This story makes its fifteenth annual appearance on JMG…
Grand Central Terminal functions as the mechanical heart of midtown New York City, pumping out several thousand workers and tourists on one beat, then sucking in several thousand more on the next.
The rhythms of the terminal are fascinating.
Beat. Four thousand, inbound from New Haven.
Beat. Three thousand, outbound to Westchester.
Worlds collide on the main floor.
The tourists gawk up at the gloriously ornate ceiling and uselessly flash their digital cameras at objects hundreds of feet away.
The commuters rush up to the track displays to determine their track number, then dart across the terminal floor, dodging the milling tourists, heads down, like running backs heading for the end zone.
It’s mesmerizing. It’s majestic.
And sometimes, like tonight, it’s magical.
I’m walking through the massive main room just as the holiday laser show begins on the ceiling. To the tune of Take The “A” Train, the laser depicts two trains arriving from different directions. The trains stop opposite each other and a reindeer leaps out of each one and crosses over to the opposite train.
The laser traces the outline of one of the zodiac constellations painted on the ceiling. The Cancer crab leaps to life and becomes the Crab Conductor, waddling down the center aisle of the car, punching the reindeers’ ticket stubs with his claws.
I move over to the edge of the room, near the entrance for Track 25, so I can watch the reaction to the show. As usual, I’m more entertained by watching the audience than by watching the actual show.
At the ticket windows, standing in front of signs that say “Harlem Line” or “Hudson Line”, commuters tilt their heads painfully back to view the show directly overhead. The tourists cluster in delighted circles, holding each others’ elbows for balance as they nearly bend over backwards.
Some people move to the edges of the great hall, as I have, to remove themselves from the traffic flow while they watch. Among those that come to join me on the perimeter of the room is a lesbian couple. They stand quite close to me, the taller woman behind the shorter one, with her arms wrapped around her, supporting her a bit as they both lean back on the marble wall.
The shorter woman is stout with a large firm chest. Her hair is short and brushed back into what might have once been called a ducktail. She has an ornate tattoo on her left forearm and she has a leather wallet protruding from the rear pocket of her jeans, attached to her leather belt by a short silver chain. She has more than a passing resemblance to Tony Danza, her big boobs notwithstanding, so naturally (in my head) I name her Toni.
Toni’s girlfriend is blond and her short ponytail dangles just above her collar. She is wearing long Christmas tree earrings which nearly brush her shoulders. Her lanky, sinewy limbs are bound in a tight running outfit, over which she is wearing a school athletic jacket. I imagine that she might be a coach at Yale or Harvard, perhaps a girls lacrosse coach, or maybe track and field.
Coach is squeezing Toni tightly and they bounce together to the music a bit. Coach looks over at me and catches me smiling. She nudges Toni, who looks over at me too, and we all grin goofily at each other for a moment.
Overhead, a new show begins. The familiar opening notes of Tchaikovsky’s Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairies ring out as the Empire State and the Chrysler buildings sprout arms, bow to each other, and begin waltzing across the ceiling.
I look around the room and it’s as if time was frozen for just a second, every person stopped in mid-stride, eyes cast upward, mouths open in silent joy.
Toni pushes away from Coach, turns around and delivers her a bow as deep and as elegant as the one just depicted overheard.
“Madame, may I please have this dance?” she asks Coach.
Coach looks around a bit awkwardly. “You are TOO much!” And she giggles.
“Madame, I must insist!” says Toni, as she takes Coach’s hands into hers.
Coach relents and she and Toni begin a beautiful, slow waltz, moving in half-time to the music. As you might have guessed already, Toni leads.
As they dance, their eyes remain locked on each other. Toni is giving Coach an intense look, her lips tightly curled into a satisfied smile. Coach is grinning from ear to ear and again, she giggles.
All around Coach and Toni, the tourists, the businessmen, the students, the conductors, even the guy with a broom – they’re all watching. Some are expressionless, but more are smiling, and some of them…some of them are frantically fussing with their cameras, eager to capture this magical New York Moment.
Serendipity prevails, the tune ends, and Toni dips Coach backwards with a dramatic up-sweep of her free arm as a firestorm of camera flashes erupt around them. Toni pulls Coach up and close to her and they hug. There’s another camera flash and the crowd begins to move along.
The laser show is being concluded with giant sprigs of mistletoe appearing over our heads. This time it’s Coach who bends down and plants a long tender kiss on Toni’s non-lipsticked mouth. There’s another flash of cameras from the delighted audience.
Toni takes Coach’s hand and they begin to move off towards the exit.
“Oh, don’t stop!” says a disappointed woman, still rummaging for her camera.
Toni looks back over her shoulder and says, “I never will.”
Grand Central Terminal, the mechanical heart of New York City, beats again. But this time I hear a different rhythm. This time I hear a double beat.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYBODY!