How A Space Looks When Nobody Cares: Grand Central Subway Station

Anything that could look clean looks dirty. Worse, it looks uncleanable!

A few years ago I posted an entry which included the most depressing public space on Earth the (since rebuilt) Staten Island Ferry waiting room at the St. George Terminal. It has a rival.

Here’s a photo I took at the Grand Central Station on the #7 Flushing Line.

Make no mistake I’m a subway guy. I loved riding the subways as a kid and little of that appeal has gone away. Still, this station may be the ugliest, least inviting, most depressing public space on Earth (especially since they rebuilt the St. George waiting room).

The Flushing Line (#7) station is far underground! NYCSubway.org lists the depths of the various Grand Central Stations&#185

Shuttle, 20 feet below street
Lexington/East Side Subway Platforms, 50 feet
Flushing/#7 Subway Platforms, 80 feet
Metro North, Upper Level, 20 feet
Metro North, Lower Level, 60 feet

That’s eight stories down through Manhattan bedrock with multiple train, power, water and sewer lines between you and the street.

There is no fixture or feature meant to convey warmth or humanity. If it doesn’t have utility it isn’t there. Illumination is provided by fluorescent bulbs which gives the station harsh uneven lighting.

Anything that could look clean looks dirty. Worse, it looks uncleanable!

It is always noisy and usually warm.

Because the exit stairs are centered on the platform if you’re standing near them you’re uncomfortably close to the incoming trains.

For most of us it’s as close to a dungeon as we’ll ever get.

Can someone design a space like this then step away from their sketch and be happy… or proud? Who is responsible for this ugly place?

&#185 – The actual Grand Central where ‘real’ trains run is called Grand Central Terminal, not station, since all trains entering the facility terminate there.

Best of New Haven Advocate

Ivy the dog is still in the hospital There was some improvement today, which I’ll get to later. Still, Helaine felt it was best for her to stay home… and she did.

Steffie and I took our three tickets to see The Producers, got in the car around 9:00AM, and headed into New York City. After Dunkin’ Donuts and gas (there’s a joke here somewhere), we hit the open road, convertible top down.

This was actually risky. The mostly cloudy sky turned overcast as we moved west from Bridgeport (In Connecticut, the east-west Connecticut Turnpike is labeled north-south. This makes a geographically challenged adult population even more confused). I expected to have to pull over, under an underpass, at any moment to get the top up. But, by the time we hit the Cross Bronx Expressway, the sun had returned and the air began to get steamy.

The trip to New York, though shared with lots of other cars, was never hampered by traffic.

We followed the CBE to the West Side Highway (following the Last Exit in New York signs) and headed south along the Hudson River. The view to New Jersey was a little hazy. The river itself was pretty empty.

I parked the car ($30, thank you) on West 44th Street, just west of 8th Avenue. I always put up the top when parking, even in attended parking, and that was a good thing, since it later rained.

It was near 11:00 AM and the show wasn’t until 2:00 PM, so we headed into the subway at the corner to head to Canal Street.

For some unknown reason, I thought the IRT #1 train would be the closest (it wasn’t). I mention this, because the subway stairs at 8th and 44th bring you to the 8 Avenue Line IND station with connecting corridors to the IRT (mentioning IND and IRT only helps to show I’m getting older. These labels, a throwback to the era when some subways lines were privately owned, haven’t been used in decades.) It seemed like we were walking to Canal Street as the narrow, tiled, dingy, hot tubes led up and down, left and right, until we were on the downtown platform. We took the express a few stops and then walked across the platform to take the #1 to Canal.

New Yorkers leave the city in droves during the summer, and I’m sure that’s especially true for Labor Day weekend. At the same time tourists pour in. Canal Street was jammed.

Maybe I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m sure Kate Spade, Christian Dior or Louis Vuitton (is there really a Louis Vuitton?) would clutch their collective chests and fall to the ground in cardiac arrest if they ever saw Canal Street. Everything is a knock off… but a nearly perfect knock off.

Today, I actually stopped as I bought a bottle of Poland Springs water from a vendor, thinking maybe it too wasn’t the real thing. Hey, it’s Canal Street, who knows?

I continue to look, to no avail, for a Breitling combination analog/LCD watch. Obviously, Breitling has them, but that’s a little out of my price range for a watch… maybe not for a car, but for a watch.

Steffie went bag, wallet and show shopping. Is it an obsession? Sure. There should be some 12 step program to get her back on the right track. But, at least on Canal Street you can indulge your fantasy. She bought a few things, including some shoes she had been lusting after.

I found a few computer books. One was on Perl, a computer language (which will not make my spell checker happy) used on websites like this one, that I want to learn. The second had to do with Cascading Style Sheets. Again, it’s a concept used on this website and something I had heard about for years without understanding. Like Perl, if I’m going to administer this site, I need to learn at least a little bit about it. Books on Canal Street go for 1/2 retail price or a little less.

A few Canal Street observations. There is a street side display ad for Tag Heuer watches. These watches are sold on Canal Street… they’re just not real. It’s an odd place for an ad like this.

Canal Street is old and tired. There hasn’t been new construction here since the 1930’s or maybe earlier. Little shops are crammed into spaces no larger than a small closet. And, my guess is, this was never an upscale neighborhood, even back in the day. That’s why it was interesting to see beautiful detail work on some of the older industrial buildings.

Finally, even in the midst of urban congestion, people find comfort in things growing. I found this ‘city garden’ on a fire escape. There’s no doubt it’s against fire code, but it is nice to see.

With a 2:00 PM curtain, we headed back into the subway and north to the 42 Street stop on the E train. Up the stairs and, astoundingly enough, we were a half a block from the theater. But, there was a problem. We had Helaine’s ticket!

A try outside the theater yielded nothing. It didn’t seem like the right place to sell it. So, we headed to the TKTS booth in Duffy Square. This is where you’d likely find people looking for tickets, and Producers tickets were always tough to come by.

I walked parallel to the line at TKTS. “Single ticket to The Producers.” Once, twice, three times… and then as I was about to try one more time, Steffie turned me to a woman in line who was interested. She asked how much? I hadn’t thought about it, so asked her to make me an offer. She said half, and the deal was done.

As it turned out, she was Japanese, in New York by herself (though she said she had friends there) and had only come in earlier in the day. She was about to sit dead center in the 6th row, and I was subsidizing 50% of the cost.

The Producers was excellent. It is everything the movie was, though the story has been adapted and simplified for the stage. The current cast is considered “B” next to Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. Even then, like most New Yorkers, some of the biggest players were out-of-town, replaced by stand-ins. Lewis J. Stadlen, the lead, was replaced by John Treacy Egan, which meant Egan was also covered by an understudy.

I would very much like to see the show again, with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. As the originators of Bialystock and Blum, and with the theatrical clout to be a little ‘over the top’, my guess is they bring the show up a few notches.

The dialog and sensibility of the show was pure Mel Brooks. You could hear his voice in nearly every line. And, in fact, his voice was heard (lip sync’ed by an actor) during Springtime for Hitler; “Don’t be stupid, be a Smarty – sign up with the Nazi Party!” I believe he did this line in the film as well.

Brad Musgrove as the astoundingly gay Carmen Ghia was a hoot. He got the biggest ovation of the non-principals.

After the play broke, we headed away from the car, and back toward Times Square. Steffie wanted a henna tattoo, which we never found.

We did see a few things in Times Square that you only see in Times Square. The most notable is the “naked cowboy.” It is, stripped to its essence, a man wearing a cowboy hat, boots and underwear. That’s it. He charges to pose for photos, and does a pretty brisk business.

For the cowboy challenged, there was also Spiderman, available for a price. In the spirit on New York, I doubt any of his take goes to the copyright owner.

What we did find was rain! What had been a sprinkle as we left the theater turned into a downpour. We were near 42nd Street by this point, so we headed to the ESPN Zone. With a 30 minute wait, we turned back up Broadway and ended up at Planet Hollywood.

When in Times Square, Steffie and I eat at Planet Hollywood more often than not. The food was fine, but more importantly, the restaurant was dry. We were soaked when we got in. Luckily, the camera, books, bags, shoes and the like were in plastic bags. Steffie’s purse had been outside, but tonight, it seemed none the worse for water.

We headed back to the car, only to run into the New York City Fire Department. Something was going on above West 44th Street. Four or five pieces of fire rolling stock and at least a dozen, firefighters (each wearing oxygen packs) stood around chatting as a ladder was extended from a truck and two firefighters climbed to the roof of the theater adjacent to the St. James (where The Producers plays).

If there was cause for alarm, it was well hidden. No one was breaknig a sweat. Steffie wanted to stay and watch, which we did for a few minutes. But, as time went on, it became clear that whatever was going on, was going on out of sight… and wasn’t all that dramatic.

By 6:00 we were in the car, turned north on 8th Avenue, and headed home… with the top down.