What’s a trip to New York without a horror story to take back to Flyoverland?
Our trip had been without significant incident; we hadn’t lost the 11-year-old in the crowd in Times Square or ended up on the wrong side of a subway door from her, and we’d even enjoyed a bucolic day at the New York Botanical Garden (it’s really worth a visit if you want to, or have to, pull your eyes away from the whirligig of the city). The final step in our last day in Manhattan was to move base camp from midtown to a hotel near the Newark airport.
In reviewing the options for our exit plan we quickly saw that it cost about the same to hire a car service recommended by our hotel to transport the three of us as it would to use the SuperShuttle, plus the car would take us directly where we wanted to go. We made the call and our limo, an older Lincoln, arrived on time and our driver appeared.
She was a very short, very stocky woman of unknown ethnicity and dialect but with forearms like Popeye. She assured me she knew how to get us to the Courtyard Marriott by Newark Airport. As we crept uneventfully downtown through the traffic toward the Holland Tunnel I couldn’t help noticing that our driver’s eyes barely cleared the knobby steering wheel of the Lincoln. She was humming to herself in a high-pitched, off-key manner that was almost drowned out by the loud radio in the car tuned to the news and traffic report. I was afraid that if I asked her to turn the radio down that she would lose what visual connection she had with road so I opted to ride it out.
New Jersey was a new challenge, however. On the highway and nearing the airport our driver grew more hesitant in her movements, patting the accelerator with her foot so that the car repeatedly surged and fell back in little increments while she wavered between lanes (as did our confidence). She spotted the exit she wanted, but it was too late to make a move. Rather than risk ending up in Pennsylvania she pulled over to the side of the highway – then started backing up toward the exit.
I’m looking out the rear window at the onrushing traffic while simultaneously searching for an ejector seat button and thinking how rich our surviving daughter back in Minnesota is going to be when the insurance pays off. Miraculously the only thing that hits us are the horns of the other drivers and then we’re going up the exit.
It’s not the right exit after all, however. We drive the frontage road but don’t see our hotel and then get back on the highway where we soon see our hotel – but it’s on the opposite side of the highway. Unfortunately there isn’t an exit handy that we can take – either in forward or reverse. Our driver finally finds an exit that takes us into a neighborhood, where she then runs a couple of stop signs trying to get back to the highway to go in the opposite direction. Her humming is now a loud keening, and I don’t know if it’s her response to stress or if it’s the traditional death song of her people.
We get back on a highway doing a dazzling 40 mph (38 mph, 40 mph, 38 mph, 40 etc.), but it’s not even the highway we were on before, so we do not see our hotel even after driving a ways. What our driver does see is another limo on the shoulder of the highway ahead, and she pulls over in front of this car and gets out to ask directions. I have my cell phone, but my briefcase with the hotel’s phone number is in the trunk. I’m trying to decide whether to call 411 or 911. I’m also eyeing the distance and service roads we’d have to cover on foot if we abandoned the car right there and trying to evaluate our chances of reaching safety when our driver returns and tries to explain where we’re going, waving one hand vaguely toward the windshield while lunging back into traffic.
We take another exit and still no sign of our hotel, but I see a large Marriott sign ahead and – in as calm a manner as I can muster – tell the driver to make for that. Since Courtyards are part of that hotel family I figure if we can just get to the Marriott I can have them call the shuttle from their sister hotel to come get us. After coasting through another stop sign we finally pull up under the Marriott’s portico, giddy with relief and feeling as if we should kiss the Jersey earth.
“Don’t worry about the tip,” our driver tells us. We don’t.