Rush Hour Rat Race

People are running in every direction. Law enforcement line the corridors, eyes darting back and forth as hordes of people race by. One NYPD officer paces back and forth with a menacing German Shepherd, the leash wrapped tightly around his hand as the dog prowls the premises, sniffing for suspicious substances. A man in a U.S. Army uniform stands attentively in camouflage, watching the crowds vigilantly, one hand resting on the gun strapped to his thigh, ready to make a move if necessary.

This is Penn Station, “the busiest train station in the Western Hemisphere,” according to the Municipal Art Society of New York, where half a million passengers pass through every day. It’s late afternoon on a Thursday in early September; the air is hot and thick and it smells of hot dogs, popcorn, coffee, beer, and musky cologne that’s starting to spoil after being warmed with body heat all day. It’s rush hour and there are people everywhere. Big time tables hang up in the air with the ever-changing train schedules of the Long Island Rail Road, listing the times, track numbers, destinations, and connections in vivid colors, changing every few minutes as trains come and go.

Crowds of people pack together, all standing in front of the time table with their necks craned up towards the ceiling and their eyes focused on the colored slabs that list their destination of choice. They stand there in a cluster, staring intently.

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