Thursday, October 13, 2011

New Jersey... still a bit crap

Sorry, Jersey girls and boys. My prejudices about New Jersey are still not being challenged. Even the journey from New York is a bummer.

On Monday I got on a train at Penn Station. Hemmed in on all sides by Madison Square Garden, the world's largest post office, Brother Jimmy's BBQ and other Midtown horrors, Penn is a cesspit of poor signage and latent violence. Everyone there is either totally lost, about to start shouting at strangers, or both. Unless they are panhandlers (or as the Brits call them, beggars), in which case they are in exactly the right place and are fairly content.

One of the reasons people get lost in Penn is that it is actually three separate stations, for three separate train services (Long Island Railroad, Amtrak, and New Jersey Transit), all of which are pretending the others don't exist. The first time I went there, to get an NJ Transit train, I scrutinised the Amtrak ticket machines and departures board for ages, looking for my train. I was completely baffled. Till I realised that just a few steps away was an almost replica station set up - the ticket machines, the departures boards, the Hudson News, the Zaros bakery - for NJ Transit. Most confusing.

From horrible Penn I took the train to even more horrible Middlesex County, NJ. There, the Big Corp office lurks in a flat, featureless landscape where one depressing suburb merges into the next.

Courtesy of Big Corp I got to do a nice compare and contrast. On Wednesday I got on a train at Grand Central. It is beautiful and grand and has good shops. It also has a jazz pianist knocking out jazz and blues standards on a Bontempi in the dining concourse. Most civilised. The terminal houses an oyster bar, a cocktail bar, and some good delis. It is also flattering lit, with lovely soft yellow bulbs. And the signs are clear and logical. A lovely station.

I could have stayed all day but instead I got on a train to Valhalla, a town on the border of upstate New York and Connecticut. Here, there are lots of pretty, old clapboard houses, with slightly overgrown gardens and rope swings on weeping willows. To get to Big Corp we drove around a little valley, with a huge reservoir surrounded by a dense forest where the leaves are just starting to turn gold.

The Big Corp learning centre here appears to have been modelled on a seventies ski lodge, all big chunks of stone and untreated wood. Big Corp people stride about talking importantly on their phones, or networking freely in one of the common areas. There is a lounge with a fake fire in it, which is billed as 'The Fireside Lounge: Thoughtful Food for Thoughtful Minds.' In the cafeteria they had a self-serve vat of icecream, and you could help yourself to toppings.

Yup, New Jersey loses every time. (Unless it's trashy TV you're after, in which case, bring on the guidos.)

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