Today’s journey took us from Rhinebeck, New York to Yardley, Pennsylvania - some 200 miles south. We took the train from Poughkeepsie to Grand Central, then another from Penn Station to Trenton, where our new host Patti, picked us up and took us home.
We’d been on the Hudson Valley line before, which follows the river to Poughkeepsie, and knew how the sheer scale of the Hudson makes our Thames look a bit, well, pitiful, really. But today, with the vast river frozen over and with 4 inches of fresh snow overnight, the view from the train was spectacular. The contrast between the two train rides was stark. Like the flight from San Francisco a few days earlier, I had a warning that the NY to Trenton leg of this journey was going to be more stressful than the first leg. As taxi driver dropped us outside Penn station and I went round to the trunk to get our bags. I nearly jumped out of my skin as I heard a blip from a NYPD car siren right behind me. “You’re not allowed to make drop offs here, you know that” said the car. They don’t bother to get out and talk, they just use the PA system. “Get back in the car and move along”. I felt like a criminal in some impersonal future world. We get back in the cab while the NYPD enforcement machine moves off to “serve an protect” us by scaring the hell out of some other criminals. So we jumped back out before the law machine can make it back around the block. In Penn station they have a great way of boarding the train. With 5 minutes to go to the train’s departure time, they announce the track number and everyone who wants to travel into New Jersey has to squeeze down an escalator which is about a tenth of an inch wider than our bags and through a doorway on to the platform, which itself is about 6 inches wider than the escalator. I wanted to get the iBook out there and then and type up some of this before I forget it, but looking around the train, it’s not the sort of place you’d want to do that. A guy with a gangster coat, a crew cut and dark glasses sits in the seat in front. He looks pretty scary, I try not to make eye contact and decide to commit it to memory and type it up later.
The view from the train to Trenton was as ugly as the earlier train was scenic. I want to get the camera out and capture some of this stuff, but our gangster friend is now having quite an animated conversation with his girlfriend, and I don’t feel it’s the time or place to get a £1000 camera out. I know you can’t judge a place by the things you see next to a railway line, but the people of Newark have found a new art form industrial decay. Derelict factories, scrap yards and polluted water ways feature strongly. Just as you think you’ve left the industry behind and entered a residential area, a tyre dump nestles between the houses. Someone’s back yard is full of what looks like rusty old barbecues. Or maybe they were lawn mowers. There must be 500 hundred of them in one small back yard. In places, graffiti actually improves the scene, but the spirit of the artists is defeated by the scale of the canvas they have to work with. The authorities should be paying the kids to do this, it makes a huge improvement. So perfectly paintable surfaces decay un grafitti’d.
The gangster is now shouting at his girlfriend. “My mother made a f***ing good job of bringing me up, end of f***ing story” he’s saying. “End of f***ing story” he repeats every time the girl tries to get a word in. They seem to be arguing about whether or not they should start a family. The way this argument is shaping up, I don’t think it’s going to happen! I want to eat the Doritos that Linda bought at the station, but this isn’t the time or place to open a 99c snack, so I decide to eat them later. Our gangster friend finally looses his patience and stomps off to another seat. “You can get off the f***ing train on your own” he shouts. I finally feel safe enough to open the Doritos. A while later, the girlfriend sneaks off to another carriage, while her “man” is looking the other way.
By Princeton, the view has improved. The houses are surrounded by lawns, and nice cars sit on driveways. Gangster gets off at Princeton Junction, but not before noticing his girl has gone. Now he’s really pissed off, and he’s looking up and down the platform for her as the train pulls out. If she had any sense at all, she’d stay on ‘til the next stop and get a cab home. We get off at Trenton and are pleased to see Patti waiting for us, and I’m even happier that I don’t have to drag Linda’s bag any further.
So, the picture, remember this about the picture? A view from the train across the Hudson. It's great shooting through dirty windows huh?