19 Elul 5770
One could think that; but one would be wrong.
After spending a perfectly lovely morning being driven north toward Albany to perform a wedding, having a warm and engaging conversation with my hosts in the comfort of their car; and enjoying the splendid view of a chuppah set up on the bank of the Mohawk River in as scenic a delight as one could imagine for a celebration, I was hurtled, unwittingly into the belly of beast of Amtrak. What a come down!
Five minutes after the train's scheduled departure from Schenectady, there was an announcement over the PA system that we were facing a "minor delay" and the scheduled 2 pm train to New York City would not depart until 2.45 pm. I took my leave of the platform, bounded down the decaying and decrepit staircase, and took in a Sunday afternoon walk in Schenectady. The people were exceedingly friendly and the downtown area near the train station seems to be undergoing a kind of gentrified revival. I grabbed a coffee and strolled around, looking at through the windows of various places celebrating Schenectady and Thomas Edison as the American birthplace of electricity and television (a particularly timely celebration, given the impending Emmy Awards on television Sunday night.) The homeless and mentally ill wandered freely on the quiet streets, reminding me of the local familiarity of certain figures in Madison. The larger metropolitan areas tend to absorb into anonymity the nation's homeless; the smaller cities become a larger, more familiar stage for us to face our failings as a society.
The 45 minute train delay eventually became 75 minute delay and not too long after the train arrived, we pulled into another station, only to sit for another 30 minutes while the train was manually separated into two with an engine attachment executed so that our section could be dragged down the Hudson River into Penn Station. What a sad, grim journey it was!
It goes without saying that people sat on the train mindlessly blabbing into their cellphones or numbing themselves into oblivion with their iPods. I mean, on a certain level, who can blame them? Anything to ignore the near meltdown of civic responsibility and regional pride, right? I have to say, on more than one occasion, I was nearly convinced that it was not an engine that was shlepping us along the tracks to the "greatest city in the world" but a pack of neglected mules, spawned in a field outside Albany like some of that stuff which passes as legislation these days.
If there's a race against the clock until we reach the proverbial tipping point of total and utter abandon of core societal values like how you move citizens between the two most important cities in the state, decay appears to be outpacing renewal. And that's just not good. With the exception of Mayor Bloomberg, I don't think there's yet to emerge a state-wide leader with the voice and principles to attempt to clean up the mess that is New York. The Assembly and Senate have virtually failed; the Governor's Mansion is a national joke; and it remains to be seen what an elected Governor Andrew Cuomo will accomplish. New York's most powerful House member, Charles Rangel, is caught up in an embarrassing scandal and his leading opponent, Adam Clayton Powell IV, doesn't quite inspire competence.
As a religious leader, I'm hardly one to counsel "escape into faith." Who would listen, anyway?
My train eventually churned me, like compacted trash, into the bowels of Penn Station. The disorganized disembarking from our train was final proof that no one was in charge. Construction on the 2/3 and 1/9 lines presented us with the usual Sunday disruptions and the ear-splitting distortion of the train announcements and passenger anesthetization dazed me--was this the "Taking of Pelham One Two Three" all over again?
The Edison Museum was closed; the trains were falling apart. Earlier in the day on the drive up, however, the rest stops were packed with cars and customers, enjoying Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts--even Burger King at 9 am. Ah, that rugged individualism of America! So much for me; so little for you. On the 2 train back to Brooklyn, I gave my pocket change to a young man who asked. Others looked away. By 7.45 pm on a Sunday night, charity had taken a seat.
Walking into the apartment at the end of a terrible journey, the television was on and the Emmys were about to begin. "The first television demonstration was at a theater, right here in Schenectady," I heard in my head. It was a voice from the platform of the Amtrak Station, returning to me. While waiting, earlier in the day, a mom took some time to share some history of their hometown with the kids, who were packed and headed for the city.
What was that?
"History repeats itself as farce?"