I like train stations almost as much as I dislike the climate-controlled, fast food lubricated, homogeneous environment of Airport Land. There are some great things to recommend train stations:
If there is a punctum for me in any great train station, it is the departure board. As a child, I always loved the scene in front of the LIRR departure board in Penn Station. After work, everyone stands in front of the board waiting for their train’s platform to be posted. Businessmen are standing there sucking a 40 with straw, kids are slumped on the floor, and you never fail to see someone you know. In the moments before a train is posted, every-day commuters start inching towards their predicted platform. After the announcement, there’s a mad dash to the stairs that presents a real trampling risk.
What has always stuck with me the most, however, is the board’s sound. I love the sound of an analog Solari & C. Udine split-flap display flipping through the destinations and times. After a departure, there’s an avalanche of activity as the whole display is shifted up a line. I really missed the clicking sound when the MTA replaced the old LIRR board with a new digital one, I think about the sound every time I’m standing there waiting to (hopefully) flop down in a train seat.
Today I spent some time in Boston’s South Station, another beautiful 19th century relic, while going to and from the Boston Museum of Science.
I spent a lot of time in that station traveling to debate in high school, and I always looked forward to eating the blackened fish from Cajun Cajun, perusing Barbara’s Bestsellers, and hearing the split-flap clicks echo off the high ceilings. The authorities there must have recently acquired a new digital sign, which they hung between the older MBTA and AMTRAK split-flap models. While the two older signs are frozen in place – there’s an 11.59 MBTA to Providence that’s still waiting to depart – the designers apparently didn’t want to sacrifice the sound. The new board has a speaker on the side that plays a recording of the classic clicks whenever something on the digital sign changes. It’s certainly not the same, but I appreciate the pastiche.