© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
NPR Arts & Life

The Ways We Wait: A Train Station Tribute For Grand Central's 100th

Grand Central Terminal, one of world's most iconic commuter destinations (or departure points, depending on which way you're going), celebrated a big birthday this week. Friday marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of the largest railroad terminal in the world.

Grand Central's main concourse is often shown in time-lapse videos — a space teeming with humans sprinting with their briefcases or rushing by with children in tow. More than 750,000 people pass through the New York City station each day, most of them hurrying through the cavernous space.

But anyone who spends a lot of time on trains also spends a lot of time waiting for them. (That's a lesson I learned from my dad, who has commuted daily between Baltimore and Washington for longer than I've been alive. As a kid, I thought he was a train conductor because we dropped him off "for work" at the train station every morning, and then picked him up there every night.) In honor of Grand Central's centennial, we looked back through the years and around the world to find images that capture the time we spend in stations, waiting for trains.

The energy in a train station is an odd combination of adrenaline and boredom; anticipation for the destination tempered by impatience at how long it's taking to get there. Turns out, the way we wait for trains looks awfully similar across the decades and around the globe. We cup our chins in the palms of our hands as we sit atop our suitcases; we rest our heads on our travel companions, trying to get comfortable; we lose ourselves in our reading, whether on 1920s newsprint or 21st-century screens; we frolic on the luggage carts.

The train station is never the destination, but at Grand Central it's easy to forget that. "It's like a cathedral that's built for the people," Grand Central tour guide David Brucker told NPR's Jeff Lunden. "We're not going through somebody else's mansion, through somebody else's monument. It's ours."

Editor's Note: This post was written aboard northbound MARC train No. 446.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.