D103.com: Archive
This is an archived page of D103.com, a daily weblog by Daryl Lang.

Notes on Penn Station

» Today I'm catching a train out of a train station in limbo. Penn Station is the busiest rail hub in the United States, yet in its present form you could easily walk past it on the street and miss it entirely. There are signs, yes, but no other obvious clues that you're walking over a complex that encompasses New York City's only Amtrak station, two commuter rail networks, and platforms for seven subway lines. You'll see no line of taxis waiting, no vast rail yard, no sound of whistles as trains depart.

This low-profile Penn Station is the ghost of railroad present, a utilitarian and unphotogenic travel center. It encloses what must be a mile of newsstands, fast-food restaurants, and breakfast counters, and it's attached to one of Manhattan's two Kmarts. Yet it pales compared to Grand Central Station, a few blocks uptown and east, which is the famous terminal for Metro North trains. Worse, the current Penn Station is haunted by the ghost of railroad past, a majestic, nine-acre building that was once the flagship of the now-defunct Pennsylvania Railroad. The grand, old Penn Station was leveled in the 1960s and replaced by the Madison Square Garden arena, some office buildings, and the subterranean Penn Station we use now. If we care to summon the ghost of railroad future, we should look at the proposal to move the station one block west into the dramatic Farley Post Office building. Having a beautiful rail station in New York is vital to the city's image, especially considering Penn Station serves more people daily than all three New York airports combined.

Before I catch my train this morning, I'll wait in the main waiting area for Amtrak departures, which is dominated by a giant mechanical sign in the center of the room. Passengers waiting for their trains fix their eyes on the sign as its plastic letters and numbers click and flip to show the departure times. (You can also wait on the floor below, closer to the actual trains, and watch for the announcements on a video screen, but it's lonelier down there.) As if to diffuse the tensions of waiting for a train, Penn Station pipes in soothing classical music between train announcements in the waiting area. As the moving sign shuffles itself like a deck of cards, travelers try to be the first to decipher the newest listings on the board, then bolt for their terminals the instant their track numbers appear. A cold and grim station, but not without glimpses of beauty.

- Daryl

Not based on Mel Gibson's movie...

» Please allow me to promote St. JME's Passion Play, the annual Good Friday musical put on at my church in Park Slope tonight at 7:30. The play tells the story of Jesus' crucifixion and stars many members of the congregation, including the multitalented Jessica.

» My friend Millie recently set up a new blog. Check it out.

» I'll be in Maryland tomorrow and Sunday to see my family.

» Report: Cats have been living with humans for 10,000 years.

- Daryl

You've got questions, I've got answers

» Here's a question from a reader:

how do you become a dj? i'm 16 and i always wanted to be one since i was 11 years old, so right now i'm just looking for someone who can show me how to become one. so can you please help me out?

Well, I'm no radio expert (I don't work in radio and I've only met a few people who do), but I'll try to answer the question with the slim knowledge I have. Funny thing is, I wanted to be a radio guy for a long time. There are some good radio jobs out there, which can be yours if you work hard, but there are also some really crummy radio jobs. You have to rely on luck.

One way to improve your luck is to go to college and study broadcast journalism, spend time at the student radio station, and make friends with a local station manager. The station manager might hire you to start on weekends or overnights. Also, keep up with industry news by reading publications like FMQB and Broadcasting & Cable. There are far more people who want to do radio than there are jobs, so lots of the jobs don't pay very well. I don't know what a music deejay makes, but radio news directors in small markets earn a median salary of $18,800, according to this survey.

To get ahead in radio, you need a good voice, good luck, and a good ear for what people want to hear. I think I read once that Carson Daly got his start by working different shifts at two radio stations that were 100 miles apart. He must have never gotten any sleep. My advice is part Hulk Hogan and part Casey Kasem: Train hard, eat your vitamins, keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.

Who else has a question?

- Daryl

A ghost is born, etc.

» I got an e-mail from David Hoe yesterday. He is out of Fahullah and in Kuwait City, awaiting his return to the United States later this month. Get home safe, Dave!

» The new Wilco album is now available online. Will it be as good as the last one?

» Penn State folks: Anybody else going to be in State College the weekend of April 24-25?

» I read two poems yesterday at the poetry reading at my church. Here they are: 1, 2.

- Daryl

Where were you ten years ago?

» This week marks the tenth anniversary of Kurt Cobain's suicide. I remember feeling sad when I read the news of his death in 1994 (on AOL — probably the first news story I saw break online). Still, I feel like I never really got Nirvana. I've always liked Nirvana's songs, and I still turn up my radio whenever "Smells Like Teen Spirit" comes on because it's a great rock song. But why is it such a milestone of popular music? Just because VH1 says so? Cobain's down-on-the-world attitude never really resonated with me. In high school, I was too busy running around in the woods with the Boy Scouts and working on the school newspaper to well up with anger and self-loathing. I never found any meaning in Cobain's lyrics of bitter nonsense ("What else could I blame? / Aqua seafoam shame"). I preferred R.E.M., with Michael Stipe's much more earnest brand of disaffectedness ("Richard said withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy").

» Today is going to be a busy day. If my timing is right, I might get to see Cal Ripken Jr. and Billy Ripken today at a book signing in lower Manhattan (I may go as part of a freelance story I'm working on). Then, after work, there's the latest installment of the Park Slope Poetry Project. Will I have time to write a poem to read there?

- Daryl

Just a cold Monday

» Mike Eshoo has posted several photo galleries from his Army platoon in Mosul, Iraq on his web site. Check it out.

» I was thinking about taking my next vacation to Spain and Morocco in the fall. With the recent terrorism in Spain, however, I'm rethinking my plans.

» Think you've got problems? At least you (probably) don't have to worry about killer vampire bats.

- Daryl

Darkness saving time

» Last night, Cheryl and Antonio invited me to a party hosted by one of Antonio's friends, Jeffrey, an art director who lives in a giant loft in an old warehouse in Williamsburg. On our way there, the F and G trains were screwy, so we were stuck without transport. At the subway station, we met another dude, a kindergarden teacher named Ryan, who was also traveling from Park Slope to Williamsburg. The four of us tried walking to the next G station down the line. On the way, along 9th Street in Gowanus, we heard a rustling and saw what appeared to be a living, oozing pile of garbage. We all leapt back in shock when we realized it was swarming with plump, enormous rats. When we got to the next subway stop, a sign informed us that there were no trains at this station either, so Ryan called a Town Car and agreed split the fare four ways. I bought a Yoo-Hoo while we were waiting for the car and drank it on the ride there along the BQE.

The party was high concept. Jeffrey made us strong drinks with Godiva liqueur, and a DJ played tuneless dance music on a Powerbook with iTunes. It was almost too loud to mingle, and no one danced. After a while, the playlist seemed to run out, and the computer played a White Stripes song and then "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" by The Darkness. People began to sing along — totally uncool — and the DJ ran over to quickly shut it off and replace it with some wordless trip-hop.

The loft was a massive space with no interior walls, creating a great room with a bed in one corner, a flat-screen TV in another, a six-burner Viking gas range in another, and a Vespa in yet another. After waiting in a long line for the bathroom, I fetched a beer from the fridge and looked around for a bottle opener, without success. Another guy, a tall dude in a skirt with his hair in blond dreadlocks, was holding an unopened Heineken and appeared similarly puzzled. "We both seem to have the same problem," I told him, and we immediately bonded over our shared misfortune — like us and Ryan at the G train earlier. Dreadlock Dude and I began riffling through the kitchen drawers until we found something that looked like it would open a bottle. It did.

A band, friends of Jeffrey's, set up their instruments and began to play around 12:30. I think they were playing emo, a style of rock music best identified by a lead singer whose face and vocal tone make it seem as if he is giving birth. Again, no one danced, but we all clapped, appreciative of the intense, dark, unknowable pain the lead singer was apparently putting himself through. Along the outside wall of this loft, the windows afforded a view of the north side of the Williamsburgh Bank Building clock tower. I wondered if the clock would spin around an extra hour at 2 a.m. to account for Daylight Saving Time. We were too far away to tell.

After the band, the dance music came back on, including that Darkness song, played in full this time. A few people started dancing, including a guy who hilariously tried to do the Pee Wee Herman "Tequila" toe dance and toppled forward onto his hands and knees. The crowd was older, taller, with many piercings, kissing indiscriminately, and a certain breed of arty hipsters I would probably not get along with.

When we were tired and the beer had run out, we left and decided to take the G train home. The G ran a few stops, then stopped and we were all asked to transfer to an empty G train waiting across the platform. Everyone took the same seats in this new train, which was totally identical to the other G train except for a dirtier floor. This G went a few more stops before it quit running altogether, stranding us on Schermerhorn Street. Above ground, we flagged a cab to take us the rest of the way home. At the corner of Flatbush and 4th Avenue, we passed that giant Williamsburgh Bank tower, the tallest building in the borough. The clock said 2:10 — still an hour early.

- Daryl

"Hummingbird" - Wilco - 4.9.04