Adventure Memoirs of a Vagabond

New York City

I was born in New York. Elmira is a small town on the border of Pennsylvania along the Chemung river. I guess to some that makes me a Yankee. Even though I grew up in rural small town. Some would even call me a Chemunkey. But that’s another story. Let me tell you, a New Yorker, I am not. I’ve been to the city on one other occasion. Pookie and I had a day to spare on a road trip we were on. We stopped in New Jersey on the way to see my mother in Elmira. We were staying at her father’s place, much like we are now and took the train into the city for the day. That is the extent of my experience with NYC. We went to the Central Park Zoo and Central park. We enjoyed The American Museum of Natural History. We ate at the Famous Carnegie Deli where we dined on a 50 dollar corned beef sandwich. Even after all of that I still know very little about city life! So when I tell you these things don’t laugh too loud. For us, it’s this whole other country.

We were having so much fun in Hershey Pa a few weeks ago. I was looking forward to relaxing and not having much to do. Spending some time with family and not worrying about what great event we might be missing. Then a few days before we were set to leave PA it occurred to me we could again take the train into the city. I mentioned it to Melinda but she didn’t seem too excited about the idea. Either way, I set about researching to maximizing our time and money spent. It wasn’t long and I had figured out where I wanted to go and how I was going to get there. Turns out most everything I wanted to see was in Lower Manhattan. I dropped some pins on Google maps to see where everything was in relation to everything else and soon it was a no-brainer.
I mentioned I wanted to go several times and her responses led me to believe she wasn’t as excited as I was about the opportunity to see some more of the city. Her response was “ Yeah sure babe. Whatever you want, this is your thing.” Well, I can only assume that maybe she thought I would change my mind. Is my wife actually relinquishing total control over our travel plans? ” Yeah, sure babe.” As the days went by and I hadn’t wavered in my desire to go I could tell she became a little concerned with her previous lack of interest. She was mentioning to people with concern in her eyes that we were going into the city this weekend. Then as the day was near she was suddenly interested in where I wanted to go and how we were going to get there. “Don’t worry babe, I got this.” Or so I thought. I mean I had polled the internet and did some solid app downloading in my research. What could go wrong?
For the record, there are some great apps out there for navigating public transportation. Being a guy that has done some traveling around our blue marble I didn’t think it was going to be a problem. We had my father in law drop us off at the train station in Matawan NJ. I had taken this particular train into the city before. We rode from Matawan directly to NY Penn Station. Walk out the door and boom you’re in NYC! I knew from my research that Lady Liberty and Ellis Island were the furthest south we would be. So I decided to go to Liberty State Park in Jersey City. Once there we would be able to catch a ferry over to Ellis Island, Liberty Island and then to Battery Park in lower Manhattan. My app told me to take the train from Matawan to Newark Penn station. The app directed me to walk to Newark and wait for the next Newark to WTC (world trade center). Followed by Taking the WTC to Exchange place. Finally at Exchange Place get on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail to the Jersey Avenue Light rail station. After all that we were still going to be a mile and a half away. Just reading that made me exhausted. I had no idea what any of those directions meant but I had my phone and internet. I was confident I could figure it out. And we could always ask somebody. “No worries, I got this babe.” Yeah Right!

The first leg of the journey was no big deal. We had done this before. Already this morning she’s asking if I know how to get where we wanted to be. In my ever confident fashion, “I’m on it, babe.” We get to the station and buy our tickets from the automatic teller. Regular announcements are being made about track numbers and arrival times. It’s a chilly morning in NJ but we knew it was going to be cooler weather and we’re prepared for it. 20 minutes or so goes by and our train arrives and we’re off. It’s not too crowded, being a Sunday perhaps is the reason. The cabins of the trains are heated which I hadn’t thought about previously and it made me take notice that it was quite comfortable inside. So much so that I removed my coat. A few minutes go by and the conductor comes and takes our tickets. He punched a couple holes in it and put it in his pocket. He placed a strip of paper on the seat in front of me which he also punched holes in and ripped it in certain places. Later as we were approaching the stop we’d paid for he picked that slip of paper up. I’m assuming he was giving himself a reminder of what we’d paid for. It was an enjoyable ride. People were talking about all sorts of things behind us. Everyone was happily going about their business. For me, the view out the window is much more interesting. At some points, the train is inches from walls and buildings. Some houses are so close to the tracks you can only imagine the noise they must deal with. Soon the conductor announced our stop. We exited the train into a concrete station with no windows, few signs and no clear direction of where to go. However what I was aware of was that if we missed the next train we had to wait at least 30 min for the following one.
I’m still not certain how we got out of there. If we got out of there the proper way or if we just got lucky. We walked back and forth looking for a sign telling us where the exit was. Where the next train was. There was nothing. “Ok let’s ask someone.” Literally, there was nobody that worked there. Not a single employee in the middle of the day was to be found. I did have my phone in my hand and the app I was using open. There was a gray square with a dotted line on the screen with directions that said “Walk to Newark-WTC” but it didn’t correspond to anything in the room. Soo… my stress level is going up and I can’t find a way out of here. There is nothing marked exit or stairs anywhere. We chose a direction and started walking. Almost immediately I realized we were heading away from where we were supposed to be according to my app map, so we turned around. When we reached the point on my map where we were supposed to be there was nothing but a maintenance elevator. Right then another couple who were tourists walks up with the same problem. “How do we get the hell out of here?” “I don’t know!” So when the door of the elevator opened we jumped in. A hasty mistake in hindsight. This dude immediately pushes all the buttons on the elevator. I didn’t say anything at the time but who does that? Well it’s ride or die now, isn’t it?
The elevator begins to move and we’re going down. I assumed we’d go up because of the bunker-like conditions of the station but what do I know. The ride was short and then the door behind us opens. It was pretty evident that we were in the wrong place. There were all kinds of maintenance equipment everywhere in this hallway on the other side of the door. We waited a few minutes and the door didn’t close and continue on to the next floor. My genius co-passenger again begins pushing buttons to get the doors to close. After several attempts, he discovers you have to hold the button till the door closes completely. The doors close and open back up again. After several more attempts to close the door I realize there is a second outer door that must close before we can continue. All the while the button must remain pressed. It must have looked like an episode of Keystone Cops or The Three Stooges. Finally, we get the car moving again and it opens in what appears to be a station of some kind. The relief is short-lived, however, as now we have a whole new set of problems to figure out. At least we are not trapped underground anymore!
After escaping Apocalyptic New York The Ride we found a few signs that read something to the effect of we needed to be on platform H. Passing by automated teller machines not knowing we should be getting tickets we hurried to our next train. We are however are on the right track and when we stop to confirm this with the transit cop we found he looked at us as if he were saying “Yeah dummy that train is right behind you.” So the train is here. The doors are open and people are boarding. These trains don’t wait for you. When the doors close it’s gone. We rush to get our tickets from the only automated teller in this room. There is no other machine in this room. We’re looking beyond the double doors at the waiting train. The menu of the teller machine is easy enough to navigate but we don’t know what the fare is or how many we need for this ride. We go to buy 2 and select Credit. The line is forming behind us now. Many of them in a bigger hurry than us. As luck would have it the CC reader on the machine is broken. Now we have to start over! For the love of all… (insert appropriate explicative)! So while Melinda is getting us back to the pay screen I find my wallet and pull out a 20 dollar bill. How would you like to pay for that? Can’t go wrong with CASH! I put my 20 in and it spits it back at me and says it doesn’t have enough change for a 20 dollar bill. Would I like to buy 9 more rides and receive the change for that? Hell no. I may never make it back to NYC again. So Melinda gets her wallet out and is looking for small bills to pay the fare. Keep in mind the clock is ticking. The train is waiting and I have no idea what time it is despite the cell phone in my hand. At last, we get 2 damn tickets for this train and rush to board it. This is absolutely the first time I saw the row of turnstiles blocking our path. And it was the first time Melinda could remember using one apparently. Standing in the way like Gandolph the Gray screaming you shall not pass! I’m swiping and waving my ticket wildly looking for some the scanner. The train is feet away now. Some person who knew what they were doing went through next to me and showed me the magic ticket slot that allows you through the gate. Had he not showed up I may still be there trying to figure out how to get past the turnstile. I figured I’d get a ding and a light. Maybe a receipt. Nope, nothing. It just unlocks the turnstile. I pass through unobstructed and begin to lengthen my stride as I’m about to dive for the train sure that it’s going to leave me stranded. Then I hear from behind me my beloved panicked and upset. I turn to see what’s going on and she can’t get through the turnstile. I begged her to hurry but she had put the ticket in the wrong turnstile. The one in front of her never unlocked. When she finally realized it and attempted to get through the correct one it stopped her halfway. She’s panicked and all I thought to say was “So what jump over it let’s go!” Well, she did. And banged her shin pretty hard on the way across. She was able to avoid falling but you could see that it hurt.
I don’t know where that transit cop came from. I never saw him until he saw her jump the turnstile. And then he was there. She turned around and now is practically in tears. She banged her shin and now she’s going to jail. It’s my wife’s worst nightmare! Brought to you by the husband she let plan our excursion.“What’s the problem here?” He asked. We explained we have no idea what we are doing. We’ve never done this before. Therefore we should not be held accountable for our ignorance. It is NYC after all. He was very understanding. He replied “Calm down.” “Get on your train.” So we did. And we waited there with the door open in front of us of looking back at all the automated ticket machines in the room we are now facing. There must have been a half dozen all with working credit card processors. We probably stood there a good 15 minutes before the doors finally closed and we rode to our next stop. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the time when in NY. I’m such a dumb ass.
Three stops later we get off the train at Grand St. We exit the station and are on a crowded transportation stop in Jersey City. My app wants us to take a bus but we don’t know exactly where the bus stop is, How much is the fare and what type of payment is accepted. Then we might not even get on the right bus. It’s a mile and a half to the park. I was going to walk. We ended up walking over 7 miles that day. It was absolutely an option and part of the plan. Then I notice the city bike rack. I thought it might be a good idea to rent a bike. Then it started raining. I was beginning to look into paying for the bikes when a random dude is approaching us asking for spare change. Melinda immediately goes to red alert! I politely let him know I couldn’t help him and began damage control with the wife. She’s looking around at the area and the bars on all the windows and says ”Let’s get an Uber!” It’s only a mile and a half through Jersey City but whatever makes you happy babe. We walk back to the transportation stop and she gets our Uber procured.
We’ve been Ubering a lot lately. It’s really convenient and pretty affordable when you consider the alternatives. We were in Hershey PA for the Beer Week festival and there was no reason to be driving. I’m glad I was able to sample whatever I liked without worrying about driving home. Plus Twinkie is parked back at the campground and not in some dirty industrial parking lot where the brewery is located. We’ve had some great experiences. Some drivers were just people trying to make a few bucks. Others took the time to ask questions and answer questions. One Driver took the scenic route and pointed out all the local sights. I’m absolutely a fan of the service. We confirmed our ride and immediately our phone rings. It’s our driver. “Where are you?” he asks. We give him a description and Instantly he’s there. OK, I see you! 3.5 seconds later we’re getting into a car in Jersey City with a guy I’ve never seen before in my life. The gangster rap is thumping and this car smells like weed and bad decisions. Either he has a pound under his seat or he smoked right before we got in the car. I’m an open minded guy so I put on my seat belt and we’re headed to the park. Rolling through the neighborhoods like we just left the dope man’s house I’m beginning to regret getting an Uber. But he was a nice kid and was very polite. He did drop us off at the wrong spot but that might have been our fault. The woman that did finally get us directions to the Ferry said it happens a lot.
We took the time to use the restroom at the science museum we were dropped off at located at the front of the park. It’s a good thing we did because we were informed that it was about a 1.25-mile walk to the boat dock where the ferry is. It just stopped raining so we decided to walk. Cloudy and breezy. In the low 60’s but so far pretty rain free. I’d say the walk took us 20 minutes or so. We arrived at the very old train station down by the bay. We later found out that this train station was the place newly cleared immigrants would go to to travel from Ellis Island to the rest of the country. It really is an interesting place. So we arrive and we have about 10 min till the boat is about to leave. We asked the teller (they actually had a human selling tickets) Do we have time to make the next boat? She thought we’d probably miss it but we were welcome to try. Once again we’re racing to catch the ferry. We came through at the right time I guess because we didn’t have to wait. It took me longer to put my belt back on than the security check did. We made the boat but since it was a crappy day the only available seats are up top in the cold. It’s a sight to see for us so we braved the weather in hopes of a great view of Lady Liberty.

The price of the ferry ride covers your admission to the museum on Ellis Island and admission to the grounds of Liberty Island. You can buy upgraded tours and access to Liberty’s crown if you want to pay a little more. However they only sell so many of those a day so book online, ahead of time or come early. We were not interested in doing either but they were sold out so it didn’t matter. Had I more time I could have spent all day in any one of the museums we visited in NYC. Ellis Island is a National Park. It’s the site of the American Museum of Immigration. It’s a fascinating place to visit and learn how people struggled to become members of this new society. People showed up in cruise ships and steamer ships. Some on cargo ships looking for a new life in America. The museum tells their story. The process they had to go through and the steps to be cleared to leave Ellis Island. It also has a section about today’s Immigration process and how it has changed. There is also a registry so you can look up your ancestors if they passed through Ellis Island on the way to their new life. It tells the story of all the people that came here. If you have the time go. Where else can you go to a museum and take a cruise in NYC For 18.50?

From there the ferry took us to Liberty Island for some photo ops. The weather got pretty nasty while we were there. After a quick photo and a stop in the gift shop, we were on our way to Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. We walked from there up to the financial district. Past the charging bull for a quick photo and then on to the 9/11 Museum.

The 9/11 Museum and memorial. I, unfortunately, don’t possess the vocabulary to properly describe the museum. I will say the range of emotion that I experienced that day was incredible. The museum is well done and tells the tale clearly. In my opinion, it is well worth the price of admission. I could have easily spent the entire day there walking around. For the vast majority of the museum, photography is not allowed. I agree with that. It should be seen in person. That’s all I have to say about that.

When we finished at the Museum I wanted to get some authentic Chinese food from Chinatown. We did a little Googling and YELP! And picked a place not far away called Shanghai Cafe Deluxe. The place was packed. Always a good sign, but we didn’t have to wait for a table. We opted to just try a few things a la carte and it worked out beautifully. The food was great and the Sapporo was cold. Just what we needed.

After the bill was settled, CASH ONLY folks. I’m glad we brought some because this was definitely not a part of town that I would want to walk around at night looking for an ATM. We opted to call it a night and begin the journey back to Jersey. Another Uber was called and took us to NY Penn station. I don’t know what the occasion was or was it just the time but the station was packed. My feet are screaming and I’m ready to just sit down for a while. We found ourselves a place to buy the right tickets but the track number for our train isn’t listed so we have no idea where to be. My feet are killing me and we’re wandering a busy train station looking for our track and a place to sit. Neither is available but we do find an actual transit employee who let us know they post the track numbers 10 min before they begin boarding. So we have 20 to 30 minutes to waste. As I said I’m ready to fall down but there are no seats anywhere. All over the station, literally, every wall and stairwell have a sign reading “DO NOT SIT ON STAIRS.” There isn’t even an open stair to sit on. You have to ask people to move to go up or down the stairs. I would have been fine to grab one but the wife would have lost her mind and left me there. I was able to find an open piece of wall and floor to plop in front of and enjoy the show. Melinda did protest but It was either here or the stairs. Plus I was under the sign that tells you what track number to be at.

Sitting there waiting for the train home you can watch all manner of things. It would be an interesting place to work, for a while anyway. Finally, our train is boarding and we find a good seat. I really expected it to be busier. We’re getting comfortable and relaxing talking about the day. When this guy plops down across the aisle. The train isn’t that busy but whatever it’s a free country. We’re having our conversation and he’s over there farting and belching and just being annoying. He’s got the Columbian flu and can’t stop sniffling. The conductor comes by and asks for the ticket and Sniffles the Cocaine Clown has to bust her balls for no reason. Some other passenger missed his stop and he had to make a scene about that too. But we made it back to the station and to our waiting ride home.
NYC is a fun place to explore. Almost anything you could want is available somewhere in the city. That convenience comes at a price. Everything is more expensive in the city. Traffic is madness. I would not wish that hell on anyone. If you go it’s so much easier to use public transportation. I can only imagine the nightmares that trying to find parking would give me. In so many ways it’s like a foreign country. I think everyone should see it at least once but you might never get to see it all. I’m glad we went to see the memorial. It might be my last chance for a while. Who knows what the future will bring? If all goes well we’ll be heading west next summer. But I’ll always call New York my home.

0 thoughts on “Adventure Memoirs of a Vagabond

  1. Sue Seidler says:

    Love your writing style. The section on Gandolf the Gray and the turnstile fiasco had me laughing do hard I had to stop and wipe the tears from my eyes. Really enjoyable, look forward to reading about your next adventure!

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