New York City Traffic Jam

I was clearly in a place where the expectations were set but I didn’t know what they were; I’d face transportation trials and epiphanies I couldn’t have anticipated throughout my four days in New York City. Let’s begin with pedestrian traffic.

It should have been simple, crossing the intersection of 8th Avenue and 44th Street in midtown Manhattan or a simple task walking from my hotel’s front door to the curb. But both presented challenges I’d not foreseen. Facing the human gauntlet, shoulder to shoulder sporting intent stares and grim determination, was daunting.

As the crowds advanced upon me in Kentucky Derby fashion, I looked straight ahead, eyes lowered, walking slowly, very slowly. I expected that I’ll be ruffled and tousled in the melee; instead this wave of humanity seemed to ripple as it moved in almost a musical cadence, swaying from one side to another without a push or a shove.

After learning how to negotiate the sidewalks, next came public transportation. The all-day excursion to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island was my next test. We’d decided to try out the subway which was unexpectantly clean and airy feeling even though it’s underground. I was surprised to see shops in these tunnels and no sighting of the famous subway rat.

We walked, raced actually, for what seemed like miles to finally get to the subway car and settled in as the crowd exited and entered all around us. The sign saying the poles were not for pole dancing drew a mental picture in my head that made me smile.

Sitting across from me was a young boy, perhaps all of eight years old, traveling alone, impeccably dressed in his black pin-striped suit and bright red tie with a briefcase on his lap. I wasn’t sure if he was worried, scared or extremely curious since his little eyes bulged as his glaring eyes darted from the people and activities going on around him. Where could he be going on this Saturday of Labor Day weekend, I wondered.

My belief that we’d arrive at Battery Park in a short while was dashed when a heavily accented woman wearing a babushka interrupted our chatter; she advised us we’d have to get off the subway at Chambers Station and board a shuttle bus for the last leg of the journey. Liberty Island suddenly seemed so far away.

Soon we were back up to street level, walking a block or two and standing in line for a shuttle bus. On the crowded bus, an elderly woman, wearing a babushka, sitting next to me, hardly speaking English, was as worried, as I was that we’d actually arrive at our destination. It was puzzling that she kept turning to and questioning me when her young English speaking son sat right beside her. I did the best I could.

Scan0011Once arriving at Battery Park we stood in line to twice go through an airport style security check before entering the ramp to stand in line with several hundred people waiting for the next boat. Once on the island the lines both to enter the Statue of Liberty and to just get a hamburger discouraged us at every turn. Instead we viewed the Statue from outside and settled for an ice cream.

We opted for Ellis Island. More lines and another boat ride. Once there, the lack of crowds made me wonder if so much history held less interest for most tourists. The exhibits, though many were still in storage due to Hurricane Sandy damage, were well worth the time we spent there.

oct 31 006Then there were the taxis. Knowing the trip back to the hotel would entail, buses, subway, walking, I was adamant that I wouldn’t be able to repeat the trip due to my physical limitations. From then on, I opted for taxis every change I got and grew to love the sight of those little yellow cars that seemed to be everywhere. But there’s a skill involved in getting a taxi.

We asked one of the carriage drivers on Central Park South and he directed us to walk to the next block, cross two intersections to just the right corner and hail a taxi from there. Due to traffic patterns and visibility its best to find just the right spot. A helpful lesson, resulting in us getting a taxi within minutes every time. Of course we were three middle aged white women and knew that probably had something to do with it.

And that was just the first of many taxi rides. From Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, from the Cloisters with a view of the George Washington Bridge, the result was I got to see most of Manhattan as we whizzed past one sight after another. A glimpse of various neighborhoods with their shops and coffee cafes was refreshing. There’s much more to New York City than the frenetic energy of Times Square and Broadway.

Scan0013So many transportation options, so little time. Hop on Hop Off was something we never found time to do. The three wheeled bicycles lined up outside the Broadway theater was another we passed on. But our ride through Central Park was easy to arrange by just walking up to the carriages lined up on Central Park South; we made a deal with Dimitri and his horse, Luther and off we went.

Scan0014Dimitri said he’d take us everywhere we were allowed to go. Seems there are now some restrictions on where carriages are allowed and there’s even a move to actually do away with these rides citing traffic congestion and that the animals are being mistreated. Our driver and horse were pleasant and calm. Central Park was host to many activities that day: a concert, a play, a homeless person sleeping on the hill, families picnicking and three-wheeled bicycles for hire.

New York City is very walkable and a tourist should be prepared for hiking marathons. I traversed Time Square, to 30 Rock, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall and the Guggenheim. New Yorkers were friendly and helpful. All one had to do was look puzzled or confused and a stranger would ask what you’re looking for and then give accurate directions. Visiting New York City was invigorating and the memories still swirl around in my head of time spent in the hurried and harried maelstrom of traffic and people.

But it was also wonderful to get back home where I can get into my car and be wherever I want to be in ten minutes with minimal traffic and very few lines. The night I returned home and sat in the dark in my totally quiet apartment I felt both relieved and oddly abnormal. It took me two weeks, once home, to recover and finally feel rested. I think that means I had a great time!

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