(The following discouraging words first ran in this newspaper on June 23, 2013.)
Is it just me, or have events lately taken a turn toward the retro?
First we learned that Uncle Sam has decided it's time to start digging around again in the odd hope of finally finding the remains of Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters union leader who disappeared in 1975 from a diner where he was having a little chat with alleged Mafia figures Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone and Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano. So far, the mystery remains.
Then it was reported that portly Kim Jong Un (grandson of North Korea's Great Leader Kim Il Sung and son of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, so let's call him the Great Big Leader) has given his inner-circle boot-lickers copies of "Mein Kampf," an inspiring book by that other great leader, Herr Hitler. The title means "my struggle," but it's not evident what Mr. Kim is struggling with, except that he's clearly losing the battle of the bulge.
Closer to home, plans have been revealed for glamorous new train depots in Meriden and Wallingford that may dispel, once and for all, the threadbare, rattletrap image that rail transportation in this zone has had, at least for the past half century, during which ownership of the same shabby rolling stock, trundling along at a leisurely pace on the same rusty rails — and the same gloomy stations, with baggage rooms that probably haven't been used since Eisenhower was in the White House — passed from the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Co. to Penn Central and then to some newfangled thing called Amtrak.
Here's a scene I remember from the early 1960s: After visiting relatives here, a couple from England were in the waiting room at the Berlin depot, on their way back to New York, when a large chip of custard-colored paint, having hung on to the ceiling for as many years as it could, finally let go, landing on the lady's head. Nice first impression of America.
But at least there was a waiting room. And benches. And steam radiators that made that banging noise that steam radiators always seem to make. Oh, and restrooms. Nothing fancy, but there they were.
And that's what's so brilliant about the current $647.3 million plan to upgrade rail service between Springfield and New Haven: No bathrooms, so no bathrooms to clean; no ticket window, so nobody on the payroll to staff it; maybe no benches; and certainly no radiators, because, as it turns out, there's actually no waiting “room” at all. These new "stations," it turns out, will be "boarding platforms" only, with kiosks to sell tickets. They may look like buildings, but there won't be much to keep the icy wind from blowing right through them.
The open design, with lots of glass, will at least let the police see inside easily. But none of the new stations will have restrooms, which is just as well because, without an attendant — without somebody right there and "in charge" — any public restroom is bound to become a nightmare of filth and crime.
How much, after all, were we expecting to get for our $647.3 million?
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.