How I Ended Up in NYC on the Eve of Hurricane Irene

Okay, I need to follow up that last post, which was very serious, with something lighter. So here’s a story about me being an idiot to lighten the mood.

How much of an idiot? I went to New York City the day before Irene hit.

Yeah, the more I think about it, the dumber I think I am, so I’ve only told a handful of people about it. But what is blogging for if not for celebrating your own idiocy? (Hell, I’m even doing karaoke on my blog now.)

So, remember when I made a list of things I wanted to do over the summer? I actually managed to cross quite a few, but not all of them off of the list. I went to the beach, the Boston Harbor Islands, the Arboretum, the zoo, Castle Island, and Portland. The rest I’ll have to accomplish some other time.

But I was really, really determined to get to New York this summer. I wanted to enjoy the pleasure of my own company and do all the touristy things that actual New Yorkers roll their eyes at. I had it all planned out:

o I would depart in the early afternoon on a summer Friday, when I only work half a day.

o I would take the Bolt Bus from South Station.

o I would go directly to the Times Square TKTS booth to buy tickets for a musical that night, preferably Mary Poppins or Avenue Q.

o I would check in at Hotel 17, which Rebekah had recommended to me as a nice budget hotel in Manhattan.

o I would get dressed up and go to the theater.

o Saturday morning, I would wake up and utilize my tickets to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

o Then I would take the subway to Coney Island, where I would ride the Cyclone, etc. and then head to a bagel shop to get some Real Brooklyn Bagels.

o Sunday morning, I would head to Central Park, where I would go to the zoo, take a lot of pictures, and relax somewhere comfortable while reading whatever book of The Hunger Games trilogy I was on.

o For lunch, I would grab a big slice or two of New York-style pizza.

o Then I would head to a museum near Central Park, perhaps the American Museum of Natural History.

o And then I’d get back on the Bolt Bus and be home in time to shower and get a good night’s sleep.

Decent plan, right? DAMN YOU, IRENE.

So at the beginning of the week, rumblings about Hurricane Irene began. Gradually, people started mentioning that it could hit New York City as a hurricane and FLOOD MANHATTAN OMG THE WORLD WOULD COME TO AN END.

Around Thursday it started to occur to me that this hurricane might mess up my plans for this trip. Should I reschedule? But…but…I already have tickets to the Statue of Liberty! And my hotel is booked and I can’t cancel it now! And I bought my bus tickets! Can’t let all that money go to waste, right?….Okay, maybe I should cut the trip a little bit short, as it looks like it will be raining all day on Sunday. Central Park is probably not a good idea, as I’d probably get soaked. Coney Island probably isn’t, either. Damn. That’s a few items on my travel goals list I won’t get to check off. Oh, well. At least I can still go to a show and see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I’ll just head home Saturday night, I guess…

So I changed my bus ticket to Saturday night. Bolt Bus had actually cancelled all their bus trips on Sunday, but the weather report was showing that the rain wasn’t supposed to start until Saturday. And Friday was supposed to be the classic calm-before-the-storm day—eighties and pleasant, not a cloud in the sky, all that.

Then I checked the Statue Cruises website and discovered that the tours of Liberty and Ellis Island had been cancelled for both Saturday and Sunday. You’d think that would be the moment where I decided that the trip was not a good idea, right? Yeah, you would think that.

So, work got out on Friday. One of my coworkers was leaving the company and it was her last day, so a group of us took her out for lunch. During lunch, I mentioned that when I left the restaurant, I was heading to South Station to take the bus to NYC. My much-smarter-than-me coworkers pointed out that there was a hurricane about to hit NYC, to which I replied, “Yeah, but I’ll be out before it gets there…I think…”

It was beginning to dawn on me that this was probably a mistake. But my list, guys! And my other list! And my hotel reservation! And this was really the last weekend I’d be able to do it for awhile! If I didn’t do it that weekend, it would be a long time before I’d be able to!

So I hopped on the Bolt Bus, read Catching Fire, put in earplugs to drown out a loud conversation in some European language that I didn’t recognize, made a mental note to buy Mockingjay at a bookstore in NYC. Just as we got to NYC, I got a text message from Bolt Bus saying to check my email for some important information. My phone has basic Internet—I can check email and do some basic Web browsing, but I wouldn’t trust it for normal Internet function like a smartphone has. So I logged into gmail from my phone and looked at my latest email.

“Dear Valued Customer, Due to the approach of Hurricane Irene to our service area, we are cancelling your schedule for Saturday, August 27, 2011 with Boltbus,” said the email.

Oh, crap! said I.

When I checked the Bolt Bus website on my phone (while I could check on my phone, buying tickets via the web on my phone wouldn’t be a good idea), I saw that all the buses for earlier in the day on Saturday were sold out.

So there went my one remaining plan still in place—the Broadway show—as my priority now was getting to the hotel, getting online, and buying tickets via another company. So I got to the hotel, waited for some anxious foreign tourists to stop talking to the desk clerk about the impending hurricane, got my room key, tried to figure out how to open the door to the old-fashioned elevator (if I’d been in a better mood I probably would have thought the elevator was cool), got to my room, and frantically tried to get online and search for bus tickets. Oh, my God, I have to be at work on Monday for my performance review, I thought. How on Earth am I going to explain this? “Oh, sorry, I got stuck in New York because I decided to go there as a hurricane was coming?”

Luckily, there was space on the 9:00 AM Fung Wah bus. I tend to avoid those buses if I can because sometimes they blow up, but I figured I had a better chance of getting stranded in a city four hours away from home than of blowing up on a bus. I had to beg the front desk to let me print out the tickets right away (thankfully, Hotel 17 was very nice and only charged me for one night when I’d reserved the room for two).

So…what to do? I couldn’t see a play, go to Central Park (too dark at that point), or go to the Statue of Liberty or any museums (closed for the night). That left…pizza and bagels.

So Friday night, I did get some very good pizza, then went to Barnes & Noble to buy Mockingjay, then used a New York guide I found in B&N to find a good bar in the neighborhood, where I ordered a drink. People on the street kept talking about how everything was shutting down—the subway would shut down the next day, and Broadway was going dark. The next morning, I got myself a bagel from a place recommended online as one of the best in New York, then headed to Chinatown to catch the bus. I ended up getting on an earlier bus and was back in Boston by 11:30.

I’d been in New York for a grand total of 15 hours, about seven of which were spent sleeping. My waking time in NYC was equivalent to the total amount of time spent on buses.

And then Irene happened, a tropical storm by the time she reached us, and not much happened. I didn’t leave the house all day and watched Six Feet Under on DVD. (Side note: I’m ten years too late on this, but wow, Six Feet Under is a really good show! I’m catching up on DVD right now and have finished the first two seasons.)

Sadly, many other people up and down the East Coast can’t say the same. Some people died; others experienced extensive property damage. So I hope this post isn’t seen as making light of a serious natural disaster—I just wanted to tell my own awkward story. I’m lucky that the only real danger I faced was the embarrassing possibility of having to explain why I was stuck in New York, and I never even had to do that.

I do wonder, though, what this Weather Channel guy would think of me.

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