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Train Station Nostalgia

Updated on September 1, 2016
PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

Justin W. Price is a freelance writer, blogger, and award-nominated author based out of Juneau, Alaska.


There's something about train stations. Something classic. Something endearing. Something familiar. Building styles seem to change over time- but not train stations. You know them when you see them. They've got high ceilings, shiny floors, dark wooden benches, and seem to be built like an old Roman dome turned on its' side.

Lots of cool things have happened cinematically in our train stations. Who could forget the climactic scene in the Untouchables where Elliot Ness and his men wage a gun battle with Al Capones' gangsters in the Chicago Train Station? It's one of my favorite film scenes of all time, made all the more brilliant by the way the train station becomes a character in the film, and not merely a prop or setting. (See also: Carlito's Way.)

Union Station in Portland, Oregon is an exceptional example of something beautiful, functional and familiar.

From half a mile off, you can see the tall, burnt orange brick clock tower bearing the words "Union Station Go By Train." Of course, in keeping with the retro theme, the clock itself is analog. Not only does the clock tower serve as something pleasing to the ole eye balls, it also serves as a beacon. If you the Pearl District or Nob Hill in Portland, Oregon, you will be able to see this tower and marvel at its' handsome facade.

The building itself is striking, with it's burnt orange tile and soft grey concrete walls. Out front, in the pick up area are ornate green posts holding up a roof, to keep arriving passengers- and those greeting them- dry- essential here in the very wet and rainy Pacific Northwest. There is an English style garden in the center of the circular drive way, which is also the designated smoking area, since the building itself does not allow smoking (Thanks to Oregon's oppressive and fascist government, you're lucky these days if you can smoke a cigarette in your own closet!).


A Journey Back

Sitting on one the benches, perhaps smoking some tobacco (Or, as in the case of the young bearded hippie across from you, something a little less legal) and looking north at the train station itself, you cannot help but be taken back in time and see men in fedoras and women with flowers in their hair, embracing one another as the they get ready to part. The men have been unable to find work since the Stock Market crashed a few months earlier. Maybe they'd find work in another city. You can see dough boys waving their white hats out the window as their dames cry and wonder if they'll see their boyfriends and husbands again. After the War, when some of these men return, they will embrace again. They will make love to each other and create the Baby Boom generation.

Moving inside, you are instantly struck by the strong, resplendent marble walls and flooring, the dark Cherry wooden benches and ticketing area, and the high ceilings. The main waiting area is tall, elegant and classically train station-y. The high walls and the marble give the room a cold, impersonal feel, but the walls are beautiful and smooth to the touch, contrasting sharply with the harsh sounds surrounding you..

But, the walls have other drawbacks, primarily, the acoustics.

The loud speaker system over which train arrival and departure information is shared, is difficult to decipher as the sound bounces off the walls and gets lost in the echo-y chamber-like ceiling. You are forced to wonder how, in this day and age of clear communication technologies, why this technology has seemingly passed by the architects of train stations. Shortly before arrivals and departures when the main waiting area is filled with passengers moving and talking, their shoes echoing eerily off the marble flooring, you must strain to hear the voice coming over the loudspeaker system. In it's own, unexplainable way, the communication problems add to the allure of the building itself.

Moving into the secondary waiting areas, we find a room that is sparsely furnished and has much lower ceilings. In contrast to the beautiful design of the main room, this secondary waiting area is somewhat ugly, but still has the look and feel of a train station from the Prohibition Era. You can see Al Capone chomping on his cigar (because these were, after all, times when one could still smoke indoors. It was drinking, of course, which was forbidden), reading the paper and cursing out Elliot Ness.

If Al Capone had ever visited Portland, that is.

From the neon lighting in the snack area to the hall way with the protruding placards over the bathrooms which indicate whether the bathroom is for a man or a woman, this smaller waiting area exudes classical, almost Art-Deco like, beauty, even without being as ornate as the main room of the station.

Union Station is very beautiful and walking into and through it is like stepping back in time- to a time when train travel was far more common then cars and airplanes. The building has not strayed much from it's original construction back in the late 1800's, and you like it that way. you wouldn't mind living here- if such a silly thing were allowed.

all rights reserved. copyright Justin W. price 2011

Thanks for Reading.

Thanks for Reading.

PDXKaraokeGuy, also known as Justin W. Price, is the managing editor at efiction horror. Husband to andrea, father to two dogs. fan. tattooed. He is am amateur theologian with a rabid sweet tooth.He resides in a suburb of Portland, Oregon.He has a poetry book available for Amazon Kindle, and also maintains a blog, FirstBlog. His work has been featured in the Crisis Chronicles, efiction Magazine, The Hellroaring Review, the Bellwether Review and the Rusty Nail. Please visit his profile page for more information. Thanks!

The Untouchables Train Battle Scene. One of my Favorite Scenes in all of Cinema


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