Here's my go of it on Thursday night in novel form, of course It was sucky, but fun, in a challenging sort of way, too.
Escape From New York
Yes, I was one of those stuck in powerless New York City this past Thursday night. At about 4:10, my computer flickered once, then, along with the whole City, crashed to darkness. I hung around the office with my colleagues for a few minutes, trying to make sense of the situation, comparing ideas about what to do next. Those of us who cross the East River to get here every day knew we were faced with a quagmire of potentially epic proportions. The thought that escaping New York that day might very well mirror the mass exodus of 9/11 was purely daunting. As it turned out, those fears were far from overreaction or melodrama.
Along with two female co-workers, who clung to my fierce and uncompromising nature as much as they did to my arms, I evacuated our building and took to the streets, which were swollen with an impenetrable human herd. Around, through, and in some cases over, a tight pack of cars were making their way as well. With no traffic lights, the cars were playing a dangerous game of intervals in crossing the intersections. This game was completely devoid of courtesy and civility, which inflated the danger to pedestrians bridging the span between corners. Many people dared to share street space with the impatient, pissed-off drivers, seeming almost apathetic about risking limb and life to run with the cars and buses.
Leading the two girls, neither of which showed any compunction about dropping their well being in my hands, we started out by crossing Park Avenue on 59th Street. The long-term goal was to reach Port Authority at 42nd and Seventh Avenue and hop a bus to Jersey. Logic said that this was the best way to go, considering the bus ramps exiting Port Authority dump the buses right into the Lincoln Tunnel, without them having to battle so much as a block of traffic to get there. To attempt catching a bus or cab across town to the tunnel was, in a word, madness.
As I stepped on bumpers and squeezed through barely passable pockets between cars, the traffic we were climbing over began to go. And they weren't about to wait for us. A cab whose driver hadn't been paying attention, which resulted in a 25 foot space between him and the now moving car in front of him, stomped the gas when he realized that he was in the clear to make headway. We were in his path, still four feet from the safety of the curb. I shoved the girls forward as hard as I could, which nearly took them down, and dove for the curb behind them, the cab missing my trailing leg by a few inches. The cab made it about forty feet before having to jump on the brakes. In retrospect, I should have just concentrated on continuing to forge ahead, but my temper took over; I tend to lose it a little when someone tries to kill me. At the curb was an empty glass bottle. I picked it up, told the girls to stay put, and ran up to the open window of the cab. Screaming a string of expletives, I did my best imitation of a Roger Clemens fast ball at the driver's head, hitting him somewhere in the vicinity of his ear. He grabbed the spot and screamed in pain. Beyond that, I don't know; I was already making my way back to the girls, ready now to trudge onward.
From there we pretty much stayed to the sidewalks, now knowing the disposition of the drivers and realizing that I couldn't exact vengeance on all of them. For twenty blocks down and five avenues over it was shoulder-to-shoulder. It kind of reminded me of being stageside at a sold out concert. You literally had to mirror the pattern of steps of the person in front of you if expected not to trip him/her or yourself. It was that packed.
Halfway to Port Authority the girls began complaining of exhaustion. In all fairness, they were each wearing heals and carrying two of the largest purses, handbags, whatever you call them, I'd ever seen. Slinging one over each shoulder, I relieved them of their bags, which seemed to please them and, at least for a little while, put an end to the whining. Carrying a double helping of purse, I was just thankful that we weren't walking down Christopher Street in The Village. Amidst everything else, I might have had to repel the advances of men in buttless chaps.
At about 6:30, two hours after we'd left the office, we finally made it to the oasis known as Port Authority. Unfortunately, the oasis was dark and dry. A sign hung on every entrance: "Port Authority closed until further notice--all bus service cancelled". Joy to the world. The girls were exhausted, dejected, and on the verge of asking me to carry them, I feared. I was feeling a little run down myself at that point, but was undeterred nonetheless. This was no longer simply a commute, it was an odyssey, a quest, a mission to cross the river to the promised land. (Wasn't it Chevy Chase who said, in Vacation, "I think you're all fucked in the head! We're 10 hours from the fuckin' fun park and you want to bail out! Well I'll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. I'm gonna have fun, and you're gonna have fun. We're all gonna have so much fuckin' fun we'll need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles! You'll be whistling "Zippity Do-da" out of your assholes! I gotta be crazy! I'm on a pilgrammage to see a moose! Praise Marty Moose! Holy shit!"
Taking the girls by the hand, I pointed them (dragged them) south. The destination was now 34th and 12th, where we heard stories of a ferry that was granting passage to the weary masses. As soon as we emerged on the West Side Highway on 41st Street, I saw that the legend of the ferry was true, for there was a line waiting to board that stretched from 34th Street to 49th. In my life I have never seen so many people in one spot, waiting for the same thing. For the first time since departing the office, some three and-a-half hours before, my tenacious nature began to succumb to defeatism. Then it happened, the small miracle that, given the situation in which I found myself, seemed almost biblical.
From within the sheer density of the crowed emerged a NY Waterways bus (to me it looked like God himself parting the red sea for his one of his chosen people--me!) The driver stuck his head out the window and screamed, "Anyone for Jersey? I'm going to Jersey." I assessed my relationship to the bus . . . the door literally hit my shoulder as it opened. Shoving the girls in front of me and onto the bus, I pushed them like you might push a stubborn elephant with its ass planted and refusing to move. The guy behind me tried to knock his way past the girls. I elbowed him hard in the chest and saw him fall backwards into the surging crowd squeezing into the bus. It wasn't that I was feeling especially violent or confrontational, I just wasn't about to take any shit from anyone or allow the random scumbag to take advantage of me or anyone with me.
The girls and I managed to secure a two seater, with one girl sitting by the window, me on the aisle, and the other girl on my lap (heh-heh :-D). With people crammed into the aisle and no air-conditioning, it had to be well into the 100s on that thing. It ended up taking a shade over two hours to travel the two blocks to the tunnel. By the time we got moving toward the tunnel entrance, about 7:45, the streets were just complete gridlock. I longed for the tunnel, I envisioned our bus going through it, I pictured the echo of exhaust drone. Never before had I been so obsessed with something as trivial as driving through the Lincoln Tunnel. Had I known what it was going to be like without the interior lights to guide the way, I wouldn't have been so eager to proceed.
Driving through that tunnel represents the thickest, deepest darkness I've ever experienced. At least above ground at night, even in the remotest of areas, you have the pale moonglow and the stars to spread some light. This was a tomb, a subterranean nightmare. I could tell the bus driver was struggling. She was crawling, which allowed the cars ahead of us to drift away and eventually disappear into the black void ahead. The bus's headlights were not nearly sufficient to light our path. The girls were both digging their nails into my forearm and I could hear their labored breathing even above the grunts and gurgles of the bus. I wondered if that was fear or if the tunnel was filled with exhaust and carbon monoxide in the absence of the crippled ventilation systems. I too began to feel a little lightheaded at that point, but I think that was nothing more than the fear rising in silence all around me beginning to spread to me.
The real fear exploded in a symphony of screams when the bus scraped the wall of the tunnel, sparks showering through the open windows onto our laps. Wasn't that fun, I thought. The driver righted the bus with a lunge to the left and remained in the center of the tunnel for the remaining stretch. She placated all of us with a meek, "Sorry bout that, folks."
When the bus exited to the fading daylight, almost a half-hour after entering the tunnel (which is a snip under two miles long), a robust applause broke out and people began hugging whoever happened to be near them. Both girls hugged me and gushed how they never would have made it without me. In light of the circumstances, I couldn't rightfully (or could I?) invite them both back to my place for a little after-crisis cocktail, but the thought occurred to me.
The bus dropped us off at a place called Arthur's Landing in Weehawken, New Jersey, a little commuter town right across the river from the City. One of the girls, whose cell phone was the only one working among all of ours, called her dad, who said he'd be right there to pick us up. Unfortunately, there were no lights in Weehawken and the traffic at the agreed pick up point, the road leading to Arthur's Landing, was an impossible tangle. After an hour and no girl #1's father, I journeyed down to Arthur's landing and bought three dirty-water dogs (opportunistic vendors had set up shop at the waterfront where the ferries were coming in), two bottles of Kendall Jackson Merlot for the ladies, and a twelve of Heineken bottles for me. Now no one's cell phones were working, so there was nothing to do but sit and wait.
After three beers--enough to inject me with renewed inspiration, I guess--I sprung from my seated position on a curb and suggested we move north and try girl #1's father again. The girls were still into doing whatever I thought was best, so we walked a mile, drawing closer to a cell tower I spied in the distance. Sure enough, girl #1 got a signal again and she was able to reach her dad. He imparted his own tale of woe; no matter what he tried, he couldn't find a way around the bottleneck of traffic into Weehawkin. Fortunately, the guy was nice enough to contact girl #1's brother, who lived in Jersey City, two towns over. He was on his way to Hoboken, the town between Jersey City and Weehawkin, where we were instructed to meet him. With me carrying both girl's purses and what was left of our store of alcohol, we made the four mile hike to Washington Street in Hoboken, where, after about forty-five minutes of searching with buzzed eyes through total darkness, we stumbled upon girl #1's brother and his Lexus SUV, the air-conditioned interior of which was a friggin' God send at that point.
The three mile ride to Jersey City took over two hours. We fought through the parking lot of cars with nowhere to go at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. Finally, we made it to girl #1's brother's apartment, where we waited for girl #1's father to show up (he was to shuttle me home on their way south). After a half hour and no further contact from the father, I suggested we all go to the corner bar to get food and continue our slog toward the much needed drunkenness we'd begun at Arthur's Landing.
Two hours later, girl #1's father called to let us know he'd cleared the log jam of cars and was now in Jersey City. We settled our tab and reeled back to the brother's apartment. The father, a 60ish-looking man with what little remained of his hair stranding off in every which direction, seemed even more exhausted than us. We piled into his Dodge Ram and made for the Jersey Turnpike. Aside from a crunch of traffic at the light before the entrance ramp, the Turnpike was clear and the sailing the rest of the way home smooth. When girl #1's father dropped me off in front of my house, his dashboard clock read 4:02 AM, a mere 12 hours after I'd begun my journey home. I gave each girl a hug, whispering separately in both their ears, "I'd invite you in if it weren't for the father . . . ", and hauled my thoroughly beat ass inside.
In contemplating the day, I realized I had been served up all the impetus I needed to get the hell out of the City. The next morning I got up at 10:00 AM, skipped the whole going to work thing, and promptly set to work on tweaking my resume.
why in the hell is this post in the best of???