Waking up to the dulcet tones of Soterios Johnson, my morning routine is always the same: listen to the news of the day and wait until he tells me the current temperature in Central Park, for only then will I get out of bed. From there I pad down the hall to the kitchen to make coffee before settling down in my office to write.
February 1, 2013. A day that centers around two New York historical figures — legendary mayor Ed Koch who died today and Grand Central Terminal celebrates its centennial.
Grand Central with all its opulence and grandeur. The turquoise fresco that draws your eyes up to the heavens where celestial bodies watch over passengers as they bustle through corridors to train platforms or out onto 42nd Street. When I lived in New York I was fortunate to work on 42nd Street and thanks to the 4/5/6 train, I could enter/exit Grand Central Terminal on a daily basis if I wanted but usually avoided due to the crush of people (opting instead of a small exit down on 42nd and 3rd). Just standing in the main concourse of Grand Central you can feel the electricity in your bones, the spirit of how train travel used to be (one could say the same of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and part of Washington DC’s Union Station).
Then I moved to New Jersey and Penn Station became my daily beacon of train travel. A very different experience indeed. “One enters the city like a god; one now scuttles in like a rat,” is how Yale historian Vincent J. Scully compared
Grand Central to Penn Station’s illustrious past to its current incarnation. I can’t think of a more apropos way to describe the subterranean labyrinth that houses corridors devoted to both NJ Transit and Long Island Rail commuters, not to mention the gateway to the Eastern seaboard that is Amtrak. It’s a mish mosh of neon signs for pizza, newsstands and beverages (pick your poison: coffee, beer, smoothies) and people coming from every angle. The splendor of a bygone era? Gone. There is no being mesmerized or standing back and taking it all in. Even the thrill of travel, the very thought of being in transit seems dull and uninteresting.
As I listen to the reporter tell the history of Grand Central, how it almost met a fate similar to Penn Station but was valiantly saved by a persevering Preservation Society, I’m once again reminded of the good fight, the importance of places worth saving. And while Penn Station never got that chance, on the plus side its replacement serves as a vivid remember of what happens when we let go.