Sunday, September 19, 2010

Grand Central Station

The first time I arrived alone on a train at Grand Central Terminal I was eighteen. Not that that was my first visit to the city. I was a frequent guest for most of my life.

It is familiar. In that part of my genetic makeup way. Not sure why. But it is.

My memories of that bejeweled grand dame -- the storied train depot -- began, however, in my formative years.

Under six, I believe. Not sure how old.

Visiting my aunt, uncle and cousins in leafy Summit, New Jersey. A trip into "the city" to see the first of many Broadway musicals. Peter Pan. Starring Mary Martin. A very special treat. Dressed to the nines in a smocked cotton dress, Capezio Mary Janes and white cotton gloves we boarded the train to the Emerald City ... ah, New York.

Little did I know that (1) the filming of this classic play would be a television holiday broadcast every year of my childhood, or (2) that I would be disembarking on a platform leading to this majestical station hundreds of times.

I just remember that it was magical. In that sparkly Oz kind of way. Mesmerizing. Alluring.

Her cavernous domed ceilings etched with gilded arches and pediments. So very different from our train station on Broadway in Louisville where the L&N whisked me to Lexington stays with Ma and Baba, my maternal grandparents who would later be known as plain ol' Grandmother and Grandfather.

The city sparkled glittery. Pulsating with an electric current that coursed through my veins the moment the train submerged into the darkened underground rails of the city. I arrived flushed at dinnertime. In awe.

Thousands of businessmen ... uniformly attired in tailored flannel suits, their felt hats placed just so on their carefully groomed heads ... streamed by grey-brown neon. Their leather briefcases deftly swerving to avoid unnecessary impact. Beautifully choreographed.

Women in silk dresses, delicate high-heeled pumps and nylon stockings raced this way and that. Some with fox collars; others on their way from the glass and steel office buildings lining the streets of Manhattan carrying brown bags and bulky purses.

Evisceral. Stimulating. I knew then I wanted to be part of this world.

And over the years, I was.

College nearby brought me into The City all the time. Dressed in style to fit the day: bell bottom Landlubber jeans when weekend hippies. Sophisticated little black mini dresses and pearls when partying at The Dakotas or Pen and Pencil. Lovely wool dresses trimmed to match Papagallo shoes, our coats when meeting a friend's parents for tea. We could play the part. Any part. And did.

My early penchant for government and the American legislative process introduced me to political campaigns. Handing out leaflets for cousin Dick Ottinger's senate race. Telephone polling for support of Lindsey's mayoral re-election. Accompanying Andrew Stein in his inaugural bif for the City Council to the decaying streets of Bed-Sty to meet and greet the edgy constituents.

Earth Day. Autumn peace rallies at the NYC Library serenaded by Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary with speeches from Bella Abzug and Ralph Nader.

So many times I whirled through the now familiar portal, flowed up the escalators through the Pan Am building exiting through the arched hallways onto Park Avenue aglitter with holiday twinkle lights or fields of yellow tulips. Often just heading out the lower doors to hail a cab or catch the subway at 42nd street to the Village.

Theatre of the street, the absurd or legit. At the Fillmore East seeing rock's legends before they were known, on the stage, Hair (eight times) in one season backstage, in the house seats of the compliments of the producer's niece, my dear Jorie, Cafe La Mama, concerts on Central Park's Great Lawn, the Village Vanguard and Blue Note, hip Bleeker Street, seedy Times Square. 25 cents and breakfast. Ah, the memories.

Shopping sprees at my four Bs ... porting enough shiny black boxes and elegant striped bags to make Holly Golightly's spree pale in comparison.

The time my friends, Chris, Sue, Jill and I missed the last train back to Westchester and slept on the floor as close to the Information Booth as humanly possible. The Commodore and Biltmore Hotels atop Grand Central unwilling to allow us a room for the night. Thinking we were god knows what. Four preppy girls in Gucci shoes and Pucci panties. But how would they know that?

Once, when traveling back to college alone after having met my parents for drinks When I fainted and nearly collapsed amid a sea of swirling people rushing past. The time we didn't have enough cash to purchase our ticket and borrowed from a man who looked like Dad (and whom I later repaid in full).

I came of age here. Me and Holden Caufield. Grand Central the portal to newly shaped values, passions and delights.

So it saddens me to be seated on the circular bench this gorgeous September afternoon in the recently spruced up waiting area outside the track that will once again transport me to Westchester with an uneasy feeling in my gut from an unknown source.

Things just don't feel the way they should.

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