The first time I came to New York I came through Grand Central.
My freshman roommate in college was from a small town in Westchester County called Ardsley. During our first break, a long weekend in October, I went home with her. Most of the trip was spent tooling around her suburb with her friends, in much the same way I spent most of high school, replacing Camel Lights, convenience stores, bong hits and Phish with Newports, Delis, Method Man and blunts. They were serious weed smokers, these kids. Two of the most memorable events that happened during my time in Ardsley involved weed: 1. Went to a movie theater that was basically empty and spent the movie puffing on a joint. 2. Drove to a "comic book store" in the Bronx and bought a garbage bag full of dirt weed. I watched from the car as they casually strolled in, like they were jonesing for the new X-men. Came out with enough pot to sonnambulate Rhode Island.
Once, when my roommate's hometown boyfriend was visiting her at college, he rolled a novelty "I Heart NY" cigar into a blunt. It was the size of a footlong polish sausage. When they were done smoking it, it was difficult to differentiate my roommate from an overstuffed ottoman. But I digress.
My roommate's mother must have felt bad for me. Here I was, less than an hour from the as-yet unseen Manhattan, stuck sucking on 40s in front of a video store. So she bought three tickets to a matinee of Sunset Boulevard, and against my roommate's natural inclination, we headed into the city. The last stop on the train was Grand Central Terminal.
Yesterday I boarded a train at Grand Central and I remembered what it was like the first time I saw it. Cavernous and beautiful and bustling with people. The info desk at the center, so romantic, a perfect place to wait for whatever is coming next. The clock and the stairs and the chapel-like domed ceiling, the green glow of the Pershing Square Cafe shining in from across 42nd Street. My heart leaped the first time I saw it; This is New York, I remembered thinking, like I was Melanie Griffith in Working Girl.
I returned to Grand Central again and again before I moved to the city. One night I came to town with a friend of mine and we had no place to stay, so we checked our stuff at the Grand Central coat check and headed to the village. We landed at Small's, which was, at the time, a famous after-hours BYO jazz bar. We saw a jazz quartet play with a tap dancer as the percussionist, one of the most memorable live music experiences of my life, then went back to Grand Central and slept on the train-themed cafe tables. When I flew to New York, I would take a bus to Grand Central, and carry on my journey from there. More recently, when I was trying to inspire a wayward cousin of mine to dispense with the drama and graduate from high school, I sent her a mobile picture of Grand Central Station. "This is in the city where I live," I wrote. "You could live here too."
Grand Central Station is my Ellis Island.