Every once in awhile, a phenomenon occurs that I’ve heard referred to as “found time”. This supposedly means that all of a sudden, a period of time becomes available that was previously booked. Like when a meeting suddenly cancels and you get to go food shopping. Or one day you look up and there are no children at home – like that. Found time.
I’ve always wanted to have a drink at the Campbell Apartment. Why? I don’t know but as it says on the red leather bound menu, they offer, “cocktails from another era.” It’s situated on the upper level of Grand Central Station and it once belonged to John Campbell, leased from Cornelius Vanderbilt, as a private office. Old New York has always intrigued me. When I visit, I find myself imagining what it was like to walk the sidewalks a hundred years ago and wondering what the buildings originally housed and if all the little parks were well-kept and inviting. I figured if I saved up, I could spend 20 bucks on a cocktail at the Campbell Apartment and experience life at that time – just for a while.
So, as the fates decided, my train arrived on time at Grand Central, but my daughter didn’t and I had a little bit of “found time”. Without a shred of guilt, I texted Annie that I would be waiting for her at the Campbell Apartment and I walked right up to the entrance. The Campbell Apartment opens at 3 pm. and I was a few minutes early. There were several people ahead of me – I chalked it up to the popularity of the joint and waited for the double doors at the top of the stairs to open.
It turns out that the people waiting with me were members of one party – and they were waiting for more. They were about to surprise a young couple, apparently getting engaged as they spoke. They rushed into the tiny room – big for an apartment, small for a bar – and I was left at the lone barstool at the end of the bar. I had to squeeze in because the woman next to my chair chose to stand and chat instead of sitting and she chose to stand and chat on my side of the chair she had commandeered. Even some of what I felt was subtle a-heming and plopping my huge purse down on the counter didn’t get her attention and cause her to realize her boorishness. She was in deep conversation with a young woman who was intent upon listing for her all the grad schools to which she had applied. It was fascinating. The hostess – in black cocktail dress and pearls – took pity on my plight, although she was clearly delighted about such a windfall party so early in the day. She handed me the red leather menu and told me she would take my order herself so I wouldn’t get lost in the crush of the engagement party’s orders.
I read and re-read the 3 page menu, toying with the idea of a fancy cocktail. Although I had the time, the reason I had taken the train into the city in the first place was to meet up with a friend I hadn’t seen in about 20 or so years. She was in town to visit her son at Columbia and cheer him on at his last football game as a senior. I decided on a glass of California Chardonnay – less likely to stumble up to Columbia and make a bad impression after a benign glass of white wine. My $14 glass of California Chardonnay was poured – as promised by the lovely hostess – and I sat at the bar wondering how the 21st century woman occupies herself alone at the bar. This is definitely not my skill set (see previous attempt). I finally did what I always do – pulled out my notebook and started to write. (I always think the other patrons and/or delightful hostesses will think I’m a famous writer or at the very least a food critic and ask me about my work or offer me something on the house. Sadly, this never happens.) I didn’t have long to write to establish my authority – Annie arrived halfway into my Chardonnay and at the same time the hostess found us a cozy table for two in the corner. Annie had never made it to the Campbell Apartment either so we stayed…and Annie ordered a Pimm’s Cup…of course. Where did we have to go? Well, yes, to meet my friend, but she was at a football game. This was serious found time here. I didn’t feel rushed or worried or pressed or any of those other pushy feelings that make you feel like you can’t enjoy exactly what you’re doing at the moment you are doing it.
So there we were. Ensconced in a dark corner surrounded by overstuffed chairs and sofas, wood-paneled walls and a smattering of Beautiful People enjoying our cocktails. The room – and it is just a room – was somebody’s office. At the opposite end of the entrance is a huge stone fireplace. The whole place had a kind of an 18th century English Manor-slash-Manhattan Upper Westside pied-a-terre feeling to it. (Like I know what either of those places feels like, but there it is.)
Suddenly, the room exploded into applause and camera flashes; the happy couple had arrived. Annie and I excitedly joined in, clapping and smiling and even – curiously – crying a little. There were more than a few glances in our direction as if to ask, “Who the heck are they?” but we just clapped louder and smiled broader. It’s fun to crash parties!
When both of our glasses were empty, I called my friend. She and her son were heading back to campus so we could meet her there. We paid the bill and went to go catch the subway shuttle to Times Square and then head uptown. As we left the Campbell Apartment, I realized that I felt good. This found time had appeared and I took the opportunity to do something I had always wanted to do. And I got to do it with Annie and we had a blast. Train ticket to Grand Central Station from Chappaqua, NY? $8.25. A California Chardonnay and Pimm’s Cup at the Campbell Apartment (and tip)? $31.00. The ability to finally take some time for myself without feeling guilty and have an absolutely wonderful time with my daughter? Priceless.