On Love and Billy Joel

I left for NYC at 4:00 this morning.  It’s now 4:58pm and I still haven’t arrived.  I should have known that things wouldn’t turn out the way I hoped when I woke up in time to take a shower.  I never wake up in time to take a shower. Not even before important work meetings with people I’m trying to impress.  But I woke up at the thigh gap of dawn to take a shower so that I could look nice for Billy Joel. Because Billy, I love you.

It started when Pam at the United desk told me simply that our flight crew had not arrived on time for the flight.  She didn’t sugar coat it with anything about how they needed more rest, or how the weather had delayed them. We were standing alone in an airport with six and a half gates (no one is sure what gate 5A is supposed to stand for) and anything you say in an airport that small is obviously thinly veiled.

The airport is so small that Pam was actually waiting on four passengers for the previous flight when I was speaking to her.  Waiting for them like you might wait on friends to give them a ride to the mall in the 90’s. She yelled back to her flight deck buddy, “I’m just going to run over to TSA and check to see if they are there.”  And in fact, there was someone there. I could watch him from my perch at the ticket desk walking through TSA without even craning my neck. Watch him repack his bag and tie his shoes. I could probably throw a baseball at him and hit him in the face if I had any aim.  That’s just how small the airport is. Which is to say, when my flight crew didn’t show, there wasn’t a line of planes waiting to take me to DC. I should have said, “Mare, you’re 3 hours away, just drive yourself. Things aren’t look great for you!” But I didn’t. I certainly didn’t.

The new flight meant I missed my connecting flight, which snowballed into a lot of new horrific airport disasters, until a whole long time later it was 2:30 and I had been sitting on a runway in DC for an hour in an airplane with a broken air conditioning.  The pilot was mumbling something over the intercom about a ground stop at La Guardia and told us we were going back to our gate “for an hour”. I got off the plane in a panic because everyone knows they don’t de-plane a plane for “an hour”. I was fumbling with my phone, trying to decide if I should get a train, or a car, or a bus, or a boat.  It was a like a sick, expensive, Dr. Seuss book when, like clockwork, a United attendant announced that our flight was cancelled. She didn’t offer anything else. Not a sweet “please call this number” or “check your phones for your change in flights”. Of course, she couldn’t do any of those things because all we received was an email, hilariously misdated, saying our flight was cancelled and to follow a link for options, of which there were zero.

Flash forward to me in Gurpartap’s taxi cab 40 stressful minutes later, after hauling ass across the airport to try to find any airline that might take me.  There was zero room at any inn for this Mary, which in the end probably mattered little since all flights to NYC have been since cancelled anyhow. I found a cab and threw down some cash, indicating that I would pay whatever (old school) to get to Union Station as fast as his little cabbie wheels could take me.  These are taxi rules, not Uber rules, Gurpartap.

Gurpartap then proceeded to waste precious time discussing which route we should take, when clearly he had already decided which route was best for me, and my pocketbook.

“This route is shorter by miles, but see the time?  It is only 8 minutes longer. And this one is longer by miles, but shorter in time.  However it has tolls.” He explained showing me how his phone’s gps mapping device of choice, Waze, and his car’s gps could compare choices.  “Which one do you want?”

“I don’t care!  Which ever one is faster!” I nodded furiously and waved at them both not remembering which one showed me the fast, expensive route.

Gurpartap explained the maps again, exactly the same as he had before.

“The fastest route!” I waved my hands at the expensive route again, “I don’t care about the cost!”

“Oh but the tolls are $30-$40 dollars…for 8 minutes?  Really ma’am? 8 minutes?” He looked at me sternly. “You’re willing to pay all that money for 8 minutes?”

“Oh whatever you want just GET ME THERE!” at this point Gurpartap had started driving and I just wanted him to keep his judgey ass eyes on the road.

An hour later, however, I would have paid $100 for those 8 minutes.  We were 2 miles from Union Station and the gps was showing we still had 30 minutes to go.  It was sheeting rain and there were emergency vehicles everywhere. I could only hope that someone had run over Donald Trumps wig and he had called all these cars in a panic to see if they could revive the hair piece.  That was the only reason that would make this traffic jam okay. That and the story the Washington Post would write the next day.

Gurpartap shook his head, “I’m not thinking you’re going to make it.”

I glared at him over my backpack.  “I’m not thinking I’m going to make it either.”I said through gritted teeth.

I stared at the gps on my own phone, and suddenly realized the projected time included looping through a huge backup at Columbus Circle to take me to the front of Union Station, Cinderella in the pumpkin style.

“Gurpartap,” I asked, “What if I hopped out right here,” I asked pointing to my map, “Before Columbus Circle? Would that save us some time?”

“Yes it would!”  He grew excited, going into full conspiratorial mode.  If he had had a white board, I think there would have been arrows and charts.  At the next red light he quickly instructed me to hop out in the rain and grab my carry-on from the trunk so that I could save time getting it from “the boot” when tuck and rolling at Union Station.  He also insisted on me putting my backpack on, looping my carry-on over my shoulder, and checking all the pockets of the vehicle in advance to make sure I wasn’t leaving anything behind in a rush. You know me so well Gurpartap.  So well.

About a block away from our final stop, he allowed to pay ahead before the actual end of fare so we could complete the transaction on the go and not waste time at the end. I threw an extra large tip on the charge to thank him for his assistance as he darted between cars and illegally pulled into a bike lane so I could hop out safely.

And then I ran.
Straight into on-coming traffic like my mother absolutely did not teach me.
I had 9 minutes to catch my train and traffic was at a standstill so it was hardly as daring as it sounds, but pretend it was James Bondy.  As I flew through Union Station I could hear “Last Call for Penn Station” on the announcement and though I had no idea where I was running, it gave me hope.  I lifted my bag off its wheels and ran up to the first man in a navy blazer I could find.

“Shit you gotta run, girl!” he said when I showed him my ticket and he matched it to the departures board.  “That’s in F gate and that’s not very close to A gate.” he said pointing to the gate we were standing closest to.  They were alphabetized, as you can imagine.

I heard a stream of names being listed, including “Case”.  “Last call for Case”. That calmed my heart a bit, feeling as though “last call” meant “if we can see you we’ll let you on” until a well dressed man, the type that looks as though he regularly travels on Amtrak trains and knows the lay of the land, came barreling past me and yelled “Wait for me I have a first class ticket!” as though he knew they absolutely would not wait for him, even if they saw him.

I sped up again and plummeted down the platform, sliding on the wet boards, my hair sticking to my face.  “Wait for me I don’t have a first class ticket!” I tried to yell through my asthmatic heaves. I fell onto the train and panted heavily.  I didn’t realize exactly how loudly I was wheezing until I looked down and a row of nicely dressed 30-something business men were staring at me like I might accidentally sweat on their Louis Vuitton.

“Don’t worry boys.  I will.” I whispered through a wheeze.

I found a seat next to the most mid-western looking man I could find, and got to work searching for my inhaler and drying my sweat.

Then I texted Kyle. “I might make it after all! (winky face, heart emoji, weird gif of someone having an asthma attack) Please find out how we can get from Penn Station to Madison Square Garden AS FAST as humanly possible!  I’ve got to see Billy!”

I got a text back from Kyle faster than I would expect, considering I had texted him about another man.  Finally good news.  About as good as it gets actually.  Turns out Penn Station is directly underneath Madison Square Garden.

At least I’ll make it before the last song.

“Nowadays you can’t be too sentimental.  Your best bets true baby-blue Continental.”

Billy Joel

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