NY, Grand Central: entering the city of dreams

Someday this draft will grow up and become the beginning of a story, perhaps fiction, perhaps memoir. It is the beginning of one chapter of my story, returning to NYC after many years, reentering the dream that is this city:

Grand Central, the is-ness of the space… Streams of light coming in the upper windows, the space so solid and concrete, and yet really a cavernous hall floating about further levels of caverns and tunnels beneath, no one really knew, probably not even the engineers who were meant to know, where all the caverns and tunnels were.

Riding in the train into Grand Central, on the Metro North line from Connecticut with the rich bankers and the city wage slaves wedded to suburban living, was to pass through, on the final approach to this station, sudden openings out of the black tunnels the train was going through. This, starting about ten minutes before the train reached the station. It was the signal for people to get out of their seats and begin collecting themselves. There is a putting on of jackets and folding of newspapers and retrieving of bags and packs from the overhead racks – which, incidentally, are far too narrow for comfort when they’re loaded with heavy bags.

In the middle of all this bustle, for the most part ignored by those habituated to it perhaps from birth, the tunnel opens out into now one cavern, now another. These are neither lighted nor dark: from somewhere, reflections of reflections, scattered photons bounced off walls in upper, lit chambers and so down stairwells and down, finally to be trapped in these caverns, where perhaps there was no further down, and allow just enough diffuse light to glimpse dormant trains and ghosts of trains and other equipment slumbering in the shadows on sidings in the caverns. Passing just as the eye begins to parse the shapes, are darker areas in the dark grey, barely lit dimness. Trains. They seem curiously alive in their stillness, almost more alive for being still, the difficulty of seeing them clearly in the dim light making it seem as if they were on the edge of movement. And there are ghost lines, train tracks running this way and that, and further tunnel mouths.

And then the train we were on would plunge into a tunnel again, a moment of darkness while I wondered about the cavern just left behind, who built it, what those engines were for, why it was now dark… And then another cavern would happen.

And presently one of the caverns, the third or fourth or fifth one in, wouldn’t be dark, but lit by doggedly determined institutional fluorescents in a white, would-be glare that the soot from the trains and the black of the city coats and clothes subdued. And so out of the train, onto a cement platform, giant recycling wire baskets piled high with newspapers, up concrete stairs or through doors, up and out. The closer to the main level and the outside one gets, the wider and more comfortable the corridor or stairs. And then there’s the Deco opulence and high, high ceiling of the Grand Concourse: illusion of dream fulfilled, journey’s end that is really only journey’s beginning.

The place as a whole is a maze, a mountain, a mystery. From the outside, panting around on the wrong street, it can be just a blank concrete wall. From the right street, a building with a dozen openings, a clock-tower, windows….

It is the dwarves hall in the Lord of the Rings, that goes on further than one thinks in every direction.

2 thoughts on “NY, Grand Central: entering the city of dreams

  1. There’s a recurring dream I have, based on the very first time I walked onto a train platform in GCT. I was three at the time, and at that height, was enveloped in the wafts of steam flowing from beneath the the gleaming corrugated steel of passenger cars from either side of me. (Heat and air-conditioning for the cars was delivered via a steam generator from the locomotive, something that was common until perhaps twenty years ago.) What you’ve written here stirs that memory quite a bit.

    • How lovely! Thank you for sharing the memory. I can see how this space would come into a dream, it almost feels like a dream in daily life. And thank you for the information about the stream generator and wafts of steam. If ever I set a story in the past I will make use of that, it’s such a strong visual and sensory image.

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