Thursday, May 19, 2005

And more harrowing adventures...

NYC skyline at night

Well, I'm back in the Midwest--which now appears to be a bastion of elysian tranquillity after my adventures in the nation's Capitol and the Big Apple!

When I last left you, I had reported on our exciting and terrifying evacuation from the U.S. Capitol grounds. (See my last post if you missed it.)

Running through the streets of D.C.-- to the tune of sirens, whistles, shouting and fighter jets--thinking for all the world that we were running for our lives, left us with a generous dollop of post traumatic stress disorder. Or at least it did me. Never mind the fact that we quickly found it was all a big mistake--it was VERY real (although also SURreal) while it was happening.

But the next morning, we loaded up the van for Somerset, New Jersey. The object: a few days seeing the sights of Manhattan, starting with a performance of The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway that night. (Staying in New Jersey, by the way, is much cheaper than staying in New York City.)

I was extremely anxious that we wouldn't get to the play on time, knowing that once the performance starts, no one is allowed into the theater until intermission.

I had seen the play in Chicago and I've seen the movie, but none of the kids (including my daughter, who was one of the high school seniors on the trip), had seen the play...and none of us had ever seen a play on Broadway, so needly to say, we were jazzed.

We were told that the train from New Brunswick, New Jersey, to Penn Station in NYC takes about 45 minutes, and it would be a "short walk" from the train station to the Majestic Theater, where our tickets were already waiting for us. As we boarded the train, it looked like we were doing fine time-wise, but with no time to spare, depending on the length of our walk to the theater.

We're chugging along pleasantly, and have just entered a tunnel, when suddenly the power goes out on the train, leaving only some auxiliary lighting. We coast to a stop.

No panic yet...I've been on the NJ transit system before, and I know brief outages do happen.

Then one minute stretches into two, then three, then four...our kids are anxiously looking around and asking, "Is this normal?" None of the other passengers seem panicked in the least, which gives me a modicum of comfort.

But here's the thing. I'm claustrophic. I've been known to border on a panic attack when I can't get a zipper unzipped (ok, I'm exaggerating, but you get the picture.) I'm already having to breathe deeply and self-talk to keep from panicking. On my side of the train, I see nothing but the black wall of the tunnel (later, kids on the other side told me there was a walkway, but I didn't know that at the time.)

Soon, a female voice comes over the speakers: "Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, we have lost power. We've been informed that there are currently no trains going into or out of New York City. We don't know why at this point. We'll pass along more information to you as we receive it."

Well, you've got to understand. Along with my mounting claustrophobia, I have just come out of the scariest thing that ever happened to me. I start envisioning the worst: terrorist attack? hours of being in this train with NO WAY TO ESCAPE??????

I was convinced that if and when I did depart the train, it would be as a raving lunatic in a strait jacket!

I manage to quell the rising panic by bowing my head and praying, over and over again like a mantra, "Jesus, please let this train start. Jesus, please let this train start. Jesus, PLEASE start this train!"

Whether it's due to my effectual fervent prayer or just coincidence, the lights flash back on, the engine hums, and we're on our way again! What a relief!!! We were without power for probably only ten minutes or so, but it seemed like the longest interval in my life.

Emerging into Penn Station, we get our bearings and realize the Majestic Theater is eleven blocks away. We have over thirty minutes till curtain time--can we walk that far, that fast?

We do, and with about fifteen minutes to spare. Doug picks up our tickets as we wait in line. We are in Manhattan! We can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

The play was fabulous. Hugh Panaro as the Phantom was wonderful--his voice a thing of beauty. Although I find Gerard Butler extremely compelling in the movie, no one pretends that he has a fantastic voice. Hugh Panaro does. We all really enjoyed the play.

After a bite to eat, we head back to Penn Station--only to find out that the fire that caused the power outage has prompted major delays and cancellations. We have to walk to a different station to catch a different kind of train to Newark. This one is nowhere near as comfortable as the other train; due to the situation, it's extremely crowded; we have to stand in uncomfortably intimate proximity to strangers, and it smells strongly and pungently as if someone has just thrown up.

We arrive in Newark to find that we've missed the last regularly scheduled train, but a policeman tells us an extra train will run to accomodate everyone who didn't make it. But he tells us it's going to be a long wait, and to "make ourselves comfortable."

We sit for over an hour on the bare floor of the train station, but finally a train does arrive to take us back to New Brunswick. This one is not as crowded; blessedly, we get to sit down and relax.

Finally, at about four o'clock the next morning, we approach our hotel. We're greeted by a sea of emergency vehicles, police cars, ambulances and fire trucks! Did our hotel burn down in our absence??? turns out it was a pretty bad fire at a restaurant across the street. We later find out that a couple of firefighters were injured, but apparently not in any lifethreatening way.

You would think that the law of averages would save us from any further mishaps. Not so. On the way to a church in Manhattan on Sunday morning, zooming along in five lanes of New Jersey highway traffic, our van suffers a tire blowout. We're stranded on the side of the road for three hours. Triple A comes and tries to change the tire, but the jack breaks. We think the van has fallen on the guy whose working underneath the van, but he shimmies out unharmed, thank God!

The remainder of the trip wound up in fairly normal fashion. We saw and did a lot of wonderful things along the way. I love Washington, D.C., with its stately memorials, and the Arlington Cemetery, and the outstanding and intensely moving Holocaust Museum.

In NYC, besides seeing Phantom, we toured NBC studies, went up the Empire State Building, and shopped till we dropped. New York is an incredible city, with an exciting heartbeat all its own.

But I was quite happy when the van rolled into our pleasantly uneventful town.

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