Nick’s train commute from Long Island into New York City passes through a desolate industrial area in Queens which Nick calls “the valley of ashes.” Barges on a “small foul river” in the valley of ashes sometimes cause the railway drawbridge to be raised, and then the train is delayed. A huge optometrist’s billboard, a huge pair of bespectacled eyes, dominates the scene.
Nick and Tom Buchanan ride into the city on the train one Sunday afternoon . Tom persuades Nick to get out at the ash valley so they can meet Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s mistress. Her easily deceived husband George runs a gas station in the ash valley.
Tom and Nick go to the gas station and arrange for Myrtle to follow them on the next train into New York. Tom keeps an apartment for Myrtle there.
In the City they drive around a little, Myrtle spends Tom’s money, then they go to the apartment and Myrtle invites some of her friends over.
As Nick gets drunk over the course of the afternoon he observes the small seedy cast of characters.
Myrtle deplores her husband to everybody. She explains to Nick just how she met Tom - on the train into the city - he approached her and pressed himself against her. “You can’t live forever,” she told herself excitedly over and over.
Mr. McKee, a hack photographer from the apartment one flight down, discusses picture taking. Myrtle’s new dog gets some biscuits. Myrtle’s sister Catherine rattles her pottery bracelets.
The party goes forward, everyone drinks more and talks more, and late in the evening Tom and Myrtle argue about Daisy, and Tom slaps Myrtle and breaks her nose.
Then the party’s over, and Nick takes the elevator down with Mr. McKee the photographer, puts him to bed, and goes to the train station to wait hours for the first morning train.