When I find myself anywhere near the corner of 34th Street and 8th Avenue, I’m more than likely stressfully pushing through a horde of bodies en route to some other stressful thing or other Uptown, always just barely avoiding a Vision Zero demise. But maybe today the humidity was low enough that my human brain pushed back against the reptile parts, and instead of cursing this fucking sticky piece of shit city, I halted appreciatively before the big columns and broad stairs of the Post Office. If anything could calm every impulse in my body to flee this transit hub nightmare, it’s this truly arresting sight filled to the top with beautiful people.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Had I been paying attention before, not simply dodging pigeon shit, I may have noticed that this Post Office has, deservingly, an official name. The James A. Farley Building, and it’s designed by the same McKim, Mead & White firm whose famous train station once stood in place of the design hell that is today’s Penn Station. I’ve never understood what insanity might have led the rich developers of this city to stick us with the clinical abuses of Penn, but the Post Office at least allows us a glimpse of what the original may have looked like in its Beaux Arts glory.
To some, today’s Penn may seem more appropriate for its environs, which can feel a lot like San Francisco’s Tenderloin. And like the Tenderloin, there’s no other place quite like it in this city. The main difference, I think, is that the down and out junkies and homeless mentally ill haven’t simply been penned off here by the cops in order to be more easily surveilled, victims of the city’s murderously aggressive gentrification. Rather, they’ve chosen this strange nexus between Chelsea, Hudson Yards and Midtown to cohabitate this space delimiting the city’s bustling working class rush hour (which seems, here, to be all hours). I see students and accountants, tourists and construction workers all drinking in the same bars, while right outside a one-footed transgendered woman stripdances an internet kiosk. Neighbors, that’s all.
So for once, today, I took a moment to look at this abundance of life, not just curse it on my way to the next mind-numbing work project. People here seem genuinely happy at times, together haunting this or that cheesy bar on the corner to share a $2 Bud between 5 and 7pm. The magic really is in the variety of life, and up here, not everyone is wearing the same goddam pair of $200 Huaraches.
I hope those Post Office steps long survive the final days of the empire.