Wednesday, March 28, 2007


(News-Herald, November 2002)I learned a few things on my recent jaunt to New York City.
First, I learned a relatively easy way to get there. I now recommend driving to the Newark Air Port and taking a bus (or other ground transportation) into Manhattan. It was quick and simple and not too expensive.
Unexpected though it may be, my trip also gave me lots to think about regarding Venango County.
There’s the speed thing. It’s common to talk about life in small towns being slower than the fast-paced urban life. But New Yorkers must have to develop a sort of mobile patience, because it takes comparatively forever to get anywhere. An hour in mid-town Manhattan traffic would have one of us praying for either a bazooka or a small tank.
Manhattan is foot-traffic territory. There are cabs everywhere, carefully observing whatever city ordinance requires that each cab horn be tested roughly every twelve seconds. I did not notice many overweight people in Manhattan.
Not that they don’t respect our way of life. I stumbled across the Amish Market in Manhattan. The Amish in Manhattan seem to be a bit different from our Pennsylvanian Amish; Manhattan Amish, for instance, speak a great deal of Arabic. The market did include many Amish staples—virgin olive oil, salsa, hot sauces, and votive candles.
And if you’re taking the foot tour, you can’t pass up Times Square. There are, of course, the nightly light displays sucking up enough gigawatts to power Venango County for a decade. But there are other treats there as well. The night we walked through, a man in front of MTV studios was attempting to sell information on 429 sex positions for $1.
There was also a six-piece group of street musicians of some native South American extraction (Peruvian, maybe?) playing with recorders, pipes, guitars, and drum. They played what sounded like traditional music, with the traditional open guitar case in front, while another walked through the crowd selling traditional CD’s. It was a bit odd to be looking at a canyon of neon and super-lit advertising set to a soundtrack from a National Geographic special.
But most impressive to me this trip was Grand Central Station. The sheer giant awesomeness of the main concourse, framed by columns and stone and chandeliers, is impressive in its own right. But spend some time in the station and what starts to impress is the attention to detail.
Loading platforms are framed with carefully detailed mosaic work. Air vents in alcoves are set in finely wrought sculptures. You cannot find a place in the whole building that has been simply slopped together.
What slowly begins to sink in is that this is a piece of public construction built by people who were serious about what they were doing. I think, sometimes, that we have somehow become a culture that is no longer serious about making things.
Being serious about building is not a matter of money. It is not serious to throw money indiscriminately at a project; neither is it serious to search single-mindedly for ways to avoid spending money.
What’s serious is to concentrate on doing the project right, which means making the project as if it counts, as if it is going to be a real and significant part of peoples’ lives. Grand Central Station reeks of that sort of seriousness, just as the Belmar Bridge does. These are structures that were built as if they would be important, as if they accomplished goals that were worth doing and therefore worth doing well.
Our most serious structures in Venango County are our churches. They’re built to matter. They were built with the purpose of worship in mind; no church brags about how cheaply or expensively it was built, but shows how well it was built to its purpose. The county is chock full of serious churches.
Sunday night I stood by the site of the World Trade Center. Years ago I stood atop one of the towers and felt as I did Sunday; that it was too large for my brain to grasp. New York is still struggling with the question of how to fill the site with a serious structure.
We are too rarely serious about our purpose. We allow ourselves to be defined by our limits instead of our vision. We slip into worrying about our wallets, our egos, our fears, or any number of things that are beside the point, as if the purpose will somehow take care of itself. But what we learn over and over again is that it won’t. Know your limits, but live by your vision.

No comments:

From my Flickr