The moment we crossed the threshold, I knew something was wrong: it was a crystalline June day, and yet the terminal was full of dour-faced people. At the Amtrak counter, the clerk took our tickets and swiped my credit card, handing everything back without meeting my eyes. “Due to the derailment,” he said, “you’ll be taking a motor coach to Eugene to meet your train.”
Derailment? I tried to ask a question, but before I could shape the words, he’d moved on to the person behind us. Surveying the hostile looks around the room, my children and I chose a bench in the center of the terminal, next to a hay wagon. “We’re going to Disneyland,” my daughter said to a couple watching us settle in. Tight lipped, they ignored her.
To pass the time, I studied the sandwich boards standing in the wagon’s bed. Covered with text and pictures depicting the Seattle station’s past, they described how—due to generous grants from private benefactors and the federal government—the building was being restored to its former glory. “Look up,” one of the boards instructed. “Notice the extravagant use of stone in the original façade.”
I looked up, at a dropped ceiling made of yellowing acoustic tiles crisscrossed by thin metal bars. A few rows over, several ceiling tiles were missing. On the other side of the hole, the ceiling receded into darkness. I couldn’t see any stone.
I looked back at the photos: one depicted smartly dressed people, flanked by towering columns and strolling through a wide concourse. Another featured small groups clustered along an imposing balcony, looking down at a grand chandelier. I scanned the room again: with its low, plain ceiling, harsh lighting, and glossy, sheet-rocked walls, it was the epitome of Greyhound bus décor. It was hard to fathom why anyone would think such insipid modernity an improvement over the original design. But clearly, somebody had.
| King Street Station in downtown Seattle, Wash.
Original photo courtesy Flickr Commons....