A love letter to Baltimore’s Penn Station

By RENEE SCAVONE | November 16, 2017

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AUSTIN KIRK/CC BY-SA 2.0 Penn Station was built in 1911 and is Baltimore’s central train station.

If you’ve been around campus in the late morning to midafternoon, the chances are you’ve seen tour guides enthusiastically telling potential Hopkins students that one of the greatest virtues of Baltimore is how easy it is to leave.

Penn Station is a place that most students know and love as the beginning of journeys home, to internships in Washington, D.C., to fun weekends in New York City. With Thanksgiving around the corner, the station is about to see an influx of folks from Hopkins who are leaving Baltimore for the holidays to go brag to their high school friends about how it’s “just like The Wire.

But before you board that commuter train or embrace all the strange and exciting smells of that Greyhound, consider spending a little extra time in Charm City’s prettiest exit.

Indeed, you heard it here first folks: Baltimore’s hottest location is none other than Penn Station.

I understand this may come as a shock to you. But consider the following, train stations are among the purest places on earth. Perhaps not in a literal sense, given that the heavy amount of foot traffic means that there’s a fair amount of dirtiness to go around, but that builds character.

Either way, I love train stations. I love the feeling that you could go anywhere in the world (or at least the continental U.S.); I love the look of peace that crosses the faces of tired business people when they take their first sips of coffee; I love watching people arrive to hugs and greetings from family and friends.

And I especially love Penn Station.

I say this with some degree of authority, as I have spent a lot of time in a lot train stations, in pretty much every state on the eastern seaboard and the midwest, sometimes to the detriment of my own emotional wellbeing.

Penn Station is a great size; not as overwhelming as its New York City equivalent, not as tiny as most other train stations solidly below the Mason-Dixon line. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Generally the station isn’t horribly crowded, but there are enough people such that you don’t feel obligated to make small talk with, for instance, the singular stranger waiting in the station (here’s looking at you, mother in the Savannah Amtrak who told me about her son’s new wife for 30 minutes).

Beyond that, where else in this city, or any city, can you experience so many (two) places to eat at 6:30 a.m. on a Wednesday? You can keep your Miss Shirley’s and Fogo de Chão this holiday season. I’ll be nestled on a wooden bench eating a half dozen donuts and watching little kids get powdered sugar absolutely everywhere.

Union Station may have more actual dining options, but is that really what people want? When it’s first thing in the morning and your parents are somehow already driving you nuts on a family trip to the National Mall, sometimes you don’t want to have to think about what you’re putting in your body. Do I want coffee or coffee and also onion rings? Easy choices.

Penn Station is also the site of a pretty hot debate in the sculpture world. Male/Female is the towering metal person standing outside of the southwest entrance. If you’re someone who cares a lot about architecture in Baltimore, you know this as the statue that spurred years of controversy about whether or not it clashed with the Beaux-Arts architectural style of the station.

If you’re the average, incredibly busy Hopkins student, you may not have ever even looked up from your phone at the JHMI stop to realize that it’s there.

The station is a rain shelter when you’ve poorly planned for an evening trip to The Charles. It’s the first sign that you’re heading off to break or returning to campus. It’s the experience of getting back from D.C. with your freshmen year clique on a late train, grateful to be back in the city you call home, if only for four years.

Penn has been around since 1911 and will continue to be around after most of the people reading this paper have graduated (knock on wood). So when you’re sitting there clutching your tickets to Thanksgiving break this Friday, take a moment to appreciate one of Baltimore’s most frequented landmarks.

It’s cheaper than the aquarium, anyway.

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