Another reason to love trains far more than flying: Train stations.
This is where you catch Metrolink commuter trains and two of Amtrak’s long-distance runners — the Coast Starlight, that runs daily from Los Angeles to Seattle, and the Sunset Limited, that runs across the southwestern desert and into New Orleans.
But the station is close to being a destination itself.
If you’re into architecture, this station is practically a temple to art deco design. Walking through it feels almost as if you’re stepping back in time to a bygone century.
When traditionally shortsighted Los Angeles chose to save this place from the wrecking ball and restore it to its original splendor, they got it right.
But that isn’t what makes Union Station such a fascination to me.
On arrival, the restrooms, both men’s and women’s, are alive with the roar of hand dryers. The homeless are using the blowers to dry the clothes they’d just washed in the bathroom sinks.
One looks up at me. His tattered shorts, made ragged by life rather than fashion, extend below his raincoat, a large garbage bag, cinched at the waist by a grimy woven belt. He seems almost serene.
“You wanna use this?” he asks and moves aside for me.
I make a cursory pass under the blower with my hands, thank him for his courtesy and leave with my two dripping hands. I figure his is the greater need at that moment; my hands will dry a lot faster than his laundry.
On the return leg, I’m sitting in the station sandwich shop. Two minutes apart, two parades file through the waiting room in opposite directions — a quinceanera one way, a newlywed couple and their train of black-clad professional wedding photographers the other.
The star of the quinceanera, in her floor-length flaming and rhinestone-studded burgundy dress, is having her party here. The newlyweds, smiling and undeterred by the rain that forced them from the station’s elegant courtyards, are having their wedding shots taken inside the waiting room itself.
When was the last time you saw something like that in an airport?
These days, we basically feed ourselves into the increasingly unfriendly apparatus called air travel, to the point that we feel like little more than parts in the machine. As such, airports have become places to avoid if you can, and escape if you can’t. Nobody goes to an airport to have a good time.
Train stations, on the other hand, can be destinations in their own right. Union Station in Washington DC, New York’s Grand Central Terminal or the Gare de Lyon in Paris are as much places to see and experience as they are to catch a train.
Perhaps it’s because trains stations usually form part of a city’s hub, a valve in its beating heart, in or near the center of town. Perhaps it’s the way a major train station combines the functions of commuter terminal for local trips and a waypoint for journeys of a hundred or a thousand miles.
Or maybe it’s more a matter of what you won’t find there — at least not yet. Long security lines everywhere. Security procedures that are as inane as they are ultimately pointless.
Whatever it is, train stations seem to embrace homo sapiens in ways that would seem unthinkable at air terminals.
I mean, when was the last time you took a date to the airport?
You could do that in Paris, especially at the Gare de Lyon. There’s a restaurant there called Le Train Bleu. The Blue Train. The only danger in taking a date to this place is that she may want you to take her back again the next night — and for several nights thereafter.
Union Station has a pretty cool resto of its own, Traxx, although nothing that even comes close to Le Train Bleu. But really, it’s the humanity passing through it that makes Union Station a treasure for me, even more than its stylish old-school looks.
I’m looking forward to seeing it again.
It’s been a long time since I could say that about an airport.
Powered by Facebook Comments