Zombieland, formerly known as Penn Station

The cab driver stopped at the curb and pointed across the street. Penn Station. Our destination. I stepped from the cab. Frigid 16-degree air bit the flesh on my face, as if ravenous hunger drove its aggression. Sharp. Painful. I thought about Steph’s poor ungloved hand. Somewhere on the streets of New York City lay one turquoise glove. We gathered our luggage and dodged oncoming traffic to cross the street.

“Which way, Mom?”

“I have no idea. I’ve never been dropped off here before.” I looked up to see the Madison Square Garden sign overhead. Somewhere inside this structure, our Amtrak train awaited. I lead my daughter into the building.

The moment we stepped beyond the entry, we encountered creatures — humanlike, yet not quite alive. None made eye-contact. Some spat unrecognizable words. They shuffled in slow forward motion, as if on auto-pilot. Male and female, tall and short, dirty and ragged. Everywhere, yet nowhere.

I felt as if we’d entered Zombieland, formerly known as Penn Station.

“Are they allowed to live here?” Steph spoke softly, fearing one of the creatures might awake to our presence.

“I don’t know. Maybe if they keep moving. It’s too cold out there to survive for long.” We kept moving too, quickening our pace.

Steph saw the ticketed passenger lounge area before I did. Humans greeted us. Real, live humans. They stood apart from the zombies — making eye-contact, speaking words we understood, and yes, they smiled. We flashed our tickets and slipped into the safety zone where zombies weren’t allowed. Guilt followed us in.

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NYC 42nd Ave.

NYC 42nd Ave.

I’ve been back from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference in New York City for several days now. The images from Penn Station still haunt me. I’m overwhelmed by what I saw. I looked up statistics for New York City: 38,000 individuals EACH night use shelters. That number obviously misses all the homeless we saw in Penn Station at 6:00 in the morning. The NYC Department of Homeless Services offers help for those in need, but the problem just seems SO huge.

Sometimes I fixate on issues that I think are problems — like my heater can’t seem to get over 64 degrees in this crazy cold weather. But hey, I have a home to shelter me. I may get frustrated when project I’m working on doesn’t go forward as quickly as I’d like. But, I have a job and a paycheck coming every two weeks. How easy to let all the little things in life bug us. In the grand scheme of life, who really cares if I don’t make it through the traffic light behind the car in front of me?

My trip to Zombieland reminded me: be thankful, count my blessings, help those who can’t help themselves.

2 Comments

Filed under humanitarian aid, poverty, writers

2 responses to “Zombieland, formerly known as Penn Station

  1. Jenna McKnight

    Homeless people are “real, live humans,” too.

  2. bethbeck

    Yes, absolutely. My imagination painted the picture of how de-humanizing homelessness seems. The stats are staggering for NYC alone.

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