Friday, December 19, 2008

To Hell and Back

I should have known it wasn't going to be a good trip. You see, I was going up to office headquarters, and instead of doing what I usually do, which is just to drive halfway, stay with friends or family members in Connecticut, drive the rest of the way, spend a few days at the office, and then reverse on the way back home, I'd decided to do some business on the way up and back. I'd stop and meet with authors/prospective authors/board members at schools and/or restaurants/their homes in New York and Connecticut. What a great way to kill two birds with one stone, huh?

Having made these plans, end-of-the-year budget concerns kicked in, and I was requested to cancel my trip to the office to save money in the expense budget, the one part of the budget where we always seem to over-extend ourselves. I will never understand corporate accounting. If I'd saved oodles of money in my home budget by, say, not hiring a much-needed team of servants to take care of all the cleaning, I would spend that saved money on travel. I've never understood it, but corporations don't work this way. If the travel budget is x amount, and the company has spent x + y and z amount, for some inexplicable reason -- probably because no one was taught math properly -- we can't take money saved on other budget lines, like salaries, to cover it. We're forced to cut back on travel.

I didn't want to look like a fool or to make the company look like we're the Little Match Girl, starving on a street corner, unable to sell our wares (which we most certainly are not), so I got a trip to New York and Connecticut "okayed," based on the fact I'd be staying with family and friends, thus saving the company the cost of hotel rooms. All I had to do was rearrange my plans a little, so that my meetings with all these important people fell on two consecutive days. My authors tend to be very agreeable types, so this was no problem.

Then the travel week arrived. I thought I was going to meet Author A in suburban New York at a school where she is consulting and doing some filming of her work. I'd spend the day observing what she was doing, and then have dinner afterwards to discuss her next big publication with us. Unknown to me, however, was that she'd sent me a long email that had never reached me, about how filming in this school was going to be a somewhat "delicate" situation and that it might be best for me to join her at a different school the next day. Unfortunately, I'd already made plans for the next day. When she finally realized I'd never received that message and called me to tell me all this, we just decided we'd meet in New York City for dinner to discuss her next big project with us and scratch the school filming this go-around, since I could easily do that with her some other time.

Around bedtime the night before I was to leave, I suddenly realized that I'd be driving into New York and parking with my suitcase in the car. I wasn't keen on this idea at all. I've never had anything stolen from a car in New York, basically because I have never left anything worth stealing in a car in New York. Even parking in a parking garage didn't seem safe. I've been known to climb into my car after parking in a NYC garage to find it reeking of cigarette smoke and my radio tuned to some odd station. I'm convinced my cars have gone on a few joy rides and been subjected to some sort of Ferris-Beuller-type odometer antics. Best solution? Drive up to Connecticut first, drop my suitcase off at my brother-in-law's where I was staying, take the train into New York, and be worry-free.

Life was way-too-good to be true when I breezed over The George Washington Bridge driving up to Connecticut (for those of you in the know, the sign read 5 minutes for both the upper and lower levels. That has got to be a record!). How often does one breeze over that bridge? Instead of thinking, "Oh, I'm going to have good luck on this trip," which was what sprang to mind, I should have been thinking, "Karma exchange. I am allowed to breeze over The George Washington Bridge, because all hell is about to break loose. This is the only nice thing I am being given today."

The first ring of hell was an accident on Connecticut's Merritt Parkway. In the opposite direction, of course, which, if you are familiar with Connecticut-style traffic, means a tie-up almost as bad going in your direction, because...I don't know. Is everyone staring to see if that's Aunt Josephine's car smashed to smithereens against the barrier? Even so, I still had plenty of time. It was only 2:15. No need to panic. I only had eight more miles to go. I'd surely be at my brother-in-law's by 3:00. I was catching a 3:53 train, and his house is fifteen minutes from the train station. Um...well, now it was 2:40, and we hadn't moved all that far. Now it was 2:55, and if I drove like hell, I'd have just enough time to throw my suitcase in the house and make a quick bathroom stop before heading to the train. That's exactly what I did, after arriving at the house at 3:10.

Second ring of hell: arrived at the train station, with plenty of time. Plenty of time, that is, if I'd had a chauffeur dropping me at the door and whisking my car back home to a six-car garage. No time at all, I soon discovered, when confronted with a parking garage that for all intents and purposes ought to have had a sign up that said, "Parking lot full." I circled and circled for ten minutes, contemplating parking on the fringes, as others had, but visions of coming back to find no car in the lot and having to pay towing fines -- after all, a sudden expense report with towing costs probably wouldn't go over too well with my boss -- kept me from resorting to such measures. Finally, finally, I managed to find what must have been the last spot in the garage, vacated while I was up on the top floor. I literally ran down the stairs and into the station, purchased my tickets, and had two minutes to spare before the train arrived.

Third ring of hell: taxi line at Grand Central Station. Why aren't the taxis all lining up just waiting during rush hour, the way they do at airports and hotels? I had nearly an hour to get from the station to The Spice Market Restaurant (fabulous restaurant, by the way, for anyone looking for NYC restaurant recommendations). For those of you who don't know, this is less than 3 miles. When am I ever going to learn that one should probably allocate an hour for every two miles in New York? Those of us in the taxi line waited and waited...and...waited...and waited (watching tons of empty cabs pass by, I might add. Why none of them stopped, I'll never know). I contemplated taking one of the "bike taxis." I'm sure it would have been faster, but I just wasn't real comfortable doing that by myself. I suppose someone could impersonate a yellow cab, pick you up, and leave you stranded and beaten in some back alley, but it seems far more likely that someone could impersonate a little sheltered bench attached to a bicycle for such activities as beating and robbery in back alleys (no matter how friendly and humorous they may seem). Finally, twenty minutes before I was due at the restaurant, I made it to the front of the cab line and climbed into a cab.

Fourth ring of hell: an overheated taxi cab. I'm serious. Has anyone else ever got into a taxi cab that had to pull over halfway into a three-mile-journey because it was overheating? I'm pretty sure I'm one of the few people on earth who's had such an experience. So, there I was, dumped on the street, smoke billowing from the hood of my transport, having to hail yet another cab to complete the journey. Needless to say, I was late for my dinner date -- only a fashionable twelve minutes late, though.

Fifth ring of hell: taxi ride on way back to Grand Central, where I am treated to "taxi TV," a new feature in NYC cabs. Here, I discover, a massive snow storm is predicted to hit Connecticut on Friday -- the day I am supposed to be returning to Pennsylvania. I frantically tap the "weather" tab on the taxi TV screen, hoping for more details, only to be presented with a long readout of Wednesday's weather (so helpful, now that Wednesday is almost over, for those of us who want to compare what actually happened Wednesday morning with what was predicted) and absolutely nothing about Friday's storm. I have a lunch meeting on Friday. I am supposed to leave after lunch. The storm is apparently going to hit early Friday morning, but I can't get any more details than that.

Sixth ring of hell: indecision. I arrived at my brother-in-law's and immediately went online to check the weather both in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. An ice storm was expected to hit PA early evening on Thursday. 8-12 inches of snow were forecast for CT, beginning early Friday morning. These storms are notorious for rolling in hours after predicted. Should I risk it, stay over Thursday night, or leave after my meeting Thursday afternoon? If I got snowed in with the friend I planned to stay on Thursday night (with whom I am known to have heated arguments), would we kill each other? The forecast was for more snow on Saturday and Sunday everywhere (practically unheard of). Did I trust that? Might I get stuck in Connecticut until Monday?

Seventh ring of hell: deciding to return to CT Thursday evening to beat the weather. Everyone and his brother must have decided to beat the weather from CT to PA Thursday evening. What should have been a four hour drive took me 6 1/2 hours. I witnessed the results of so many accidents throughout the day, I lost count (and the weather was fine. Was everyone driving around drunk on a Thursday or something?). I ran out of CDs, and didn't feel like listening to any of them twice. So, I was stuck with the radio, and (you guessed it) seven hundred Christmas music stations.

Back from hell (almost heaven): arriving home to a husband who fixed me a Mai Tai and settling down in my favorite chair with the drink, some crackers and Brie, and Gaiman and Pratchett's Good Omens, which is turning out to be one of the funniest novels I've read in a very long time.


Anne Camille said...

I heard it was icy around 2 today in No NJ so it was probably better to spend 6+ hrs yesterday than even more time today. We were suppose to get snow here too but it was just rain and lots of fog.

Emily Barton said...

Cam, yes, I'm sure it was better, because the storms did hit north of here (easy to say, of course, now that I'm not sitting on the New Jersey turnpike, moving two feet every five minutes!). We got nothing but rain in this part of PA all day.

Charlotte said...

Oh, poor Emily. Thank goodness for getting home to cocktails and Brie, a novel and a lovely husband.

Anonymous said...

What an epic journey, Emily! I loathe travel for these reasons: the unpredictability, the frustration, the stress and the inevitable accidents. It's crazy to me that we improve virtual communications to the point we have and yet STILL it's madness on the roads! Glad to know you did get there and back safely.

Watson Woodworth said...

You know my idea for a Maximum Wage would save corporations some dough by not shoveling it out so fast to the suits.
As I say this there is a mob of smartly dressed men outside our door with pitch forks and torches.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a trip! Glad you made it home safe and sound.

Rebecca H. said...

It's snowing here right now on Sunday morning, and I'm so glad I don't have anywhere to go today! I had all kinds of plans for this weekend, all of which got canceled because of weather -- but better that than being out on the roads. Traveling uncertainties can be so awful. So glad you made it home okay!

Anonymous said...

Poor Emily! It is the first law of business trips, though, that your timing will be out. It happens to me all every time.
And you made the right choice re the weather - we did indeed get 6-8 inches of snow on Friday in a snow storm that started at lunchtime and kept going; and then we got more snow on Sunday morning.

Emily Barton said...

Charlotte, thank goodness indeed!

NP, LOL. I think those men are headed to my door next.

Stef, you and me, both.

Becky, yes, it's always when traveling for business that planes get grounded, major storms blow up, and cars float down from the heavens to clog up major highways. If it hadn't been right before Xmas, with my parents' arrival imminent, I might have been tempted to stay and let you and Marcy "rescue" me from G. in your 4-wheel-drive vehicles.

Emily Barton said...

Dorr, somehow missed your comment. I would LOVE to have a snow weekend, in which all my plans got canceled!

ZoesMom said...

Sorry it was the trip from hell for you, but it was a treat to have lunch with you for me. :-)

Emily Barton said...

ZM, lunch with you and the exciting conversation with your mom definitely made it all worthwhile. Can't wait to do it again!