Friday, June 25, 2010

How Not To Go From Point A to Point B - My Odyssey.

For those of you coming here from Facebook, welcome to my blog..Now read on....

Here’s an interesting little story to amuse and entertain. Last night, I didn’t think it was funny at all, but it’s pretty amazing what a good night’s sleep can do to one’s mind.

Yesterday, I was all set to run in the American Heart Association’s 3 Mile Wall Street Run. I was going to meet Karen downtown, who was running the race as well, and had even gotten the OK from my boss to leave a couple of hours early too.

The air conditioning in the VW wasn’t working right since the night before. The air would blow through but it was hot. I figured that perhaps I might need to take it to a garage and get it charged with Freon, but since I was in a rush to get all the way from Melville to home to drop my things and then subway it down to the race, I really had no time to get the issue resolved at that point. So, I decided to drive with the windows open. It was 94 degrees yesterday, BTW.

About an hour before I left, a storm had just assaulted its way passed our workplace. Judging by torrent of rain, high winds and lightning, I almost felt that I was in Florida at my Dad’s house. “Just great.”, I thought. “How am I going to drive with the windows down now?” However, the storm passed just as quickly as it came. And the worst was over. Or so I thought.

We had just finished up a staff meeting, and I jumped in my car and took off. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, I figured to try the AC one more time. Still no use, so I turned it off almost immediately.

As I headed down Old Bethpage until it became Manneto Hill, to get to the Northern State, I noticed a lot of traffic, and traffic lights not working. “Guess the storm made it’s mark. Good thing I missed it!” I relievingly thought.

I finally got on the Northern State. I through I was on my way. About two miles down the real-time LED overhead traffic displayed “Tree Down. Left Lane Closed at Exit 29”. I was at about Exit 35 going west at the time, and already started to see a slowdown. Not wanting to risk missing the race, I took the Route 107 N (Syosset) exit, and figured I would drive west on the Long Island Expressway

The L.I.E., as it immediately turned out, became a parking lot. Reports of a lot of people jumping off the Northern, plus accidents, and another tree down, made us come to nearly a dead halt.

And that was just the beginning.

I heard an odd noise in my car. It was coming from my dashboard. A red light was flashing on and off. I had never seen this light before. I looked at all the instrumentation, and everything seemed fine. Everything that is, except for the car temperature.

On a VW Jetta, the normal running temperature of the engine is supposed to be at 190. 190 is the half way point on the half circle that’s on my dash. Well, it was at 260, and that was all the way to the right. I needed to pull over or risk losing my engine.


I made my way over to the right shoulder, got out and popped the hood. Engine was not steaming, but I could see the antifreeze tank was not empty either. What gives? I’m no mechanic, but at this point there was no sense in playing around with things I have no clue about so I called roadside assistance to get a tow. Roadside assistance informed me that the L.I.E. was a restricted highway, and that they could not dispatch, but that they would call the police. I remembered 4 years ago, when my Honda was vandalized and nearly hotwired on the streets of Kew Gardens. I called the cops and it took them 2 hours and 40 minutes to get there. I texted Karen. She was in a meeting, and could not respond right away but when she did, and I told her what had happened, she also called to haggle with the roadside assist company.

To make matters even more interesting, I always charge my phone while I’m at the office. Except for today. My job had just given me a new Blackberry Bold only 2 days before, but not enough time for me to get a car charger for it. To top it all off, I’m one of those crazy people that waited on a pre-sales line at AT&T weeks earlier to get the iPhone 4. I did have the charger for that, but I was supposed to get THAT phone in the evening after the race. Just my luck.

I was telling Karen to hurry up because my cell was dying, and then it died. Now I was stuck in the road with no phone. Being something of a “gadget-guru”, I stumbled across a 110 to cigarette lighter converter. Plugged it in, and then plugged the phone to it. It worked!

In the meantime, I was getting pretty hot. I had my racing singlet (with race number already bobby-pinned!) underneath my polo. There was no wind, and the humidity was very high. In addition to the heat, the cars were passing me slower than a funeral’s pace, causing some motorists to lose patience and ride along the shoulder….Where my car was parked! I was on a bend in the road, but fortunately no car came to close to me.

Another car pulled up behind me. At first I thought it was an undercover. Turned out he was just another motorist who was having overheating issues as well.

It had been already an hour (4:40pm) and at this point, I pretty much had abandoned the hope of attending the race. The antifreeze was no longer smoking, so I decided it was finally safe to open it’s bulbous tank, and add some more new antifreeze. I waited about 10 more minutes, and decided to see if I could start driving again, by riding the shoulder, until I could at least get off the expressway altogether.

As I approached exit 39, there was a Nassau County cop car blocking the exit. Closed.

Great. Now I would have to continue riding the shoulder to the next exit which wasn’t until Roslyn (38).

The exit ramp to Willis Avenue, was jammed, primarily because of the previous exit being closed. Traffic on the LIE was still hardly moving, and with my windows rolled down I could hear people yelling and screaming. Insanely, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” was running through my head as I heard it.

I finally got off the L.I.E. just to get caught in equal traffic on the service road. I made it passed Port Washington Blvd. but as I approached Shelter Rock Road, the car started overheating again.


I had to get off the service, and pull over again. And this time permanently, or truly risk engine damage.

I made a right onto Shelter Rock Road, and pulled into Tiffany Circle, a private road to a gated, security-guarded, condo community. The guy at the guard shack came out, and I told him what had happened. And he was okay with me parking my car, but had me go in past the gate and around to the exit side.

At this point, I texted Karen again, and called USAA (roadside assistance) again. Apparently, they got an expected tow time of 2 hours and 50 minutes. It was already 5:30pm. And I had only gone 10 miles in 2 hours. I can run 14 miles in the same amount of time.

I get a call from Ray’s Towing Company, and tell me that they will be there in 20 minutes. I told them not to use the LIE because of the storms. They told me, “No worries sir. We’re coming from Northern Boulevard to Shelter Rock Road.”

A few minutes after I hung up, I looked and Shelter Rock road was also a parking lot for as far as I could see. A jogger who took note at me looking at the traffic, ran by me and said, “I just came from there….traffic is like this….all the way to Northern Boulevard…”

I just can’t make this shit up.

The 20 minute wait for a tow, turned into a 90 minute wait. They finally showed up at 7pm. I jump onto the tow truck, where they take me to Noren’s Friendly Service in Manhasset. It was conveniently located next to the LIRR. Convenient, because the Long Island Railroad was going to be the way in which I would get home. I didn’t tow the car to Manhattan, because a) the insurance only covered up to 11 miles of towing, and was very expensive, and b) the towing company mentioned that they were not allowed to take their flatbed into Manhattan.

When I got to the station, the place was closed but there was an attendant there. I filled out some paperwork, and made sure not to forget leaving him the car keys!

It was already 7:35 when I entered the train station. I went to go buy a ticket, and noticed that all the machines were off. Then I looked around, and noticed that the station had no power. Dread began enveloping over me yet again.

I walked up to someone waiting with their daughter, and asked them about the power issue.

“Power is out all over town” she non-chalantly said. “Trains are delayed too but one just came by here moments ago heading to NY.”

Judging by the schedule, that train would have been 10 minutes late. The next train was supposed to be at 7:46pm. So even if that were 10 minutes late, not much considering that I’ve already invested 4 hours of my life throughout this harrowing event.

7:46 came and went. 8pm came and went. At this point, my cellphone had died again. Without the car, I no longer could recharge my phone. I went to a payphone. Dead. I then remembered I had my iTouch with me (not iPhone). If I could get wifi, I could email Karen, and search for news on this power outage issue. Not to get into details, but I did find a wifi provider which required me to enter a password. Thanks to my gifted memory, I remembered a subscriber (who I used to date) and tried her password. It worked. I was elated!

The elation did not last for long. On my iTouch, I found a traffic bulletin posted at 7:49pm on the LIRR website. It said that train service on the Port Washington and Oyster Bay branches were shut down in both directions indefinitely. Now, there was a train that came at 7:45pm heading eastbound. Was that the last train?

Confusion stirred among myself and the people as we waited on the platform for a train that seemed would never show. And since there was no power, there were no official announcements to be heard overhead either.

I waited until about 8:20pm, and then I had enough. Even if it was going to cost me $150 dollars, I would find a cab to take me home. I was sweaty, hungry and tired and didn’t want anymore of this.

I walked upstairs, and looked around the town. Everything was closed and black. No lights. No power in Manhasset. People were talking on street corners about the situation. It was very eerie. I finally found a town cab and flagged him down.

I asked him how much to New York, and he instead answered that for $12 dollars he could take me to the Roslyn train station, and that it was operating because it goes through Jamaica station. As I was just about to open the back door to go in, he pointed out the window to tell me that a train was coming.

I turned around. He was right!

I bolted down the stairs and lunged into the train as soon as it opened. How happy was I? I figured that maybe, just maybe I could get home by around 9pm.

The doors closed, and the train took off.

And then the announcement came….

“Due to track damage from the storm, this train will make it’s last stop at Great Neck. For those of you looking to continue to NY, please exit at Great Neck where there will be buses to take you to the Bayside train station.”

Nothing in my life is ever easy isn’t it.

As the train went about 2 miles per hour towards Great Neck, I began to think about the massive traffic jam when I was coming back last Sunday from dropping my kids off. I dropped them off at 6pm, locked myself out of my car (well that’s another story for the ages isn’t it), and when all was said ‘n’ done, I didn’t get home until after 10pm.

NOTE TO SELF: Why don’t I just move into my car?

But, I digress. The train finally pulls into Great Neck, and I, and a handful of other people, run up the stairs and exit onto Great Neck Av (I think). Across the street at the train ticket plaza were about 30 yellow school buses. We boarded the first one. I was hot as hell, and decided to sit in the back near the AC (hah).

Not to be disrespectful, but being on this bus with all these other adults, made me feel like one of “Jerry’s kids” if you know what I mean.

Anywho, the bus was just sitting there. Why? One of the people that had gotten on the bus, I had met at the Manhasset train station. He was hoping to catch the 11pm Amtrak from Penn to go to Philly. It was already 9:16pm.

The bus finally took off, but it didn’t go very fast. Why on earth go down Northern Boulevard was beyond my rationale. It is always jammed packed, especially in conditions like these.

I actually started dozing off however, when a large bump woke me up.

The bus had lousy shocks, but the real shock was that this bus had long passed the Bayside train station off of Bell Blvd. In fact we were in Flushing, in Korea Town no less!

I figured that perhaps the driver was taking us to the 7 train?

But no, he wasn’t. In yet ANOTHER idiotic moment in my odyssey, the driver makes a right turn off of Northern onto a narrow residential street. Then he makes another right turn.

“Why was this guy doubling back?”, I wondered.

By now everyone on the bus knew that this guy was totally out of his league and totally lost. One person, with a Mets hat no less, got up from his seat, while the bus was moving, and yelled at the driver. Ahhh, nothing like New York courtesy!

Basically, he should have said something earlier, but now he was pretty mad, and asked if he could be let off. The bus driver did NOT oblige!!!! The passenger then threatened to break the door open at the next stop.

Can you believe this shit?

All I kept thinking to myself was how did I get myself into all of this? I was just trying to get home!!!

Finally the heated words amongst the passengers was replaced with some common sense. We were all frayed with tension from a trying day. Though my saga beat theirs by a long, long, way.

And it would still get EVEN better.

The bus driver turned back east (if you could imagine) to an LIRR train station called ‘Broadway’. This was a station that I never even heard of, and I imagine hardly any trains would stop. Yet, I was wrong, because a train did stop there and take off……Too bad it was as we were approaching the station. Umm. Yes. That train left before we got there.

The driver further got lost even by the train station, driving up a narrow road he had no business driving through, and breaking tree branches along the way with the top of the bus.

Finally and mercifully, he stopped the bus. We got off and fled!

As I was following the lost herd of displaced passengers across some unseethy street in Queens, I had little confidence that another train was going to come anytime soon. So, I decided to break away from the failed flock of strangers that I was with, and journeyed my way over to Northern Blvd. again. I figured this time, I would just hop on a cab and pay a lot of money to take me the rest of the way home. It was 9:45pm.

But I could not find a cab anywhere and jumped onto a city bus heading for Main Street – Flushing instead. Thank God, I bought a Metrocard the other day when I went to work at the Chrysler Building too.

I got off the bus, and made my way to the 7 train on Main & Roosevelt. It was the first stop on the line. The Mets were playing (and losing to) the Tigers at Citifield, and the game was nearly over. Time for some interaction here….Do you know what the second stop on the 7 train is? Yep, you guessed it. Citifield.

Crowds of people were streaming on the train. Normally a trying situation to be crowded in a subway full of drunk and unruly fans, right? Now image having a nearly 7 hour head start, like the one I had, and you can bet your Aunt Fanny that I was none too patient. Fortunately, I had a seat on the train. Plus, by now, I was holding my head in my hand…along with my backpack, and gym bag (which was holding all of my race stuff).

Of course, at this time of night the 7 train was making all local stops. And since I had to go to nearly the end of the line, it was over 20 stops before I got into Grand Central Station.

After being exposed to all kinds of weirdos, including this one dude with an oversized skateboard, multiple nose piercings, and an ear that was pierced with an asthsma inhaler hanging off of it, I got off the train and ran as fast as I could up and out to the terminal.

It was almost 11pm, and the first order of business was to find a working payphone, which I did, and called Karen. It had been over 3 hours since she last heard from me, and based on all my negative ra-ra I’d been doling out to her, she was worried sick over me.

After I hung up, I was able to get into a taxi cab. I told the cabbie guy this whole story and blew him away. When he finally dropped me off, and I entered my building the time read 11:15pm.

It took me 7 hours and 45 minutes to travel 38 miles. Again, I could have run home faster. And who knows? Perhaps if I didn’t have two heavy bags, I might have, if someone would have told me what I was about to face when I left my office at 3:30pm.

In the end, I drove a failing car twice, took a lift on a tow truck, took one LIRR train, took two buses (one school, one city), took a subway, and took a cab ride.

This was my odyssey and I wanted to share this with everybody.

Next up will be to see how much money it’s going to cost me to get my car, which is all the way in Manhasset, to be fixed.

Next time I have a race on a weekday, I will just take the day off!