Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Que mariachi!

It was a bit of a culture shock coming almost directly from Vienna, which has brilliant airport transport options, to JFK on Sunday. My comments on my personally selected transport options will give creative readers inspiration of appropriate adjectives to use.

Train 'service' in NYC is complicated at best and useless at worst. Why on earth would you have trains that show stop(s) on the map but which don't stop there at all, or only stop there going either uptown or downtown? How are intruders to this planet supposed to glean this useful information without becoming telepathic? Additionally, trains do not appear to be terribly disabled/handicapped (whichever term the reader's culture deems to be momentarily PC) friendly in this city. I have discovered only one elevator/lift in the past two days, entirely by accident -- and that smelled strangely of unpleasant things and was approximately the size of an upright coffin.

Since I had luggage and also because I didn't anticipate being able to haul said luggage up 3 flights of stairs (IF the damned train were to actually stop where expected), I made the seemingly intelligent decision to book to shuttle to Lower Manhattan, based on Expedia's marketing to idiots (me), the fabulous fare (£19) and the promise that I would be delivered to my hotel destination within 30 minutes or so. (HA!)

The above assumptions become roll-on-the-floor-until-you-have-an-accident-funny when one realises that my journey from the airport to my hotel took approximately 1/3 of the flight time from London Heathrow to New York.

My flight arrived at 11.50am, 20 minutes ahead of Virgin's scheduled landing (woo hoo, right? wrong.). Immigration, customs, baggage claim, blah, blah took maybe 30 minutes. After following non-existent signs and directions and then being directed by one SuperShuttle driver who was wasting time holding his vehicle at the curb to the desk inside, where one 'makes a reservation' to go with the reservation one already has (don't ask), I was finally yelled at at 1.13pm and led like the naive child I am to my sweaty doom.

We left Terminal 4, with me sitting in the front seat as the sole passenger and the first passenger and with effusive apologies for the air conditioning being 'broke'. No worries. We headed out of the airport, but then at a logical junction to head to the City, we made a series of turns following signs saying, 'Back to Terminals'. (sigh. perspire.). But, patience is next to godliness or madness or apathy or something.

Might I mention that Sunday was a record-breaking day for the thermometers -- the record of 88*F was set in either 1942 (according to the shuttle driver) or 1982 (according to a high school counsellor yesterday). It was 96*F on Sunday. And there was Spanish plinketty music on El Radio. Que bueno.

We drove to Terminal 2. One passenger got in. Turning off at the last minute once more (curses!), we headed to Terminal 8. Two passengers got in. (each pickup taking between 5-9 minutes of good perspiration time.)

From here, we headed to Terminal 3, where an unfortunate couple were added to the sauna in the back. And then back to Terminal 4 for two extremely dawdly people with ginormous backpacks (I would venture to stereotype yuppie American or Australian). Note: by this point, we are one hour from the time that I (yo, moi, je) left flipping Terminal 4. ...and then we head back to Terminal 8. Since the van was only a 10-passenger vehicle, we could only cram two of the three people.

Then we could finally breeze down the highway to reach the traffic jam and inch our way through bumper-to-bumper cars, road closures, detours and dodgy back streets to Manhattan -- ay-yai-yai-yai all the way. Where we sat in traffic. And more traffic. And then a lady in the back started getting heat sickness and retching.

By 3.00, it was all just too much and it appeared to better to try my luck on foot/subway/taxi, and no plinketty-plinketty music. From Broadway in the 40s to the WTC (the Millenium Hilton across the street from the site) took only 30 more minutes. And then I had to have some sushi from The Amish Market.

There is a flag in the lobby which flew on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and which employees rescued when the hotel re-opened. It is smudged and the stars are grey and there are tatters in it.

Oddly, there is an old, old cemetary right across the street from the site.

1/2 a block down is the WTC cross.

Today's amusing anecdote relates to the repeated instructions from various people to 'Be Careful', 'Take care of yourself', 'Don't eat Mexican food', 'Don't visit a swine farm' and 'Run away from sneezing Hispanic peoples'. As helpful as these recommendations were, it was just impossible to decide upon action when a 3-Mexican mariachi band approached my seated position on the 1-Train this morning and set up shop 3 inches from my left elbow. There was a guitarist, an accordian-player and a banjo (he was the guy with the collection hat, so I didn't examine his musical talent closely).

I would have tried not to breathe (as one might not know when this group had last visited their homeland), BUT all my psychic energy was taken trying not to guffaw loudly. Having photographic evidence would have been best but then they would have wanted paying, and besides my stop was next.

After a good but unproductive meeting, and trying to get back on trains that don't go in the direction from the same station of debarking and trains that one has to ride in the far front or far back if one needs must change and get on the train at the next station going in the correct direction, I had to have some more sushi from the Amish Market.

And after 2 more meetings this afternoon, I had to stop and get some sushi for dinner.

It is still hot.