A week ago, I took the train into Grand Central Terminal. I’ve done it many times before but this was the first time I did it alone and I was a bit nervous, well terrified really. Not much was different from the other times I’d arrived at the station in the past. I walked up the stairs past the dingy basement that withheld the tracks and ascended into the terminal. It stood like a shrine that brought together the history and life of New York City’s past and present creating a timeless existence encased entirely in large bricks of white marble. I stood in awe for a moment as I always did upon arrival, but this time I stood this way mainly because I was unsure of where to go next. All I knew was that somehow I had to find the subway. Somehow. As I pondered, I looked up at the ceiling eternally painted midnight blue and adorned with stars and constellations. They looked down at me as if they were the answer to all my navigational questions; the star map that would lead me to the subway and all subsequent stops on my journey.
Eventually, I started to walk. My quick advance towards the door and inevitably onto Lexington Avenue was mainly ignited by the glares of passerby’s who’s stares made it clear that I looked as obliviously alien as I felt. I looked up one last time to see Pisces and Taurus dance across the plaster sky before I was spit out into the daylight, bright in contrast to the dark concourse.
Reluctantly I searched for the most benign of pedestrians; someone who wouldn’t yell at me for asking for directions. I needed to find the Shuttle and then the 1 Train, whatever that meant. Unsure of the order, a girl, probably a college student patiently explained to me that I needed to take the Shuttle to Time’s Square and then catch the 1 Train. I thanked her and repeated her instructions over and over again in my head in the same way one ties a string to their finger as to not forget. I descended the steps, back to the gray basement. Now I would have to figure out how to get a Metro Card from an automated machine.
A queue of people began to form behind me as I tinkered with the confusing machinery. I put in a 5 and it spit out a few quarters and some gold coins. I stepped away from the machine and searched frantically for my ticket. I held the curious coins in one hand wondering what the gold ones were. I thought they did away with subway tokens years ago… I looked at the coins. They were not subway tokens but gold dollars. I didn’t even realize in the midst of this transaction that I had the ticket and receipt in one hand the entire time. I swiped my Metro Card and walked through the gates.
Cautiously I moved forward as the music of skilled subway musicians quickly echoed from one end to the corridor to the other as if they had set the entire thing ablaze. It was as if I was on some sort of scavenger hunt. I lit up every time I saw a sign that had a big “S” for Shuttle on it and walked towards it obediently, in the same unquestionable sleepwalk of the brainwashed. I never realized how foreign one could feel in their own country; though I was surrounded by signs written in English, an onlooker would’ve easily pegged me for a traveler from abroad.
Though I made it to the next stop and to the 1 Train, to Christopher Street where I met up with my friend where we walked a few blocks together to a Mexican restaurant where I felt more familiar amongst it’s pina colodas and frozen drink menu, the experience continued to replay in my head. The experience of being spit out of the train and into the terminal left to navigate my way alone reminded me strangely of life.
You didn’t just arrive at Grand Central Terminal by accident. You had a reason for coming. Once there, you can ask others for directions and opinions but they are not always right, though sometimes they are the winning combination that is needed to get us from Lexington Ave to Christopher Street. Other times I suppose, when there is no one around to ask; when we are left to make all navigational decisions on our own, it will not benefit you to hail a taxi if you don’t know where it is you want to go. In those times, all you can do is look up to the great mural on the ceiling, to Pisces or Orion and pray that you choose the right direction.