By Johna Till Johnson
Friday morning, midwinter.
O-dark-hundred, as they say in the military: early in the pre-dawn darkness. I’m at Grand Central Station, traveling north for a business event.
I pass by the track where my train is supposed to arrive in 20 minutes. The track is dark, deserted, with no sign indicating an imminent arrival. Plus the track is filled with what looks like junk. In some places there’s barely a walkway for the passengers. Could there be some mistake?
Buying my ticket I ask the booth agent: “Is this really the correct track?” He checks the monitor, nods. So I take my ticket down to the track. Still no sign, but there are now a few guys driving carts up and down, past the piles of junk.
I walk towards the end of the track, my mind and eye trying to make sense of what I’m seeing. Banks of carts. Wire containers. And is that an old office chair standing by itself? Where did it come from, and what is it doing here?
I pass by a brick building with a sign: Grand Central Station Mailroom. A mailroom, improbably located on a train track? Who knew?
The building is lit indoors, but empty. The sign on the door says it opens at 7 AM, but it’s not yet seven. I peer inside. Tables, printers, bins for sorting.
I keep going, towards the darkness of the tunnel at the far end of the track. The piles of junk thin out, replaced by banks of cables and pipes, soaring into the cavernous darkness overhead.
There’s a conductor at the far end, standing by himself. He’s a young man, trim, with a tired look on his face. I approach him, wonder in my eyes, excitement in my voice. “This is amazing! Is it always like this?”
“Like what?” he asks.
“All this… ” I gesture to the clutter, the pipes, the darkness.
He laughs. “Every day!”
“There’s so much to look at!”
“Yeah… I guess there is…” His voice takes on a wistful tone. “You don’t really notice it when you see it every day.”
I nod, understanding what he means. Then my attention is captured by a perfect arch of pipes, rising into the overhead darkness.
I reach into my backpack for the camera.