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Going home by way of Grand Central Station

“RAILROAD, n. The chief of many mechanical devices enabling us to get away from where we are to where we are no better off. For this purpose the railroad is held in highest favor by the optimist, for it permits him to make the transit with great expedition." - Ambrose Bierce

Image Empire State Express

October 26, 2003

New York City has a number of subway stations. But the most famous and grandest of them all is Grand Central Terminal, also commonly known as Grand Central Station or just Grand Central. It is the largest in the world by number of platforms, with its 44 platforms, and 67 tracks alongside them. With 500,000 commuters and travelers passing through every day, it receives more visitors than any other New York City landmark.

Grand Central Terminal started out as Grand Central Depot, which was built by Cornelius Vanderbuilt, owner of the New York Central Railroad and Hudson River Railroad. He wanted to bring together his railroad, the New York and Harlem Railroad, and the New York and New Haven Railroad together into one station, a station that would accommodate and provide facilities for local and long distance railroad travelers. Between 1899 and 1900, the building was reconstructed and renamed Grand Central Station. By 1913, the entire building had been torn down and resconstructed in phases.

Grand Central Terminal officially opened on February 2, 1913. Further construction made Grand Central a mini-city within the city of New York. By 1947, it had become the busiest train station in the country; 65 million travelers passed through this station that year. Soon after that, railroads were facing completion from automobile travel on the nation's highways and intercity airline traffic, leading to a major decline in railroad travel. Proposals were made to demolish the station for the purpose of economic redevelopment, but citizens fought to keep the terminal intact. In 1975, the terminal was placed in the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1991, Amtrak was the last long distance transportation provider to leave Grand Central Terminal when the last of their long distance trains were moved to Penn Station. In 1994, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) gained control of Grand Central Terminal. MTA completed a major restoration and renovation and a Rededication Celebration of Grand Central Terminal was held on October 1, 1998. Today, Grand Central is a grand place to eat, shop and rest for commuters and travelers.

Image Grand Central Terminal exterior about 1913

Image Grand Central Terminal subway entrance about 1913

Image Grand Central Station

I had been through this station once before. It was over 20 years ago, but it seemed like a lifetime. Back then, I was traveling around the country by foot, thumb, car, bus and train, any way I could get to where I was going. I had been dropped off at a train station about an hour south of New York City on my way to meet a friend at a concert at Uniondale, Long Island. I had very little money, but did have my backpack, sleeping bag and enough money to take another train and get a bite to eat once I got to Uniondale. (How I came to be there is another story. Perhaps I will tell that story some day.) As I approached New York City for the first time in my life, it seemed a scary place to this young guy traveling by himself, I had a feeling I wasn't in Seattle anymore. I was glad to just be passing through.

As I got off the train at Grand Central back then in 1982, I felt lost and confused. I recall more people walking around indifferently and more time tables on display than I had ever seen in a train station, not to mention that this was the biggest train station I had ever seen in the middle of the busiest and grimiest and graffiti overwritten city I had ever seen. It all made me feel quite small and insignificant. So I started out to find the timetable among the many timetables on display that would tell me how to find the train that would take me out of there quickly to Uniondale. I'm sure I looked frantic and lost. About as soon as I approached my first timetable display board, a friendly nun came up to me and asked if I needed help. She was able to help me find the timetable that I needed and to direct me to the right train platform. I was thankful for the kindness of this stranger and I was able to meet my friend in Uniondale. It is a moment of friendliness and kindness I have remembered for the rest of my life, although I would never see this person again but for that one brief moment in time and place.

Today, New York is still busy, but it is much cleaner and I did not feel frantic and lost. I already knew which train I wanted to take, today's electronic timetable displays and the Internet make all the difference. But I was hungry and my usual craving for seafood was kicking in.

Clip Art Thinking Man

Interesting Fact: A prominent feature of Grand Central Terminal is the astronomical map that was designed by French artist Paul César Helleu and painted on the ceiling of the Main Concourse in 1912. This original ceiling was replaced in the 1940's and Helleu's design was repainted. Over time, this ceiling was obscured by grime, which was thought to be composed of coal and diesel smoke. During the 1990's, the ceiling was scrubbed and cleaned by hand and elbow grease to its original luster. The grime was analyzed and found to be composed of tar and nicotine from decades of tobacco consumption by cigar and cigarette smokers. A small, dark patch remains above Michael Jordan's Steakhouse to remind visitors of the grime that once covered the ceiling.

As I walked through the terminal, the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant caught my attention. This fine dining style restaurant has been around since Grand Central Terminal opened in 1913. Most importantly, they do oysters and a wide variety of other seafood dishes. Unfortunately, with meal prices starting at well over $10.00 and going way up, it was a bit beyond the price range I had in mind for a late evening meal. But my mouth was watering as I read the menu that included dishes such as Grand Central Oyster Platter, Broiled Mahi Mahi Fillet, and various seafood stews and panroasts, and so much more that is seafood. They also offered their own grand Oyster Bar and always my personal favorite wherever I go, Old Fashioned Fish and Chips. They also offered a sandwich menu with sandwiches starting at a reasonable price, but the grandiosity of the restaurant was a bit much for this tired soul at the end of this journey, so I moved on.

After shopping around a bit more for something seafood, I found found myself at Juniors. They are known for serving cheesecakes, particularly one that they like to call "The World's Most Fabulous Cheesecake." But it wasn't their cheesecake that attracted me. It was their more casual atmosphere along with lower prices. Their version of fish and chips, "Fried Flounder Fillet on Club Challah with fries", was quite satisfactory, but I more enjoyed some of the other meals that I had eaten on this trip.

But this adventure is almost over, it is time to move on.

Image Grand Central Oyster Bar about 1913

Coffee Seafood Sundae

Grand Central Terminal is one of the largest and busiest rest stops in the world for travelers, so it seemed fitting to go this route on the way home. This time to myself, even if as a stranger in one of the busiest places in the world, gave me opportunity to contemplate on how I might work towards my goals of making a career out of travel, writing, photography and such things. It was a lot to think about, it made my mind about as busy as the bustle of Grand Central, but I thought that if I just took things one step at a time, I'd continue to get closer to where I'm going.

In the morning, I would be flying back the next morning to my home in Chula Vista, near San Diego. As I tried to prepare myself for a jolt back to reality, little did I know that a major disaster that was waiting for me back home.


“New York is too strenuous for me; it gets on my nerves." - Ambrose Bierce, journalist and short story writer


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