Across Pennsylvania

Train Stop at Downington, PA
Train Stop at Downington, PA

The train ride started near the swollen, but not quite flooded Susquehanna River that flowed right through Harrisburg, the state capitol. After leaving the station and passing underneath a maze of overhead power lines, electrical transformers and metal connectors the train ride headed for greener pastures – literally.

At first glance, the countryside looked like normal fields, but a small team of horses pulling an old plow through the green terrain was a dead giveaway. I knew I was heading  into the heart of the Amish country. Except for the team of draft animals the view from the train window was pretty normal. Only a pair of young Amish boys headed home from school broke the familiarity of the rural scene.

But these two were different. Instead of bicycles they rode small scooters which they pushed with one foot. The mechanical devices worked quite well, for with one powerful stroke of the leg, each boy was able to coast quite a ways along the side of the  highway. Their movement reminded me of skateboarders, but their transportation had two wheels rather than four and the front handlebar was situated at waist level, several feet above the ground level.

Definitely lacking were the baggy shorts, oversized T’s and backwards baseball caps that skateboarders love. In their place the boys were dressy, blue cotton shirts and long khaki pants. Several books were tied to the back of the youths in a manner that resembled an old-fashioned satchel. From the safe distance I watched the boys as they nimbly glided down one small incline and then pushed their way back up the other side.

Seconds later, the scene had vanished, like it never happened. Their was no way to revisit the intriguing event, but somehow I could not stop wondering if I was looking at the past or the present. With our fluctuating gas prices, volatile oil supply and increasingly difficult foreign wars, I could easily imagine I was also looking into the future.


Night Train

daybreak from a train window

This past weekend I was in New York city for the first time in over 20 years. The main function was a family event that took place on Saturday afternoon, so I didn’t get much time to explore the city until about 5 PM, when all my people hopped on a charter bus back to PA, while I got a chance to wander around the city for a few hours until my train pulled out of Penn Station at 3 A.M. As it turned out it was a most fascinating few hours. NYC is like that; a great place no matter what the time of day (or night).

First stop was the Whitney Museum, where the “Abstract Paintings of Georgia O’Keefe” were enjoying their last weekend, before they got taken down. As a result the place was mobbed, and I had less than a hour to enjoy the exhibit, but as far as I was concerned there was not much else to see. That’s because the museum curators had taken down the permanent collection and were preparing to display the Biennial in February. Actually, this was a blessing in disguise for I got to spend the whole time wondering through the multitude of people who had packed the third floor in a sometimes successful effort to find an unobstructed glimpses at one of  the many wonderful abstractions of Ms. O’Keefe.

sunrise from a train
sunrise from a train leaving NYC

Her abstract really is quite unique, for it is nothing short of visual poetry. And this exhibition had a few of her real classics. Included were some of the small intense watercolors she made while teaching art in West Texas (one of the most visually unique places in the country), some botanical abstracts, the tiny black sphere on a large black plane piece, clouds, desert doors and more. To round out the show, there were even a few of Stieglitz’s photographs with Georgia as the au natural model. No wonder the place was jammed; it was a very intelligent show.

From the Whitney I headed downtown wandered around the East Village for a cold half hour in search of the former art scene that once graced this part of town and found little. Instead New Yorker pizza and a warm place to sit pulled me inside. Then back into the cold again and across Houston Street to Soho. Did not get as far as all the Soho galleries, but instead found a nice book store with a coffee bar, definitely a sign of the times, if there ever was one.

night train 2
smoke from a power plant viewed from the Amtrak train

Then it was back on the subway and up to 23th street, where I stopped by my bed and breakfast to pick up my luggage and then on to Penn Station, where I had a reserved seat on the 3:10 to Boston. Since I had a few hours to kill, I swung  by Grand Central just to take a peak at what a real train station looked like. After checking out the classic late 19th century architecture I arrived at the modern and low ceilinged Penn Station and hunkered down for the lengthy wait.

The scene at Penn Station was definitely unique, for the cold weather had forced quite a few homeless into the large labyrinth of walkways, fast food joints and waiting areas. The city police were not in  a mood to force loiterers back out onto the street, so they just dealt with the troublemakers of which there were only a few. Because I was a ticketed Amtrak rider, I got to sit in a special lounge and wait for my train to leave, an event which kept getting postponed.

Finally, at 6:30 the Boston Special pulled out of Penn Station with only several dozen passengers to fill the long line of cars. Free food and drinks were offered to all to compensate for the long delay, so I had a beer and hot dog for breakfast, as I got to watch the horizon turn red above the Long Island Sound. The sunrise actually made the wait worthwhile, as it created a surreal world of solid black shadows, shimmering lights and an indigo and crimson sunrise. My amazing little point-and-shoot digital handled the dark exterior scene as well as can be expected. (you can view the results above) It was a perfect complement to the O’Keefe show.

Buon Anno, Everett Autumn

day view
view from a train window