By Adrienn Keszei
NEW YORK, NOV 17 — People glide relentlessly through the doors of Grand Central Station during the 5 pm rush hour. ”Excuse me” rings all around as harried New Yorkers try to pass quickly through the terminal and keep out of each other’s way. A lady in the main concourse eyes the departure board anxiously for her delayed train’s gate assignment, wishing good luck to the reporter but declining to answer her questions. A couple in the Transit Museum store is casually browsing the toys selection as their little son, standing on his toes, is gazing at small trains travel through the model railroad. In front of the Apple store on top of the stairs stand tourists, frantically trying to snap an Instagram-worthy selfie with the astronomical ceiling or the crowd below. From the underpass, paramedics are bringing up an intoxicated, injured lady, warning her to take better care of herself.
Grand Central is a place where the rich and poor cross paths, a meeting place for the American and the immigrant, the New Yorker and the commuter, the homeward bound and the homeless. To some people it is the station where they beg for money, others change trains for subways here, and for others the trains are irrelevant. Rather, the terminal is the location of Joe’s where they can buy one of New York City’s best cups of coffee. When Gilanie Marion, who collects donations for the Salvation Army, wants a sweet snack, she always stops by Grand Central to get a huge cupcake at Crumbs. But this place also has a more symbolic meaning for her — a rite of passage.
“The only big event was when I was sixteen and I was finally allowed to come to Grand Central by myself to get on the train. I saw that huge clock and I thought, oh my god! Before I got sixteen, my mom was overprotective, in those years there were a lot of rapists and stuff like that. It is safer now...but you still got to watch out.”
There are indeed a lot of security guards, standing almost completely still at all exists of the station. If one also stops for a few minutes to observe the rhythm of Grand Central, the periodical changes of people entering from all sides become hypnotic. As trains arrive, people run through the halls, some listening to music, others still on the phone trying to arrange a meeting or catch their train. Soon the crowd transforms into a softer pattern of people walking slowly towards their destination. Sometimes there are a few precious seconds when things almost seem still for a moment, and then it all starts again, new trains and buses arrive, with new people coursing through the station like veins through a heart.
Diane Ganoga, who used to be a community development worker, highlights the importance of the terminal as a gathering place.
“I was always about creating perfect places and spaces for communities, so when I see the influx of people and sort of everyone participating in this experience, it is so great, I love it!”
Rick Miner, who moved here in 1974, talks poetically about Grand Central while he is passing time between meetings.
“This is such a different place than it was 20 years ago. It was horrible, it was dirty, it was very user-unfriendly. They took down a lot of the gross advertising that covered the whole place, and exposed the architectural bones of the facility. They made improvements. It’s a whole different environment, and it’s wonderful to see people using it. It is part of New York rising.”
“It is not an everyday occurrence. But you also see the excitement and the romance of the city. You see couples meeting, people coming in from out of town, and you see frustration when trains are late. Everybody’s running, some people are excited to be going somewhere, others are frustrated, it’s sort of a microcosm of the city, but a nice microcosm.”
Grand Central means something different to everyone, but one way or another, it is part of the excitement of this metropolis. Contrary to first impressions, there is no chaos here - all those people coursing through the terminal’s many tunnels, like veins through the human heart, are tiny components of a well-oiled machine. Grand Central Station, like the clock in its lobby, is pulsating and changing every moment, but it is also a consistent and constant part of New York.