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May 16, 2010

More Secrets of Grand Central

There is possibly no more beautiful railroad station in the world than New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. (Note: It’s a ‘terminal’ not a station, because there are no ‘through-trains’).

As the destination of over 55,000 daily commuters from Connecticut, it’s a place where we spend a fair amount of time. But rather than rush to or from your train, next time you’re in GCT, look around and enjoy some of its hidden secrets.

Based on 40+ years of commuting experience, here are some of the nooks and crannies within the station that I find most fascinating… and useful.

The Million Dollar Clock: The famous clock atop the information booth in the main concourse looks good for a reason. Its four faces are made from opal, valued in excess of $10 million.

Look Up: Most people know about the zodiac ceiling painting in the main hall. But did you know the night sky is actually reversed? Or that, in its cleaning of soot and cigarette smoke years ago, one small rectangle was left in its darkened form? Just look in the northwest corner of the ceiling.

Underground Access:
Sure, you can enter Grand Central from street level, but in bad weather you can find your way underground from blocks away. The new north-end access afforded at Madison and 47th St., Park Ave. and 48th Street, and the Helmsley Building at Park and 45th Street walk-ways are dandy. But did you know you can also access from 43rd or 45th Street, west of Vanderbilt, or via the subway’s shuttle station, on the south side of 42nd Street, just west of Park? There’s also a tunnel under Lexington Avenue directly from the Chrysler Building.

Fastest Way from the Lower Level: Many trains from Connecticut dump you on the lower level. But forget about the ramps or stairs for the long climb to street level. Instead, walk to the forward end of the train and look for the elevator near Track 112. It will take you to the upper level or, better yet, punch “E” and you’ll emerge within steps of Vanderbilt Avenue (see below).

Washrooms with No Wait: The new washrooms at the west end of the lower level have helped a lot, but still there’s often a line. Take the nearby escalator up one level, go right and just before the ramp up to 42nd St. and Vanderbilt, look on your left for the sign for the Oyster Bar. Go down the steps into the bar and you’ll find ornate bathrooms known only to a few, and staffed by a full-time attendant.

Best Place to Get a Cab: Forget about the long line at the taxi stand on 42nd St east of Vanderbilt. Instead, go out the west end of the Main Concourse, up the stairs, and out onto Vanderbilt Avenue. Cross the street and wait at the corner of 43rd Street. Taxis flow through here, leaving off passengers every few seconds. If you are heading west you’ll also avoid the heavy traffic on 42nd Street.

Recycling but Not Re-Reading: When newspaper recycling came to Grand Central in the 90’s, it apparently worked too well. Papers tossed into the open bins were too easily retrieved and re-read by others. To curb the loss in sales, the New York Times paid to have the bins capped and recycling increased by a ton of paper a day.

These are a few of my favorite “secrets” of Grand Central. Drop me an e-mail with yours and I’ll include them in a future column.

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