Monday, November 16, 2009

Business Trip

Part of NOMENCLATURE's Travel Series Nov. 16 - 19

Pt. 1

Business. I was there on business. In New Jersey on a business trip. The Harborside Financial Center, to be exact. The night before, I had flown into Newark and taken a cab into Jersey city, which cost about $50. The cabbie did not accept credit card, so I paid in cash, though I had only brought about $60. This did a good job of wiping me out, though I would eventually expense the whole trip of course. It made me extremely nervous that I might not have enough money for a cab ride back to the airport. And I did not want to have to withdraw cash from a non-Ohio ATM.

But at least I had made it to Jersey City, and I checked into the Candlewood Suites there, learning, as I stepped into the room, that it was an extended-stay hotel. I was only there for one night of business sleeping. Of course I did not commence the resting immediately, though I probably should have. I drank down a glass of water for I was very thirsty.

I phoned my old friend Amy and attempted a rendezvous somewhere on the Lower East Side, a convenient mid-point between my Jersey and her Brooklyn. So I took the PATH train over, around the hulking core of the World Trade Center -- a great divot within the earth. I spied a welder spewing sparks down into the abyss. The train arrived at the WTC stop -- end of the line -- so I ventured up to street level to connect with an NYC metro train. I should have paid more attention to my surroundings, for the drunken return trip later, but due to the construction, I wandered along with everyone else through a corral-like system of plywood walls to a Manhattan metro station in the Financial District.

I took a blue train to a green train and then got off on E. 14th St. I met Amy at the Beauty Bar and we had some drinks there, then went over to the Crocodile Lounge, which gives a free personal pan pizza with every beer you buy. This transaction is executed via raffle tickets. You buy a beer; you get a ticket; you go to the back and give the ticket to a guy at a pizza oven; he holds up a coffee tin labeled 'TIPS'; you ignore that gesture; later, he gives you a pizza. Amy managed to hide her ticket and we got an extra pizza because of that little sleight of hand. At one point she disappeared around a corner and came back with 2 slices of cheesecake.

--It's someone's birthday over there, she said. This is Carnegie Deli cheesecake. It's phenomenal -- like $10 a slice phenomenal.

I'm not much of a cheesecake fan, but it was pretty much the best that I've ever had.

Nearing one a.m., I decided I should head back to N.J. So we parted ways. I think I got on a grey train going East. Then I got on a blue train going South. But the stops did not match up. A recording said something about not going down to WTC after hours. I estimated the next comparable stop, as the line veered off toward Brooklyn. But the map was hard to decipher, for it was horizontal above a door, but I knew we were moving vertically. This confused me to no end. Plus, the little dots marking transit stops -- they are not to scale, as I found.

Not exactly sure where I was, I stepped up to street level. Despite being lost, I was glad I got off because I had to take a leak real bad. So I found a dark alley and did my business through a chainlink fence. Much relieved, I focused more on my place in the world, and how to use that to get me to the PATH train. None of the street signs rung any bells (McDonald? Feltcher?), so I wandered -- more or less aimlessly -- through the Financial District, as so many investors had over the course of this recession. Difference: I was literally lost in the financial district.

So I dialed Amy again, hoping that she could zero in on my coordinates and get me to the PATH station. She answered almost immediately, which proved very promising. I told her the intersection at which I stood. I saw not one person in either direction, as if I were back in Cleveland. Except that New York has 50 ba-jillion people or something. That made me scared. Amy quickly logged into her computer and told me to walk straight. I trusted her, even though I failed to mention which direction I was facing. 200 paces later, I came to an intersection and Amy, my Eagle Eye, guided me right. And so it went: me calling out intersections; Amy saying right, left, straight.

Suddenly my phone blared in my ear, alerting that its power had run low. A single solitary bar flashed red in the far corner of a battery frame in the far corner of my screen. I needed to pick up the pace, for I remained as lost as ever. I began jogging. My breathing became strained. My voice wavery. Amy asked if I was running. I told her that I was, in fact. But I was out of shape and had to slow down, eventually reaching a pace that was perfectly between walking and running -- power lunging.

Eagle Eye said that I was almost home free, having walked nearly two miles with her on the line. Straight ahead, said Eagle Eye, you will see a sign that says PATH. Was she looking at me through a series of realtime cameras? Or was it Google Street View? Either way, within steps I saw PATH: NJ Transit and a rightward-directing arrow. It was stapled rather inconspicuously to a plywood wall. I had reached my destination and thanked Amy profusely. I was out of breath, but had plenty of time to catch it, in that I waited about a half hour for the next PATH train to come. And I had to take another leak.

As I stood there, I considered the implications of 9/11. Had it never happened, I would have had a much easier time finding the PATH station, in that searching the sky for two enormous twin refrigerators is much easier than trying to find a gigantic pockmark.

I made it back to the hotel around two in the morning and slept rather restlessly til seven.

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