This was my Wednesday without too much embellishment:
6:30 a.m.: Get to the airport in plenty of time for my 7:30 a.m. flight into New York. I have numerous things going on in New York — including my Friday appearance as guest on E-Street Radio — and am alert and ready to go. When I arrive at the gate, I see TSA agents going through every single carry on bag by hand. It turns out that the X-Ray machines are broken. I do not know that having an agent examine my underwear and deodorant will be among the happier moments of the day.
7:30 a.m.: Flight is scheduled to leave but there is word of bad weather in New York and the flight is being delayed. The pilot intends to have us board the plane anyway so that we can leave as soon as we are cleared.
8 a.m.: The boarding is delayed because one of the airplane’s tires is loose. Gate agent says it will be better to delay than “Get to New York and find out the tire had fallen off.” Good point.
9 a.m.: Flight leaves for New York. The pilot says the hour and a half delay will be difficult to make up because we face a strong headwind and because the winds at LaGuardia are “up to 60 mph.”
9:55 a.m.: Pilot announces over loudspeaker that LaGuardia has been closed because of heavy winds and will not open for “at least an hour.” He then says, “We cannot make it for an hour, so there’s a chance we will be diverted so we can pick a spot of fuel.” He really says “spot of fuel.” He then adds that he will keep us in a holding pattern for a little while in case we get a break before the hour is up.
10:40 a.m.: Well, we get a break. The pilot says that because so many other planes have been diverted we will be able to sneak in. He says will be landing in New York in about 44 minutes.
10:43 a.m.: “Well,” pilot says, “if that last announcement sounded too good to be true … yeah, it was. We are going to be diverted to Pittsburgh.” He then says that we will pick up some fuel in Pittsburgh and hopefully not be delayed too long before going to New York. There is now quite a bit of grumbling on the plane.
12:40 p.m. (Eastern Time now): We land in Pittsburgh. It is snowing. The flight attendant says: “I hope you enjoyed your flight.”
1 p.m.: Pilot comes back to give us news — if anyone wants to go back home, they can arrange it. He still is not sure about New York, but he intends to find out.
1:18 p.m.: Pilot does not have good news. LaGuardia is closed (he says), there are no flights going in and out, the flight is canceled and there is no way whatsoever to get into New York through the air. BUT, the airline has decided to charter a bus. He says the bus ride is about 5 hours from Pittsburgh to New York. He does not say that this is only if Jimmie Johnson is driving the bus.
1:42 p.m.: After sitting on the plane for 24 minutes for no apparent reason a new guy comes in to say that he is trying to charter a bus for “anyone who wants to go to New York.” This seems like an odd qualification since we are all on a plane that purportedly was headed for New York. But he has been doing this for 25 years, and he is right … most people on the bus seem to be ready to go home. A quick count shows that only 32 people want to take a bus.
1:53 p.m.: The man comes back to lead us off the plane and announce that he has secured a bus to New York — it will leave at 4 p.m. and arrive in New York at midnight. A few more people drop out. There are now only 17 people waiting.
1:57 p.m.: The man takes a phone call and makes an announcement. The bus has been canceled. There are no flights available to New York — so everyone will have to stay in a hotel in Pittsburgh. And all the flights on Thursday to New York are sold out. This does not strike anyone as particularly good news.
2:02 p.m.: I finally realize that I just need to rent a car and drive to New York. I am told by a local that it is about a six-hour drive. I secure the one-day car rental for a mere $240 and tell the gate agent to take my name off whatever list he has …
2:03 p.m.: A young woman from China approaches me and asks if she can ride with me to New York. I have a hard time understanding her, but she seems close to tears and, of course, I tell her she can come along.
2:15 p.m.: The car may cost $240 but it’s a fully loaded Camry. Well, by fully loaded, I mean it has a steering wheel, brakes, several dents and only 26,000 miles on it. It also has a GPS and when I punch in New York, it tells me the ride is 6 hours and 47 minutes. This day is getting worse all the time.
3:30 p.m.: It is snowing just outside of Pittsburgh, though the roads are not too slick yet. I am talking to my wife, Margo, and I do not mention the snow because she will have a panic attack. In the background, the woman is talking on her phone in Chinese. She is undoubtedly telling someone that she is 85% certain that I am not an axe murderer. Or she could be telling someone that she have found her next axe-murder victim. I do not speak Chinese.
4:30 p.m.: I am starving and so we pull into a McDonald’s where the woman asks me if I would like to try a McRib sandwich. Why do they do this at fast food restaurant drive-thru windows? I’m already there. I’m already going to buy something to eat. What difference does it make what I get?
4:33 p.m.: The GPS tells me to turn right to get back on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I turn right. Then, suddenly, the GPS says “Make Legal U-Turn.” Legal U-Turn? Where? Then the GPS says “Go 13 miles and then turn around.” Yep. Going east on the Turnpike when I’m supposed to be going West. Yep. Next exit is not for 13 miles. Yep. That’s 26 miles out of the way if you are counting at home. And, yep, the woman in the car says three of the 12 words she will say on this trip: “Going wrong way.”
4:58 p.m.: Passed the McDonald’s a second time. Glare at it. Chinese woman appears to be asleep. GPS says we are still four and a half hours away.
5:40 p.m.: Pitch black and snowing somewhere in Pennsylvania.
7:48 p.m.: It occurs to me at this moment that Pennsylvania is the longest bleeping state in America. I actually love to drive, but it now feels like I have been driving for nine days. Woman is still sleeping or pretending to sleep. I feel very tired myself.
8:30 p.m.: I celebrate 12 hours on the road. We are actually approaching the city now. I notice that New Jersey roads are quite smooth — smooth enough to …
8:31 p.m.: I am not asleep!
8:48 p.m.: Approaching the Holland Tunnel. Woman is paying all our tolls. By my quick estimate, she has handed out approximately $129 since we started. We now approach the Holland Tunnel and she sees that it costs another $8. She counts out 8 singles and says two more of the 12 words she says on the trip: “All gone.”
9:03 p.m.: We are in the city. I do not like driving in the city. This is because I have a terrible sense of direction and will naturally make a wrong turn. It is inevitable. I feel a little bit better because the GPS is telling me where to go and it is saying to go straight and …
9:04 p.m.: The woman says the remainder of her 12 words … she is hoping I can pull over somewhere here and drop her off near a subway stop so that she can go to Chinatown. This sounds reasonable to me. I turn left, pull off to the side, drop her off. She thanks me profusely … I feel good about myself. I have made it into the city — yes, it’s 14 hours after I arrived at the airport, but I have done something good and I am here. I just have to take my car to a rental car place on 48th street and …
9:06 p.m.: GPS tells me to turn left on a street. I look up. There is a big stupid sign saying “No Left Turn.” This is where a real New Yorker decides that going in the right direction trumps big stupid signs. I, unfortunately, am not a real New Yorker. The next street also says no left turn. And the next. And the next. And a no U-Turn sign follows that.
9:08 p.m: I know I’m tired and near delirious but I appear to be going up a ramp of some kind.
9:09 p.m.: This does not seem good.
9:10 p.m. This is definitely not good.
9:11 p.m.: I appear to be on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
9:14 p.m.: I now appear to be on the Long Island Expressway.
9:15 p.m.: I am now screaming at my GPS.
9:18 p.m.: I take the Maurice Exit and turn back around. I have decided to take over from the GPS and use my own spider senses to get me back into the city. I know this is a bad move, but I am so tired that I hope desperation will give me super-navigational-strength.
9:22 p.m.: I realize that I will actually have to go BACK through the Midtown Tunnel. I think to myself: “Do I have any cash?” I suspect not. As I consider pulling off on Van Dam to find a bank, I look in my wallet and see 5 bucks. Surely, that’s enough. I have not driven through the Midtown Tunnel in years but I remember it being only $3.50.
9:25 p.m.: Turns out the Midtown Tunnel is not $3.50. It is $5.50 Surely the guy will grant me the 50 cents.
9:26 p.m.: Conversation with toll booth guy goes like so:
Me: Sorry, hey, all I have is $5.
TBG: Check your car, man, there’s always spare change.
Me: Um, it’s a rental. There’s no change in here.
TBG: Check your pockets, there’s always spare change there.
Me: I don’t carry change. Really, all I have is 5 bucks.
TBG: All right, then.
(He pulls out an envelope and starts writing on it. Cars behind start honking. He keeps writing … it feels like he takes approximately 5 hours to do this).
TBG (handing me envelope): “All right man, put your money away. I’m doing you a big favor.”
Me (looking at envelope and seeing that this will now cost me $7.50): Thanks.
TBG: “You’re a lucky man.”
9:32 p.m.: Arrive at car rental place. My great friend Vackie is waiting for me there. We grab dinner at Juniors and he takes me back to hotel.
11:04 p.m.: I go up to my New York hotel room with a family of nine, none of whom has any idea what floor they are staying on. I enter the room and pop open my computer. There is an email from a Brilliant Reader that reads like so: “You promised you were going to write these Bill James Car Essays today? What have you been doing anyway?”