It’s so nice to finally be in the city. Really, really nice.
All told, it took me 7.5 hours to get from Newark to Brooklyn last night. Yes, seven and a half hours. How in the world did I manage that? It wasn’t easy, let me tell you.
Plane lands exactly on time. Head to baggage claim where I somehow succeed in herding all three of my suitcases over to ground transportation without the aid of a cart. (I was feeling stubborn about paying the $5 fee to rent one; luggage carts fall under the category of things that should be provided freely by airports, IMHO).
Informed by ground transportation agent that my options to Brooklyn are a ~$100 taxi or a $50 shuttle that will pick me up in an hour and a half. I had written off the night to traveling anyway and there was an unfinished Marjorie Williams book in my bag, so I opted for the latter.
Several chapters, a Subway sandwich, and an apple later, the driver is still not here. Decide this is a great opportunity to commence my effort to be more “laid back.” Call my mom, who is very angry on my behalf. Become not so laid back talking to her.
Driver finally appears, looking harried. As explanation for his lateness, he launches into a story about how a customer just stole $100 from him. Experience strange mix of sympathy and urge to strangle him.
Make friends with the one other passenger, an American Airlines pilot meeting his family in La Guardia for a weekend vacation in the city.
Pilot and I spend thirty minutes sitting in the van while driver tries to check in with base; turns out they’ve gone home for the night, surprise surprise. He asks for our credit cards and then realizes he can’t find his credit card receipts.
Against my better judgment, I ask the pilot about his scariest experience flying a plane. He tells a funny story about a flight from Italy that was grounded because of smoke coming from the cargo hold. Turns out one of the passengers had checked in huge jars of olive oil that sprang a leak.
Driver still can’t find credit card receipts, asks us to pay in cash. At this point I think I would agree to give him my first-born child. We head to terminal B to pick up more passengers. Rounding out the cast of characters are two girls from London on an exchange program studying criminology and forensic science, and a woman returning from Iceland where she’s been running a pet care business for the past six years.
Finally, finally on our way. Driver tells us the route is La Guardia, Brooklyn, then JFK. Lynn, the Icelandic pet care owner, informs us she has to catch the last shuttle to Connecticut from JFK, which leaves at 12:30. Brooklyn slips to last on the itinerary.
Crawl towards Holland Tunnel. First realization that New York traffic is impossible to predict. Discover that Sanchez, our driver, is from a town close to Medellín, Columbia, where I’ve just returned from a visit. Warm to his frequent exclamations of “Saturday night fever!” and “It’s funky town tonight,” all delivered in a high-pitched kind of cackle.
Notice Lynn likes to inform no one in particular that she hasn’t seen [x random street or landmark] in six years! Decide against telling her that we fully grasp what “I haven’t been back to the States for six years” encompasses.
We drop off the two Londoners somewhere in east Brooklyn. Women who comes to help them with their bags: “Lord have mercy there’s still another passenger in there?” I sigh.
“Where are you going again?” Sanchez asks. I repeat the address and get a blank look. He pulls out a map, mumbling to himself. I wonder if I should bother to point out the GPS unit installed in the dashboard.
We chat some more and I learn that Sanchez used to be a veterinary surgeon back in Columbia, and that he has thirty-four year old twin daughters who also live in the States. I ask him for his favorite Columbian restaurant in the city and he tells me about a place in Queens called Natives. He starts calling out numbers in rapid succession and I realize he’s giving me his cell phone number, with the admonition that “When you call, I might not remember the name, but I will remember the experience!” I sure do hope so.
We’re pulled over again in the right-hand lane while Sanchez consults his map. Two drunk men mistake us for a cab service and try to open the van door. I jump up from where I’ve been lying on the seat and ask Sanchez if he’s sure the doors are locked.
Somehow, we make it to Sharon’s. Sanchez drops me off with a kiss on the cheek and a reminder to give him a call anytime. I open the mailbox by the door and find keys attached to an index card with my name on it, just as Sharon had promised. Elated that one part of the night was actually going according to plan, I text my parents (prematurely) that I’ve made it. Turns out the most absurd part of my night is just beginning.
I let myself in to what I later find out is called the vestibule, but what at two in the morning just seems like an awfully bizarre apartment design. I encounter three wooden doors that all look exactly alike, all closed. It feels like a scene from the end of the first Harry Potter book.
I try the first door on the left. Locked. There’s light coming from the bottom of the middle door, but I can only get it open about two feet. As far as I can tell, the path is blocked by a stack of boxes filled with old toys. I know Sharon and her roommate are teachers, so this doesn’t seem too strange. The third and final door swings open easily and leads into a large, darkened bedroom. There’s someone asleep in the bed but I can’t discern who.
As I tiptoe around the room, I’m struck by how much it resembles a kid’s room; stuffed animals and board games are scattered everywhere. Sharon must be really devoted to her students, I think. I slip directly into an adjoining bedroom that holds a bunk bed and more toys. Still not seeing a likely contender for where I’m supposed to sleep, I continue on.
I walk into the hallway with the blockade of boxes, past a bathroom, and reach another closed door. Pushing it ajar, I see the glow of an alarm clock and realize it’s another bedroom.
I decide to double back. Finding a staircase that I had missed, I follow it down and come across the kitchen, the living room, two storage rooms, and another bathroom. I’m ready to pass out on the living room couch but it’s covered with piles of folded laundry. I notice an abundance of diminutively sized socks and underwear. That’s weird, does Sharon’s roommate have kids?
At this point I start to feel like something’s not right, but I’m too tired to really think. As one last check, I walk back outside to make sure I’m at the right address. 137, that’s the number. Convinced I just didn’t look hard enough for my sleeping spot, I lug my carry-on suitcase downstairs.
A second pass through the downstairs yields nothing. I’ve started to move clothes from the couch to the floor when it finally hits me how strange this all is. I venture back upstairs only to realize, with a good amount of horror, that there’s a ten-ish year old girl sleeping in the bunk bed and a six-ish year old boy sleeping in the first bedroom.
I start to freak out a bit. Where the hell am I?? Some kind of twilight zone?
Suddenly I remember that Sharon had left me two keys. Digging around in my purse, I pull out the key ring. In my joy upon reaching the apartment, I overlooked the possibility that Sharon had left a note on the index card attached to the key ring. Sure enough, I unfold it to find:
Welcome! Make yourself at home! Feel free to call if we’re still out & you want to come have a drink nearby
Silver key: front door
Bronze key: first door straight ahead in vestibule
I won’t detail how dumb I felt in that moment.
Ten minutes later, after one last trip through the neighbor’s apartment to retrieve my carry-on, I finally collapse on the couch in Sharon’s living room. My phone says it’s 2:38 am.
The next morning I woke up to the chatter of the brother-sister pair I had creepily intruded on the night before; they were catching bugs in the backyard, their voices drifting through our open living room window.
I called my mom to tell her what happened. Her response:
“In seven and a half hours you could have flown more than halfway to China!”
Actual distance traveled: 14.4 miles
“What kind of parents leave the door to their kids’ rooms unlocked at night??”
Good point. But I’m sure as heck not going to relay this story as an example of why they should lock their door.
“Lulu—if they woke up they could have attacked you with a bat! Did you think about that?”
Yep, that thought did occur to me. Thank goodness they were some heavy sleepers.
So hide your kids, hide your wife, because I will stumble into your apartment in the middle of the night and try to sleep on your couch.