Skip to content
Penn Station Stairs Down


Pennsylvania Station, Lost and Found—Linda Makes a Connection

Pennsylvania Station, Lost and Found — Linda Makes a Connection

James loves the sound of the trains. He loves the rocking back and forth of the trains. The big, shiny, toy car feel of the trains.

He came by train from the Carolinas years ago. He came to work, to be near the trains, to hear the sounds and to be rocked by them. James left his wife and daughter behind.

When I met him he was leaning over the railing, looking down to where the trains would come, to where the people would rise up out of the hole in the ground.

He was in the station in winter, in a light spring jacket. But James was smiling and leaning, just happy to be near the trains. He sidled up to a young woman and, smiling, asked her to smile. And the woman did smile, very briefly, then moved away. And then he came over to me.

He didn’t ask me to smile. He stood next to me for a while, both of us looking down into the hole, waiting for the people to come up. I knew if they came up, then I could go down. He just liked to watch them come up, fresh from their experiences with the train.

Finally, he spoke. 

For a few minutes he told me stories about how an old southern man survives on the streets in a big northern city. About the kindness of strangers. About how the police let him stay in the station on cold nights because he never causes any trouble. He told me how much he would love to go and see his daughter again, but how that might not be such a good idea after all these years.

James talked. I listened. And the people started coming up the stairs, up from that hole in the ground. For some, it was an everyday occurrence, a way to get from here to there. James couldn’t understand that. Trains were his temple, Pennsylvania Station his sacred place.

The people who came up were making room on the train for me by their leaving. I was going back to Boston. Going on the train because I, too, loved the train. The swaying back and forth of it, the darks and lights of it, the leather seats of it, the amniotic hum of it, even the dirty windows of it. You’re connected to something on a train.

I don’t know why, but I reached into my purse and pulled out a $20 bill and held it out for him. James had never asked me for a penny. He refused, and folded my hand around the bill, gently pushing it toward me. I insisted he take it. For a second or two, we looked hard into each other’s eyes, him holding my bill-encrusted fist. I saw his years, the yellow in his eyes where the white once was. I saw his longing. I did not see unhappiness, however. He was stronger than I, and I knew it at that moment. I wondered what he saw in my eyes.

Finally I forced the bill upon him and said I had to go to catch my train. Out of words then, we hugged each other like old friends, James seeing me off on my journey. I would go down into that hole and find a seat on that train and I would sit and think about this for hours as the train rumbled north. I would think about James and that dirty, pungent-smelling life-saving hug for a long time. Two strangers looking for home, finding a home, lost and found in Pennsylvania Station.