features, travel

Lost in Queens. And Brooklyn. Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island too.

You just never want to see this sign.

I used to fly when I visited my parents in Massachusetts. Three Christmases ago, this trauma even came with a compensation. The flight attendant was a former New York City cop, which gave a special sweetness to the landing announcement:

Ladeez an gennulmun, welcome tah Booistun–home of da Wooild Cheaampeeun Booistun Red Sooix.

But with the airlines and the federal government in a bizarre conspiracy to make air travel as miserable as possible, even the promise of hearing those beautiful words again (with or without the New York accent) is no longer enough to lure me onto an airplane at Christmastime.

So I drive.

The first few hours of my Boxing Day return trip went pretty smoothly.

Then I hit New York City on I-95, which the George Washington Bridge connects with the New Jersey Turnpike. Crossing it is never quick or pleasant. When they’re warning you about it, it’s really bad.

Between trucks, I caught a glimpse of a sign seeming to suggest I-87 as an alternate route to the GW Bridge. As a later look at a map showed, I-87 doesn’t go near the GW Bridge, but since I didn’t know that at the time, I fell for it. I exited I-95 and jumped on 1-87, which at least moved more fluidly.

Then, at one point, I misread a sign and exited the highway–and ended up on a surface street. In the Bronx. Alone. With Virginia plates.

What was going to become of me?

Would I be robbed of my car and all it contained–and then shot anyway by thugs secure in the knowledge that the government forbade me from arming myself?

Or would I be beaten to death by bat-wielding Yankees fans–my Braveheart-esque last words, “G0 SOX!!!”?

Or, even worse, would I simply drive forever through the streets of New York–the woman who never returned?

Okay, since I’m writing this, you know that none of these fantastic fears came true. I found my way back to I-87, which soon ended at I-278. My choices were East or West. Since Virginia lies south-by-southwest of New York, I chose West.

I had no map of New York and no GPS. Lost and alone and scared, in the city that saddled the world with Regis Philbin, I did the best thing I could think of: I phoned a friend. I got his voicemail. Trying to sound calm, I left a message asking him to call me back. He did, quickly–and used Google Maps to confirm that I was headed in the correct direction: I-278 led to the New Jersey Turnpike. Google Maps was very helpful. Not only did it tell us which bridges were coming up, but it even showed where the traffic was heaviest.

I crossed over the Triborough Bridge from the Bronx, over Manhattan, then into Queens. I drove down into Brooklyn, and passed under, but did not cross, or sell, the Brooklyn Bridge. My phone-friend pointed out what a nice tour I was getting of NYC. I was in no mood.

Then I paid a whopping $9 to cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge over to Staten Island.

That of course meant crossing another Bridge–the Goethals–to get off Staten Island–and to the New Jersey Turnpike. The whole NYC detour consumed about two hours of my life.

A bad day is when I’m in Manhattan. A terrible day is when I’m in any of the four other boroughs. A horrific day is when I’m in all five.

And a truly ridiculous day is when I’m actually glad to reach the New Jersey Turnpike. Especially when it looks like this:

I stopped at the Thomas Edison Service Area for Starbucks, but the line was so long that I skipped the coffee.

Fortunately, I still had enough gasoline to get to Delaware. Stopping at a New Jersey gas station is like taking a detour through the Carter presidency.

New Jersey brings state paternalism to special low: Self-serve is verboten; you’re not trusted to pump your own gasoline in the state that elects such paragons of personal responsibility as Jon Hot-Wheels Corzine and Jim Down-Low McGreevey. Nuf ced.

The NJTP was painfully slow. At one point, a police car right behind me flashed its lights. It wasn’t possible to exceed the speed suggestion, and I couldn’t imagine what else I might have done wrong, but I pulled onto the shoulder. The cop pulled over behind me–and then pulled back into the right lane and went around me to drive up the shoulder. At first I thought this was the way NJ cops have fun with out-of-staters. Later observation suggested the revised hypothesis that pulling over for a cop just isn’t the custom in New Jersey; he probably just wanted to drive up the shoulder and never expected me to pull over, though that doesn’t explain why he flashed his lights behind me.

By the time I reached Delaware, my gas tank was about 1/8th full, so I stopped at a service area.

I could almost picture God, right before the beginning of time, laying out his eternal plan, with this detail:

And the moral is: Don’t drive I-95 on the day after Christmas.

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17 thoughts on “Lost in Queens. And Brooklyn. Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island too.

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  6. We go up to visit family in Connecticut each year, and NEVER go through NY City. The usual plan is to go through New Jersey on the Turnpike to the Garden State Parkway, take that over the line into Upstate New York, and then go east (well, really south) on I-87 and across the Tappan Zee Bridge. We take the exit for 287 east to get to 684 North, and take that to I-84 East, which takes you to Hartford, or, if you stay on it, to the Mass Pike. You can also stay on 2878 to get to either I-95 or to the Merritt Parkway (I think).

    So here are a couple of suggestions: Buy a good road atlas and STUDY IT. Keep it with you on your road trips. Also, when you are nearing New York City, put the radio on WCBS 880 AM to get frequent traffic reports (“on the eights”). In New Jersey, 101.5 FM (talk on weekdays, music on weekends) has Jersey traffic every 15 minutes as well.

    OK, I’ve done this too much. Sorry about your having to take the scenic tour of New York. Did you at least get to see the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island? 😉

  7. @yankee phillip:

    Let me see if I understand your colorful phraseology as I respond to your comments:

    I used to be compelled by a previous job to make annual trips to NYC, which was one of the primary reasons I left that employer. My most recent unavoidable visit to NYC, for other reasons, was in 2003.

    During each and every visit throughout the 1990s, I heard Manhattanites griping about how that “fascist” Giuliani was “ruining” their island utopia by turning it into a “police state.” (Actual quotes overheard by me.) In hindsight, maybe these folks have reconsidered their positions, but their whining about the “oppression” of those who they believed should have the right, say, to urinate in the subways, or clog the sidewalks with their counterfeit goods, or indulge their artistic muses with stolen cans of Krylon, made my visits to the island that much more unpleasant. It’s not New York that’s the problem; it’s New Yorkers.

    If NYC is so wonderful now, why are you a former NYer?

    As far as the traffic is concerned, it is my suspicion that everyone is simply trying to leave.

    (Possibly to go buy gas in New Jersey – which brings me to another point: your “reprimand” of Mr. Kilo; he was quoting Ms. Carbone’s original post. I refer you to the paragraph following that quotation:

    “New Jersey brings state paternalism to special low: Self-serve is verboten; you’re not trusted to pump your own gasoline in the state that elects such paragons of personal responsibility as Jon Hot-Wheels Corzine and Jim Down-Low McGreevey. Nuf ced.”

    The point, which Ms. Carbone made effectively yet you failed to comprehend while mis-attributing it to Mr. Kilo, is that the state of New Jersey takes away the consumer’s freedom of choice and compels gasoline sellers to increase their operational overhead by hiring attendants. This is passed on to the consumer in the form of higher gas prices [it makes no difference if the cost of gas in NJ is lower than in NYC; it could be lower still if not for this law] and in the inconvenience of having to wait for the attendant to do a job that most people are ready and willing to do for themselves.)

    Lastly, just as a broken clock is right twice a day, you’re right about Teddy K. The greatest tragedy of the Kennedy brothers is that he’s the one that lived. Ted is the best argument for term limits ever devised. But before I let the pot get away with calling the kettle black, have you taken a good look at New York’s Junior Senator lately?

  8. Yo Tessie, but is der really civilization hidin in Mass, VT, or DC? I tink of de rise and fall of de US is exemplified in Teddy and Massachusetts.
    And Fuggedaboudit, when wuz u lasst in New Yawk? Itz buudiful since Rudy and Bill Bratton let de cops do der jobs.Maybeez dey have a bit of traffic dere. But itz becauz peoplez wants ta be dere.
    By de wayz, I iz a former NYer. and I have no accent,LOL

  9. I have to reprimand Carl for his description of NJ’s gas stations. It is more like passing thru an Eisenhower presidency. They actually fill your gas tank. There is no self serve. The gas is cheaper than most states too. It is on par with VA. When you come thru the Lincoln tunnel from NYC, you fill up your tank at 20 cent per gallon cheaper than NYC

  10. Leslie, I’m so glad you survived a harrowing trip through – egad – all five boroughs of Hell.

    I saw ‘I am Legend’ this weekend. It’s an o.k. movie made worthwhile by Will Smith’s acting, but you may most enjoy the (regrettably only computer-generated) vistas of a deserted Manhattan; I know I did.

    (The movie also opens with a newscaster prediting a Yankees-Cubs World Series. Pure Science Fiction.)

    It really is too bad that New York has interposed itself between New England and the rest of civilization.

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