New York - An Eternal Adventure !
My third adventure in New York started on 31st December 2005 continuing on 1st January 2006. The four of us (Me, Kumar and two other people) started from Buffalo, NY around 10:30 am. It was a great start - 90 on I-90 was the reading on my barometer for 2-3 hours. I had no idea what I-81 had in store for me then. Just before Syracuse, we stopped at a gas station and encoutered a very racist Mobil employee who threatened to tow the car because we parked it near the pump and went to rest room for 2 minutes!
So after 3-4 hours from Buffalo we encountered major snow (Southern New York and Northern Pennsylvania - About an hour after we passed Syracuse) near the Tri State area. I was driving anywhere between 15-40 mph depending on the amount of snow on the road. This white nightmare continued for 2-3 hours. We finally hit I-80 east bound (Towards Somerset, NJ) where Kumar's uncle lived.
After 8 hours of rigorous driving encountering racist behavior, harsh precipitation (including snow, rain and freezing rain) and three tolls, we reached the NJ suburb of Somerset. I am once again ever grateful to two non living entities - My Greenish Blue '94 Mazda 626 V6 and my 60 Gig 4th Generation Photo Ipod. These two things made an eight hour journey seem like two hour one.
Initially we had planned on taking train from Somerset to NYC but after a short discussion we decided to drive down to Weehawken, NJ park there and then take a bus to New York. Weehawken faces the Midtown New York skyline and is to the west of Manhattan. I had been there 2 times before and so knew all the secrets to parking in New York area. We dropped two of our friends there and they took a cab to Jersey City. After that came a 5-10 minute search for parking and we ended up parking on Fulton Street.
Yes ! Free for the weekend ! While many others aiming for Times Square must have paid anywhere between 20-50 $ (or even more) that night. At this point I must metion that before catching the shuttle I had given my car keys to Kumar because he had to get his wallet from car. This fact is very important for the events that will unfold later on in the night.
From there we took a Shuttle to New York (takes about 5-10 minutes in light traffice conditions - Basically, 2 minutes from where was took off is Lincoln tunnel) and it dropped us at 9th Ave and 42nd Street. Once we reached there, we called our OWU friends Thanh and Vinod and tried to meet up at a place. The following 30-40 minutes were chaotic (Oh boy ! this was just a start. Mega chaos will follow in next 6-7 hours!) trying to find a place to meet up.
We roamed around and reached 8th and 42nd. NYPD had put barricades all the way on 8th Avenue until 59th near the Central Park. The only way to get to Broadway and 7th Avenue near 42nd-47th was to walk 17 blocks up north and walk back 12 blocks. Intially we were to meet them @ 8th and 42nd but later we decided to meet them at 59th and 8th. So me and Kumar started walking / running 17 blocks up north. It was like a horse race. The prize wasn't money or horse fame, but whatever Times Square had to offer that night - Mariah Carrey to Ball Drop to unkown British Bands.... and oh yeah ... being at the heart of 1+ million people. So after the jog/run we made it to 59th and 8th and met with Thanh, her mother and her friend Linh.
We then started our grand march to Times Square on Broadway. We finally reached 55th and in front of us were thousands of overjoyed souls. This is not what I had in mind for New Year's eve at times square. I dreamt in being at the heart of it, wearing crazy 'Welcome 2006' hats and balloons. Within 10 minutes there were people behind us. It was around 9:50/10:00 by then. We kept in touch with Vinod over phone every few minutes. Next one hour was spent moving 1-2 blocks ahead. Meanwhile after tough luck and a million phone calls Vinod joined us. Eventually the NYPD had a change of heart and they started letting small crowds of people move ahead.
I was in a rush and me and Vinod got separated from the rest. At this point I must mention that I didn't have a cellular phone ! I had left it in Somerset, NJ. So we continued our ascent to the heart slowly and steadily. Eventually we ended up at 52nd and were stuck there. At the time it was around 11ish and Vinod asked me how was Canada trip. Right then, an oriental lady seeming to be in her lower 30's goes "Oh! Are you from Canada?". I told her I wasn't but I visited canada and it was a great place - Very Very diverse. The quality and knd of diversity was such that I liked it better than NYC diversity. Some of the other things I remember telling her were things like it was good to be back in Kms and distance seemed to go faster in kilometers. I also mentioned that I liked how Toronto was a hybrid of Europe and US. It was a great 10 minute chat with her, her caucasian husband and mother-in-law. She knew Cantonese, Chinese, French and English!
So right then, NYPD let us through one more time and I was @ 51st and Broadway, just 4 blocks away. Time must have been 11:15 or so. After that we didn't make much progress and I think I was between 50th and 51st. We were stuck there till 1st Jan 2006. In those 40 minutes, lot happened - I heard overhappy teenager talking to her parents, saw Toilet paper flying in air form buildings near us, British bands performing (with hot girls), very fat Mariah Carrey dancing, a few rap performances (on the big screen right in front of me), hispanics talking, foreigners talking, jewish people singing hyms, pink hatted people in ecstasy on 45th and Broadway with 2006 hats and balloons, mayor getting ready to drop the ball - Too much was happening around me. And then the time came .... 40, 39, 38, ...... 3, 2, 1. There was almost everlasting sound of cheers in the New York Air. I bet some Ross and Rachel up on 100 something th street north of Central Park must have heard me and fellow Time Squarers scream with extreme joy. There were fireworks and there were little colorful papers in the air.
Within 5 minutes people started moving out and me and Vinod headed towards Times Square to get a partial glimpse of the glorious moment. We finally made it in 5 minutes and I was lucky enough to still get the feel of being on Times Square on 31st and not on 1st. The crowd was still huge there, the stage was still as pristine as on 31st with people on it. The colorful things were still flying from air and yellow and pinked hatted people with 2006 hats still around. Kumar must have been 1-2 blocks behind us all this time.
We reached the middle of Times Square on 45th and then started the real adventure - The one in which you fight the cruel forces of Nature like a brave knight. I got separated from Vinod's vision and I was in for big trouble. I had very little cash on me mainly no coins, and no cell phone . When i was among thousands of people back on 31st 28 F felt like 40 F. But now things changed suddenly. It was getting cold. Thank God I had 4 layers above and 2 layers below and 2 layers of socks. It would help me survive the night. So I mainly stayed at Times Square for another 20-25 minutes and watched its majesty. After that I moved around for another 10-15 minutes hoping Kumar or Vinod find me. Thanh had left for MA for the weekend by now. Soon Police started driving people out of the area for cleaning.
I had mentioned to Kumar of meeting up at Times Square at 2 if we got lost but that was too generalized an area with thousands of people. I did mention to Vinod to meet at Toys R Us but doesn't seem like he heard me and so Kumar had no idea about that. Anyways, after that I went onto 42nd street (near Lion King Musical and Hotels area) towards 8th. I didn't remember all 10 digits of Kumar's number I knew first 3 only. I knew friends who knew his number but I didnt remember anyone's number except of two more friends Govind and Priyanka. Govind's numer went out of service that night. I walked towards 8th and saw people taking pictures with a NYPD cop car. There were cops everywhere. Every corner had 2-3 or 6-8 cops. Cops in vans too. I saw many other things that night such was women standing alone crying (I kept wondering why - did she break up ?). Saw people talking in Spanish, Chinese, Urdu. I went to a phone booth tried Priyanka's number once and didn't work out well. I didn't have enough coins either. I tried asking people for cell phone but that didn't work out well either because they were either busy with it or wouldn't give it to a stranger. After going around a block I saw that one of the crying woman finally met up with her husband. I eventually went back to Times Square again around 2 and waited there and kept roaming around. It was around 2:45ish. No signs of Kumar yet. At this point I knew that he had the keys so I thought he would come to Weehawken and wait for me there.
So I went to Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) and read the bus chart which shows Area and the Bus routes going there. PABT had internet terminals and I tried accessing the Facebook to get Kumar's number. But these terminals had restricted internet access which only allowed certain sites. Finally, I saw Weehawken and the routes were 126,121 etc. I decided 126, got a ticket and headed to bus. The bust passed Linconln Tunnel and made a turn in a direction I wasn't familiar with. I still doubted my sense of geography. But soon I realized it was Hoboken !!
I was way off from where I was supposed to be. I got down near 14th street. At the same time there was a guy from Argentina who was to go somewhere else and took wrong bus. So both of us got out and waited for next 181. 181 goes to Weehawken. After 20-25 min a another 126 came. The Argentine guy headed back to New York. I asked the bus driver about 181 and he said that it was out of service early today. So only two choices I had were - Cab or Walk. My wallet couldnt' afford a cab so I decided to take a walk. So here I was walking from 14th to 49th Street. After 20 minutes or so of walking / running I made it to Weehawken and saw that my car was there but no Kumar. I waited for 30-40 minutes for what seemed ages. It was around almost 4ish then. All this time I tried to sleep on the icy bench and watching the majestic New York skyline. Eventually I took shuttle back to NYC (Yes thank god I spent my money wisely and I could afford 2$ shuttle). I went to Times Square and waited for a few minutes. At this point I thought that Kumar must have gotten in touch with friends we dropped in Weehawken (who headed to Jersey City). I eventually though I may as well try and get to Jersey City somehow not realizing I didn't have their address or phone number. So I went to Bus Terminal and saw throngs of people sleeping on all 4 floors of the terminal. At this point I thank God I decided to take a nap and worry about it in the morning. I took a 2 hour nap and around 6:30 cops started waking people up, and thus I had to leave the cozy (in harsh times floor is cozy!) and warm terminal back to colder New York City streets. I went to the Square again. At this point I didn't want to think and just follow my what brain directed me to do (Listening to the heart was not an option because all it gave was a 35 street walk to Weehawken).
After a while of going around NYC streets I went to 42nd and 9th and finally took shuttle to Weehawken (JF Kennedy Blvd East). From there I tried cathing bus to Jersey City. I knew 2 families there and 1 in Weehawken. I tried Weehawken family but had no luck the whole night and in early morning. I waited for 30 min at bus stop but no luck with Bus to Jersey City. So I moved further to Berger Line (Major Latino Enclave) and I was sure I would find bus from there. I must again Thank God for granting me 2 previous trips to NYC area giving me knowlege of the geography of the area. So I reached Burger line around 7:50/8ish and took a $ 1.25 bus to Journal Square in Jersey City.
By now I remembered the last four digits of Kumar's numer and first 2 of the middle 3 digits. All I had to crack now was 1 digit out of 10. After reaching there I finally tried getting in touch with the families I knew. No LUCK !! They were either out for the weekend or I was waking them up too early on a Sunday. Anyways finally around 8:30/8:40 I reached one grocery store and told the Desi guy my story and he the very traditional things all Desis say : "You are crazy. How can you roam around like this with Blacks around. It is dangerous." Finally using his cell phone I called Priyanka, and I think I woke her up and got his number. I called him and got a shock.
He was in Somerset, NJ.... UH OH !!! He had car keys. He hadn't realized keys were with him. All this time he thought they were with me !!! So finally I went back to Journal Square took PATH train to Newark Penn Station. From there took NJTransit Train (headed to Trenton) to New Brunswick. After reaching there I had around 7$ with me and Kumar had told me cab to Somerset is 10$. I told taxi driver that I only remembered the address of the house (Once again THANK GOD for my memory that I remembered the address because when I called Kumar I didn't ask him for address). And I also mentioned that I didn't have enough money. He was like okay sit in the cab anyways. I hadn't mentioned to him about how much money I had with me. Finally he dropped 3 other people in New Brunswick and then we headed towards Somerset.
The driver was Turkish and from Istanbul. We had a nice little 15 minute chat about various things - my work, his work, Times Square, America being land of Immigrants, number of hours it takes to drive to Ohio etc etc. Finally I reached Kumar's Uncle's place and paid 7$ against 10-11$ that it costs normally. He told me not to worry about it. It was around 12-1 by then. So that means that the Jersey to Somerset Journey was around 2 hours. I didn't realize it until I came back. My brain was just in a "I don't know what to think" mode by now.
The adventure ended with good breakfast/brunch and a 3 hour nap and after that I was back in form to hit NYC again. This blog has gone way too long so more on the next day soon.