THE OLD Greyhound bus terminal on New York Avenue is to be replaced by a 13-story office building. The developers who are buying the site say parts of the 1940 art deco structure will be incorporated as elements in the new building, a building that represents another step in the rehabilitation of a blighted neighborhood.
The art deco features were sheathed in siding in 1976, and their uncovering and new display, if done well (and the preservationists will probably be keeping a close eye on that) will be a fitting memorial to an era in the city's history. It's a little sad to think that it is largely a memorial -- that the exuberant faith in the miracle of motoring expressed in that 1940 art can only be remembered and not recreated, even though the buses will continue to roll, perhaps at the same site or in the same neighborhood.
To be sure, for most, bus travel has never been quite the model of genteel touring symbolized by that sleek hound or portrayed in the "Leave the driving to us" ads. It proved to be generally the cheapest way of getting from one place to another, and so the reality of it has been a little more complicated and diverse. It has been mothers with infants and squawling 5-year-olds, elderly women with fried-chicken lunches, students on the last night bus to campus, tired men pursuing work or rumors of it, and soldiers, sailors, Marines -- surely Greyhound has carried more servicemen than all the troop ships in the history of the republic.
This has been a shared experience of millions of Americans over the past half-century: falling asleep with one's head bumping against the window, the smell of cigarette smoke and diesel fumes, the slightly bilious awakening and hurried feeding at some 20-minute stopover where the architecture might be art deco or art schlocko and the food does nothing whatever to calm the digestion.
The neighborhood around the station on New York Avenue went from bad to worse, becoming a blasted, desolate scene. Some of the people who have frequented the terminal and the surrounding area, especially in the night hours, are the sort your mother warned you about. But they don't represent the spirit of those who pass through there -- people who board an interstate bus usually carry with them a certain amount of hope. If the developers capture any part of that spirit with their bit of preservation, they will have given us something more than another 13-story office building in a city filling up with them.