Tuesday, October 25, 2005, 1pm.
Hurricane Wilma, blowing up from the southwest, is supposed to rendezvous with some sort of weather front that will become what we here in the NY/NJ/CT tri-state area call a Nor’easter. The car service is due to pick me up at 1:45pm and deliver me to Newark Liberty International Airport’s terminal C where I’ll hop on a short Continental Airlines flight to Rochester.
I don’t normally use a car service. I usually schlep myself where I gotta go by way of NJ Transit or Amtrak. I like trains. But this time I have a reason to hire a car: my back is killing me. Don’t know what I did, or when, but by yesterday I could barely move. So I decided to go to the airport by way of a vehicle that doesn’t try throw you across the aisle when you attempt to sip coffee.I’ve been checking continental.com all morning and am trying to make sense out of the info there. The plane that is to take me from Newark to Rochester is apparently coming to New Jersey via South Carolina. According to the flight info, that plane is not only late due to the weather, but getting later by the minute. Yet my flight seems to be blissfully unaware of that fact since its departure time remains the same. I am generally not the suspicious sort, but the fact that that particular piece of equipment is not due to arrive into Newark until after 7pm, yet is scheduled to depart from Newark 3 hours before that, gives me pause.And now: Bing-bing-bing-bing! The playful InBox arpeggio of Microsoft Entourage announces a new arrival. And that is how I learn that my flight is cancelled.I dial Adobe travel and tell the agent I need to get on another flight to Rochester. I’m expected to present two sessions on Adobe Creative Suite 2 at Rochester Institute of Technology tomorrow, and I can’t let my colleagues, Kevin McGrath and Ali Hanyaloglu down. Travel Agent Maggie tells me that the hold time for customer service at Continental is eleven minutes and asks if I’d like her to call me back after she’s gotten through. Good thinking. I hang up with Maggie and immediately dial Continental myself. I get Agent Mary on the phone. My doorbell, also possessing a lovely melody, chimes and I ask the Continental agent to hold on. It’s the car service. Early. Good.I let in him in and ask him to hang on a minute. His name, unbelievably is Manny. Maggie, Mary and Manny, atcher service! Call-waiting beeps and it’s Adobe Agent Maggie. Continetal has put me on the next flight out to Rochester which is the 5:05pm. Wow, that’s GREAT! I hang up with her and go back to Continental Agent Mary. Just for kicks I ask her to confirm that I am on the 5:05pm out of Newark. She confirms that I am. However, it’s the 5:05 on Thursday. Today is Tuesday. In fact, I am now scheduled to return before I leave. I briefly ponder that it’s amazing how often Continental flights are doing that these days, but snap out of my reverie as Agent Mary informs me that ALL flights for the rest of the day have been cancelled. The call-waiting beeps and it’s Maggie who just realized the mistake that Continental has made. And then she confirms what Mary already told me. I’m not flying out of Newark tonight.Plan B.Now I pull up Amtrak.com. There’s a train leaving from Penn Station New York at 3:50pm. It’s now 2:00pm. I live an hour and 30 minutes away from New York City. The next train from Trenton would arrive in NY too late. I’ll have to get there by car. But I can’t drive myself with my back in this condition and in a Nor’easter. I call the car service company and inquire if Manny may take me to New York City instead of Newark airport. Alas, he may not. Manny has to pick up a customer from Newark Airport. I wonder if I can convince them that his customer is most definitely going to be late and Manny would have me to the city and be back to the airport in plenty of time, but I don’t want to waste time, so I say OK and send Manny away.I pull out my PDA, go to my phone book and pare down to my Taxi services category. I can no longer depend on someone whose name begins with M, so I skip Mid-Town Taxi and dial Henry’s cab service. Henry is surprised that I want to go to Penn Station when the Trenton station is only 10 minutes away, but he’s game. He’ll be here in 15 minutes he says.30 minutes later, Henry arrives. It is now 2:30pm. Bless his heart, he drives like a mad-man and we’re up the Turnpike in a flash. But then he asks me if he should take the Holland tunnel or the Lincoln tunnel. I realize this is Not A Good Thing.Lincoln, I tell him, since the station is mid-town. “Penn Station is between 7th and 8th Avenues at 32nd, 33rd & 34th Streets.” “Okay, mam,” says Henry, who promptly exits the tunnel and goes right past the exit for 34th street.“No, no! Henry! You should have gone right!”“Oh, I should’ve gone right? OK” And Henry makes the next right. Only it’s right up the Buses Only lane to the Port Authority.Breathe. I tell myself. Breathe.I will admit that the Police Officer was exceedingly pleasant which I attribute to the Jersey plates on the cab. After pulling us over he instructs Henry to go back down the ramp on the right. And Henry does. But I realize (although he does not) that he is heading BACK into the Lincoln tunnel. “RIGHT, Henry. RIGHT! Keep RIGHT!” And praise the Lord, Henry does.“OK, just go straight here. Lemme see where we are. All right. 9th Ave heads downtown, and that’s what we’ve got to do. So turn right here, go down to 34th street and turn left.” Henry has come into his own now, and manages this with grace. I’m so happy to see the station that I don’t even care that I’m going in at the Long Island Railroad Entrance. I know this means that I am going to have to schlep my suitcase through the LI Double-R, up to NJ Transit and across to Amtrak like Quasimodo, but I have a Nike moment and Just Do It.The departure board shows my train at the top of the list and the status is flashing. “Now Boarding.” I’m flat out running now, or some bizarre semblance of a run, given that I can barely walk, and I execute a New York move by cutting off a guy at the Amtrak Kiosk. And now, it’s all slow motion like the Matrix. Credit card slides in the slot, reservation comes up, finger touches the screen, ticket slides out the slot, hand grabs the ticket. I run to the gate, flash my ticket, stumble down the escalator and step on board the train. Two seconds later, the doors close and we roll.As I heave my aching body into the seat, the guy behind me says, “Your flight get cancelled, too?” I smile at him. Yep. Sure did. And exactly 10 hours later, at 1am on Wednesday morning, the train rolled in to Rochester.Easy as pie.