Trains, automobiles and a rainy night in NYC

October 17, 2010 at 10:48 PM 2 comments

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No joke. My sense of direction is so bad that when I got separated from my mother and sister in a department store, I had them paged over the public address system. I was twelve at the time, but I can imagine the same thing happening today. My panic over losing somebody or getting lost myself is so extreme that I actually prefer to shop alone.

All the more odd that I have dubbed Bookpod the “itinerant media project.” I must be drawn to the very thing I fear — traveling, losing my way, getting stuck — and maybe I think that putting myself in anxiety-provoking situations will teach me how to prevail over them.

Last week I interviewed a spy novelist who appeared to dread getting lost too. I interviewed him just before he was scheduled to speak to a college group about suspense fiction, and when we finished, he said with alarm, “How do I get back to the room where I have to talk? I am so terrible about directions!”

I knew how to get him back to the speakers’ room because I had arrived forty-five minutes early to scope out the rooms where I could set up my podcasting equipment and do the interview in relative privacy. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have known where I was either. I must say, I was thrilled and amused to meet a suspense writer, whose intricate plots include travel from one major European city to another, who couldn’t trace his steps back to a room just around the corner.

Keeping your wheels turning

I had an almost door-to-door trip by bus from Riverdale to the Upper East Side where I met the writer. But coming back home was a little hairier.

I didn’t want to take my podcasting equipment into the subway. It’s bulky. It’s heavy and in rush hour, I would have to worry about keeping track of it. I worried too that some canny mugger would figure out what I was carrying and jump me. But it was raining. I ducked into the subway at 68th and Lexington to pick up the Number 6 to Grand Central, change to the Times Square shuttle and then take the Uptown Number 1 milk train to Riverdale. You can make a lot of tracks for two bucks. Bookpod isn’t only itinerant. It’s a shoestring operation.

Turns out that somebody  at Ninety-sixth and Lexington had suffered a “medical emergency,” and the next downtown train wasn’t coming any time soon. The PA advised going uptown to Ninety-sixth Street and getting on a downtown express train. All that switcheroo wasn’t meant for somebody shlepping recording equipment from Manhattan to the Bronx. I trudged upstairs and came upon a line of frustrated commuters arguing with the subway token lady for a transfer.

“I’m not authorized to do that,” she said.

I could see that the philosophical debate about waiting for authorized instructions versus acting fast in a crisis was not going to end with transfer tickets for anybody. So back up to the street I went with my backpack, computer carrying case and IBM shlep bag in tow.

Five bucks for the bag lady

What were the chances of my getting a cab in the rain to take me across town to Seventy-second and Broadway and the Uptown Number 1? I started to walk across town on Sixty-eighth, this time with my equipment and an open umbrella, and there it was! A yellow taxi van disgorging three passengers onto the corner. I lumbered toward the cab just as a young man in a gray business suit approached with a briefcase in hand. Neither one of us was the type to instigate a Seinfeld-type argument about who had a right to the cab. We each deferred to the other and, in a moment of Manhattan comity, agreed to share the cab.

Once inside, we learned that we were both heading in opposite directions. No problem! First we would head east where the guy lived. Then I would loop around and go through the park to the West Side.

The young guy and I were of the same mind about spending a little extra money to get out of the subway mess and avoid getting drenched in the rain. We chatted a bit and discovered that we had grown up in southern New Jersey. His parents lived two miles from mine. It didn’t matter that an entire generation separated us. We were buddies.

At Second Avenue, he insisted that I take five dollars from him. I couldn’t help but wonder how pitiable a figure I must have cut huddling in the taxi with all my bags.

“Don’t be silly!” I said. But he dropped the bill in my lap and bounded out of the cab.

Leaving well enough alone

In the end, I asked the cab driver to take me all the way home. I couldn’t bear the thought of a possible transit snarl at Seventy-second and Broadway and going through a circuitous trip on the West Side too. Another thirty dollars would whisk me home and soon I would enjoy a bowl of linguine with baby portabella and porcini mushrooms.

It’s crazy to admit, but I was almost hoping for another obstacle. I had just finished an interview with a writer who planted his characters across Europe, and I was wishing something big would happen to me before I got home. I tried to engage the cab driver in conversation, but all he did was complain about the color schemes of New York City apartments. “Tan and white,” he said. “That’s all you ever see.”

“What color is your apartment?” I asked.

“Tan and white!”

He could have changed the color scheme easily enough, but he had decided to leave well enough alone. So did I.


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See also: Lost in Manhattan again


Entry filed under: Apartments, audio essays, Bookpod, New York City, Shopping, Travel. Tags: , , , .

But she didn’t bite off my ear Time to give up on a noble cause?

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sara Bennett  |  October 18, 2010 at 2:20 PM

    Another post leaving me with a smile!

  • 2. Pesha  |  October 19, 2010 at 8:48 AM

    It’s when you get lost that you find the best stories.


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