Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Driving Into New York City...Part One: The Approach

Whenever I hit the road to head back to my ancestral home -- the streets of New York City -- for a visit, I join an elite group of drivers.

The highways leading to the city are a challenge. The speeds are high, the drivers high strung, and there is little room for bumbling about.

Some drivers are daily commuters. They are the super elite. I choose to leave a little later in the morning in order to avoid the congestion of the true rush so these are off-peak daily drivers but that doesn't detract from their exalted status.

Jaded and experienced but capable of surprising tolerance for those lacking their steely-eyed resolve, they know exactly when to cut across three lanes of traffic for a left exit, reach for their Easy Pass or at what split second to change lanes before the merge sign actually appears---all the while never slowing from a brisk 85 mph.

And, here's the best part--they look totally bored while doing it all.

That's the trick-- to look bored while hurtling through time and space as you aim for your exit or casually shift lanes to allow those entering the highway an easy merge. Looking bored is recommended if you want to be taken seriously.

So you try to look bored, too. Even if your soul is screaming in fear as traffic zooms by or you miss an exit, you maintain the  blase expression of your fellow drivers, many of whom are probably as stressed out as you. But you know the rules.

Never let them see you sweat.

You're not always stressed out. Sometimes you're apoplectic. Like when you're unable, due to traffic's flow, to pass the well-dressed woman -- not all that much more advanced in years than yours truly  -- driving way too slow in her older model Mercedes.

She's often leaning forward and gripping the wheel with two bony but well-manicured hands. There's no point in glaring at her. She's too terrified to notice what's happening around her.

You also experience fear as you pass the text-er or the distracted phone talker and a combination of scorn and amusement as you lean in for a glimpse of the young executive gesticulating to no one as he orates into his blue tooth.

He's probably ordering Chinese food but looks as if he's making a deal to save the national economy or buy NBC from whomever owns it for the foreign businessmen he represents. Then you catch a glimpse of the empty car seat in the back and he suddenly becomes just another dad on his way to work.

There's the Toyota full of women heading into the city for a show or a meal in Little Italy or Chinatown.

You resist a sneer even though you've been them more than once. But now you're alone and feeling smug about the importance of your mission. It's no more pressing than theirs but they don't know that.
In better days....

They are easily intimidated and you know how to pick your victims so you glance in and pass with a flourish, leaving them in the dust just for the hell of it.

Of course this is all in your head because you've forgotten that this is not 1982 and you are just another middle-aged woman, not David Hasselhoff driving that talking car from the TV show.

You steer clear of the cars full of teens. They're heading to the beach in the summer or skipping school in the winter and are either wearing too few clothes or laughing too hard. They remind you of the fun you never had or the fun you will never have again so you avert your eyes  as you fly by them and the cell tower disguised, or so it hopes, as a tree in order to fit in with the landscape.

You pass the broken-down minivan on the right which, apparently, contained about 35 people because they have all (including a grandmother in a wheel chair and several coolers) emerged to mill about way too close to traffic. Two or three men wearing wife beaters (even in the winter) scratch their chins and decide how to handle the situation.

You always think how glad you are not be them and fly onward.

You fiddle with the radio even though you've told your kids not to and you lean forward to find the hand sanitizer even though your hands are not any dirtier than they were ten minutes ago and you approach the city.

Grey buildings loom up ahead and the houses suddenly stand closer together as the suburbs melt behind you.

The fun is just beginning, stay tuned.....

Am I a tree? Am I cell tower? You decide.


  1. I don't think I will ever, EVER drive into the city. I would be terrified. There are too many yahoos driving here in CT; I can't hack the city streets. I will forever be grateful that there is a metro station here in Stratford. 1 hr 15 min later and I'm at Grand Central. So worth the $$$.

    You are a brave, brave woman. More power to you.

  2. I don't blame you one bit, Alicia. I do it so I can experience road rage.

  3. We spent a week visiting the city last summer. Other than suicidal taxi drivers and people who use their horns like psychotic zombies, it was pretty much like driving in Houston.

  4. I am familiar with eh psychotoc zombies but must correct you on one thing...the cab drivers are homicidal not suicidal. They want to kill you not themselves and have practiced leaping from the cab just before impact.

  5. I will also never take a cab in the city. I walk my ass up and down those streets. One trip, we walked from Grand Central to the Theatre district to the MET, back to the Theatre district, down to MSG, then back to Grand Central. When I got home, I noticed my feet had been bleeding.

    But I still didn't take a cab.