My Ordeal at Grand Central Madison

by John Delach

I decided that my recovery and rehabilitation from knee surgery had progressed far enough for Mary Ann and I to make the trip  to Grand Central Madison and enjoy lunch at the Bryant Park Grill nearby\to the LIRR’s new East Side destination. To eliminate any threat of overcrowding, we scheduled this adventure for Saturday, March 4th.

To prepare for our trip, I examined an article from a 2015 edition of Trains Magazine that contained an extensive diagram of the new terminal. Back then, it was informally called the East Side Access project and it would not receive its current moniker, Grand Central Madison until just before its opening.

Little did I realize how overwhelming the actual experience of navigating the new LIRR terminal would be.

When the conductor came to punch our tickets, I first realized how much attention these LIRR ticket-takers were spending with each passenger making sure that they understood that this train was not going to Penn Station and that they had to change trains in Woodside to continue on to Penn. The extent of the railroad’s concern that passengers were going to their correct destination became more apparent as we approached the Woodside Station. A crew member used the P/A to give a detailed explanation of how to transfer to the correct train.

On arrival at the new squeaky-clean, well lit and well-signed platform, we realized we had de-trained on one of the lowest levels, so we used an elevator to ascend to the mezzanine level. There we found one of the four banks of escalators that took us 120 feet up to the new LIRR Concourse that ran north to south from 48th Street to 43rd Street.

Since our destination was located in Bryant Park between 42nd and 41st, we headed south to the end of the LIRR Concourse and into the corridor that connected this passageway with the traditional Grand Central Terminal, the subway and the new skyscraper named Vanderbilt 1. I was so intent on navigating us in the right direction, that I ignored the troubling signals I felt walking along this concourse. We reached the street via another escalator on the corner of Madison Ave. and 42nd Street. Our destination was only two and a half blocks away.

Lunch was fun and brought back fond memories of other meals at the Café. This was our first visit since the COVID 19 virus first hit three years ago in March of 2020.

We became a bit confused trying to figure out the time of departure for the next train that would return us to Port Washington from Grand Central Madison

rather than from Penn Station. Finally, we determined that we would make it if we left the Bryant Park Café in the next ten minutes.

Even though paying the bill was easy, I had a funny feeling that making our train on time would be a problem.

We retraced our steps back to Vanderbilt One and those escalators that returned us to the entrance to both GCT, the subway and the entrance to the LIRR Concourse. We walked north to check out the ticketing area and the waiting room. Mary Ann remarked that the relatively narrow concourse with its low ceiling reminded her more of an airport. We both were surprised how empty it was. All of the shops on both sides of the concourse are unoccupied with the windows papered over that added to this strange sensation of claustrophobia.

The almost totally empty ticket office and the waiting room only added to my confusion. I think the combination of the absence of people in this hall, poor signage and the miniscule seating area for a maximum of three dozen ticketed passengers further disoriented me. Of course, that number exceeded the few passengers awaiting their trains. It began to seem like other than the two of us, almost everybody else in those spaces all worked for the LIRR. Cops, staff, ticket agents and guides.

It all closed in causing me to lose my bearings. When Mary Ann told me our train had been called, I was able to walk us over to the down escalator, but vertigo set in. When we reached the mezzanine, my ability to locate our train had almost deserted me.

Fortunately, I figured out that we had to take an elevator going above the mezzanine to reach the platform for our train I led us to the closest door and seats inside. At this point, my thinking process shut down. Mary Ann asked me something about the station, but all I could do was mumble gibberish.

I realized that I couldn’t communicate, but I couldn’t explain this to Mary Ann. I finally made it clear that I was out of it and she left me alone.

Somewhere during our journey, I got my act together allowing me to reconnect with my brain and communicate. First, I convinced Mary Ann that I was back on the same planet with her. Then, I swore to her that I was there the whole time, but that some kind of sensory depravation had temporarily shut down my ability to communicate.

Fortunately, my explanation made sense to her.

I have no interest in having that experience happen to me again so I have decided that on my next visit I will stay on the street for as long as possible.