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Features

All Aboard!

10 things to love (and hate) about Penn Station

Anyone who commutes into Manhattan on a regular basis needn’t be told that Penn Station is one of the busiest transportation hubs in the United States. Simultaneously servicing the Long Island Railroad (LIRR), New Jersey Transit (NJT), Amtrak and the MTA (subways and buses), this major transportation hub serves 430,000 people daily, (roughly a thousand every 90 seconds). And with all this commotion going on, believe it or not, there’s about as much to love about Penn Station as there is to hate about it.

Things To Love

Retail-a-palooza — Cooling your heels while waiting for the 6:20 to Ronkonkoma might be completely unbearable if you didn’t have plenty of shops where you can abuse your credit card. The K-Mart alone is worth the price of admission with its three floors of merchandise that run an impressive gamut. You can buy a portable shelter, oodles of camping equipment, enough clothing for a small Third World nation and well-stocked supermarket that can substitute for your local Pathmark/Waldbaum’s in a pinch if you could figure out a way to get your cart on the train. And while this site of U2’s 1997 Pop Tour press conference might be enough to suit all your shopping needs, there are still tens of other retailers sprinkled throughout Penn Station. They include GNC (vitamin shop), Tiecoon (tie place), multiple Hudson Booksellers, Petal Pusher and Radio Shack.

Eat, Drink And Be Merry — You never have to worry about a lack of eatery options and drinking establishments where you can wet your whistle. Along with the usual Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Nathan’s and Taco Bell, there’s also Tim Horton’s (Canadian doughnut shop), Caruso’s Pizza, Penn Sushi, Knot Just Pretzels and Zaro’s Bakery.

Those looking for adult libations can go the T.G.I.Friday’s route or better yet, pop into Tracks Raw Bar & Grill. With an Irish pub ambiance, Tracks is where you can get oysters to go with your Guinness along with a wide array of grub including burgers, sandwiches, salads and entrees that run the gamut from Shepherds Pie and lobster ravioli to chops, ribs and salmon.

See The World — Maybe not the globe but Amtrak does provide plenty of destinations for departure if you’ve got a jones for the road. The places you can buy a train ticket to include Boston, Miami, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Albany, Dover, Del. and St. Albans, Vt.

Safety Dance — One of the more prominent facets of Penn Station that stand out is the Transit Police Station that has a constant flow of law enforcement officials coming in and out of it regardless of the time of day or night. And that’s just uniformed officers. Throughout the terminal are even more plainclothes cops and numerous National guardsmen patrolling the area festooned in camouflage and toting AK-47s.

Ticket To Ride — The numerous kiosks and teller windows in place mean that while there’s always going to be some sort of wait to purchase train passage, it’s not as if you’ll ever wonder where you need to go to pay your fare.

Things To Hate

From Across A Crowded Room — If ever there was a place that could either trigger or help cause a severe agoraphobic reaction, Penn Station has to be near the top of the list. Rush hour in particular is the kind of elbow-to-jowl experience that can test even the saintliest person’s patience.

Police On My Back — While the aforementioned police presence does lend some semblance of security, particularly when you’re waiting for your train during the wee hours of the morning, the post-9/11 appearance of military personnel walking around with assault rifles and the notion that you can possibly be detained for doing something as innocuous and touristy as taking pictures is pretty disconcerting. (So don’t do it).

Dirty Old World — Yes, Penn Station can be ridiculously frantic, but the amount of filth and garbage generated on an hourly basis (never mind daily) is fairly disgusting. The floor alone looks as if it’s teeming with the kind of microbes and germs that might be at the heart of a pandemic waiting to happen.

I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down — The worst part about waiting, well, besides waiting, is if you don’t have a place to park yourself. Now while there is a LIRR commuter lounge, and a significantly more upscale one for Amtrak, the truth of the matter is that demand overwhelmingly outstrips supply when it comes to having somewhere to sit. So unless you’re chowing down at a particular establishment or carrying a seat around with you, the only options for eating or drinking involve standing, or even worse, planting yourself on the floor (shudder).

Under The Influence — Now while there’s nothing wrong with having a cool beverage or two before you ride the rails home from either work or a night out on the town, there’s always that class of drinker whose lack of restraint makes things more interesting (and generally unbearable). With there being no bar cars on the train, all you need is one drunk (though they don’t travel solo) to cause major disruptions with belligerent behavior and a general inability to hold his or her alcohol.