcase wheels, and the good hustle of fleeing from offices and heading home. The automatic doors open to the tracks, and puffs of frigid air hit my table. I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to go back down into the depths to the subway. I linger, observing, taking it all in.

It is the late 1990s, yet I am sitting in a magnificent temple of rail travel. Like all of Boston, a modern throwback. It’s 1998: it could be 1988, it could be 1978, it could be 1948. Rail travel is the constant. This show is better, more noble and fulfilling than anything on television. The show does go on…

I linger, observing, taking it all in, and then descend the escalator to the subway, already looking forward to doing it all over again in the morning.

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Bridge and Tunnel Club

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  1. Shahidah said:

    Ahhhh so vivid I feel like I need to run and catch the 4:35 train to Provience!!!! Love it

    • You, m’dear, have inspired Boston Stories Week. So thanks for that!

  2. I learned so much from this piece, Brian! And I like it when you use first person; it’s a good fit on you!

    • !!! Stay tuned the rest of the week, then. ;D

      • Can’t wait! Excited!

  3. morezennow said:

    Your last two posts have me hungering for a trip to Boston, which I never considered before. I may get there someday…in the meantime I have you to take me. I adore your writing, B.

  4. Blame The Shah for this week!

    I will say that my Boston tours are legend. You get everything from the spot of the first shots of revolution to the smallest suspension bridge in the world. And some spectacular grub in between…

  5. And of COURSE we ride all of the ducks on the Make Way For Ducklings statue!

    • There’s a “Make Way For Ducklings” statue??? Why did I not know this before?

      • Yes! It’s in the Garden, and it’s the best kid-watching. 😉

  6. Brian, great post. I could smell it, taste it and feel the station. Wonderful!

    • Thank you so much!

  7. You paint a great picture. It’s very romantic, isn’t it. I love train travel.

    • What a magnificent experience to be able to sit in a classic train station in this day and age, right? South Station pales in comparison to Union Station in D.C., but it is absolutely regal and great.

  8. Love the last two paragraphs. Yeah, I feel the same way.

    • I hope you’re not condemned to the sewer that is Penn Station…

      • I much prefer Grand Central.

      • Love Grand Central.

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