Optimism Tried: My First Visit to New York City


I’d never been to New York City before.  What better way to ring in our third decade of marriage, I thought.  Holly and I have now been married twenty years, and despite tight finances that always seem to accompany every new priest, especially a new priest with a large family more or less dependent on one income, people don’t celebrate twenty years of marriage every day; and I’ll regret it if I let another slip by without doing something big; and last year was all about what I wanted to do.  She enjoyed it, mind you, a date to the Nashville Symphony and dinner.  But it was all my plan.  So why not follow her plan this year?

Armed with such reasoning, about three months ago I booked a flight and a hotel and secured tickets to Wicked on Broadway.  The date of the show, incidentally, was Friday, September 13.

Soon the big day came.  A hare-brained plan, really.  We were to catch a plane out of San Antonio on Thursday afternoon, transfer in Houston, and press on to LaGuardia airport in New York, to arrive at 10pm.  I figured we’d be to the hotel in Manhattan by 11 and asleep by 11:30–no 2:30am redeye for us.  (We’ve been married twenty years, after all, and we just don’t handle the late nights like we used to.)  Then we would wake up Friday, surely blissful, with a full day of Central Park and other exciting New York sites to enjoy–like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Statue of Liberty, or both–before dinner and an 8pm show.  We’d then catch a 7:30am flight on Saturday and be home by noon.  Tight schedule, but decent plan for a new priest with minimal vacation time available, right?

Now, before I go on with this story, I think y’all should know something: we’re no strangers to strings of bad luck.

For example, I once rented a U-Haul trailer to help us move from Sacramento, CA to Denver, CO.  The guy at the U-Haul store said my stuff should fit, no problem.  What did I know with it being our first move as a married couple and all!  Every prior move I’d been able to fit all my personal belongings into or on top of my 1980 Mazda 626, after all, including a futon and frame, file cabinets, a bicycle, and various and sundry kitchen items.  We had more stuff now, being married and all.  But we’d only been married for seven months and hadn’t acquired that much, right?

Wrong!  Too soon I realized that the bed of the old pickup and the 6×12 trailer really only gave us about two-thirds of what we needed spacewise.  Rather than take the trailer back, which is what I probably should have done, my friend Jerry, who lived in Colorado, said he’d make a second run to CA with me, after dropping off the first load in Denver with Holly.  Sounded logical enough.  So that became my revised plan.

All went smoothly enough to Denver.  But on the return trip to Sacramento, right at about Elko, NV, and right at about four o’clock in the morning, the lights went dim and the pickup died.  That issue took half a day to resolve.  The alternator was holding a charge, the mechanic said, so it must be the battery.  That replaced, we resumed our trip, made it to CA, loaded the trailer, and turned around before dark.

This time it was around Winnemucca, NV, not quite to Elko; this time at about one in the morning, as I’m mostly asleep in the passenger seat, when I’m violently awakened by a sudden shout from Jerry: “We got a fire!”  Sure enough, out of the rear view mirror I could see flames shooting twenty feet from the trailer’s left wheels.

Fortunately I had a fire extinguisher on board–it was an old truck.  So we screeched to a halt–literally–and I ran around the deserted interstate putting out the fire.  It was the U-Haul trailer, by the way; evidently a wheel bearing was so old and produced so much friction that fire was the result.  I’d be a liar if I said the thought never crossed my mind to let it all burn though.

Well, then it was a waiting game in Winnemucca–waiting for U-Haul to come and replace the trailer on the shoulder of Interstate 80.  Not much to do in Winnemucca, by the way, in case you ever break down there.  So the new trailer came and U-Haul very apologetically renewed my contract for a week at no charge.  “Pshaw!” I muttered.

Anyway, after a good night’s sleep–U-Haul paid for the hotel too, if I recall correctly; but not for a crew to reload the cargo–Jerry and I were on our way.  Until sixty miles east of Green River, Utah, now on Interstate 70.

More electrical problems!  And yet another break down on the side of the interstate!

Mind you, this was 1994, before the common usage of cell phones.  Neither Jerry nor I had one.  Besides, we were sixty miles from the closest town, halfway between Green River to the west and Fruita, CO to the east.  I don’t think there’s cell phone service along this remote stretch of highway even today.  So, what to do?

We ended up duct-taping “AAA” across the back of the trailer, managing to catch the attention of a trucker after ninety minutes or so.  He stopped, smiled, and offered one of us a ride to the next town, i. e., Fruita.  Jerry said yes before I’d even had time to process the trucker’s question, perhaps intimating that Jerry’s patience had begun to be tried.  I couldn’t blame him.  So he was off and there I waited.  I climbed in the pickup’s cab and took a nap.

I was awakened by voices some time later, maybe an hour.  These were accompanied by that telltale smell a car engine makes when it burns too much oil.  I sat up.  And what I saw brought questions to my mind indeed.  I was in remote Utah, remember.  Walking towards me now was a very short red-headed man, scruffy and unkempt, and three women, all of a similar age, all significantly taller than the man.  He was giving orders–“Get the tool kit,” “Keep the motor running,” “Grab the jumpers”–orders to which each woman promptly responded.  I stepped out of the pickup, biting my tongue.

“Yeah,” the short man said apparently to me, though he didn’t look me in the eye, “I used to have a truck just like this.  What’s her problem?”

“Stalled,” I said.  “It’s electrical.  Alternator’s my guess.”

“Why doncha open the hood?”

So I did.  To which Short Man said, after climbing up on the front bumper and taking a hasty look, “This here’s your problem.”  And he pulled out a pocketknife and, lickety split, cut a wire.

I wanted to scream, “What in the name of Joseph Smith are you doing!”

But before I could he said, “There now.  She should start right up.  Give her a try.”

So I did.  What else was I to do, after all?

But, of course, nothing happened.

And of course, as I looked up from whatever I was fiddling with at the moment, Short Man was high-tailing it to his smoky station wagon and saying to one of the women, “Honey, get in the car, now!”  Then he said it to another.  Then to the third.

Stunned, amazed, flabbergasted, stupefied, whatever, I was momentarily paralyzed with disbelief.  By the time I stepped out of the truck onto the road, the quartet was speeding off into the sunrise.

Not knowing what else to do, I raised my fist and yelled, “Polygamists!”  I don’t know, maybe they read my lips.

Anyway, a tow truck driver showed up with Jerry maybe an hour later, towed me to Fruita, looked under the hood, and said, “Yep, it’s the alternator.  But why’s this wire been cut?”

So check this out.  The string of bad luck on this present hare-brained trip to New York began when we arrived at the San Antonio airport and discovered that our flight had been delayed by ten minutes.  No sweat, Holly and I agreed.  But it was nonetheless a bad omen, kind of like when the stuff wouldn’t fit in the U-Haul trailer.  Yet ancient augury is nothing I learned in seminary, and Holly and I are both optimists.  So we didn’t see it.  But you do, don’t you?

Predictably, at our layover in Houston things got worse.  At Gate 43 we learned that our flight to LaGuardia would be leaving ninety minutes late.  So we decided to enjoy a dinner.  Fine and well–except for the 400-pound guy squished in next to me in the airport restaurant, inhibiting my and Holly’s conversation somewhat, to say nothing of our personal space–until we returned to our gate to see no sign of our flight anywhere.  Not to be dismayed, I checked the “Departures” monitor, discovering that we were moved to Gate 49, and that we would be delayed another twenty minutes.

Okay.  So we were supposed to have taken off at 5:20; now we’re scheduled for 7:10.  That should put us in New York before midnight, I thought, and to the hotel by 12:45.  We’d be asleep before 1am.  Okay.

But things got worse still during the flight.  For the record, the flight itself was decent.  But we had to wait a while before taking off.  Bad weather at LaGuardia, pilot said.  Then when we landed, we had to wait on the runway not a hundred yards from the gate for more than an hour.  A lot of flights had arrived at the same time, pilot said, since the weather had recently cleared, he said, and we had to wait our turn to get a gate, said he.

Then it was to Baggage Claim, where we soon discovered that everyone’s luggage who’d come from San Antonio was lost.  That included ours.  Should be here by 11am, Baggage Services said.

“Fat chance,” I muttered.  “It probably went onto that plane at Gate 43 in Houston.  I remember.  That flight was bound for L. A.”

Holly shot me a look showing she was none too pleased.

“Another ten minutes and I’d have given up,” the shuttle driver told us when we finally met him.  It was after two o’clock.

So we arrived at the hotel, finally, at 2:45am.  So much for no redeye, yeah?  Fortunately, the hotel hadn’t cancelled our non-refundable reservation.  Otherwise I’d have screamed, optimist or not.  (Even infernal optimists have their limits!)  But I did wonder how we ended up with a room on the fifth floor, the same floor that happened to have a lot of construction work being performed at the moment–construction, by the way, that woke us up before 7:30am.  Would we have been issued Room 509 if we had arrived before 11pm, as originally planned?  Probably not.  The floor seemed deserted except for us and the construction workers and the overwhelming smell of fresh carpet glue and paint.

As we stepped towards the elevator that evening–or rather morning–two six-foot six-inch transvestites appeared from behind a corner and entered the elevator before us.  Okay, maybe “transvestites” is a hasty conclusion.  But the word translates from Latin simply as “crossdressers.”  At any rate, they were clearly people of the night; they looked like they used to play football–broad shoulders and biceps the size of my quadriceps; they were wearing low-cut, revealing women’s clothing; and they were–how shall I put this?–um, busty.  Like, implant busty.  It was an awkward moment.

But even with all the events of the day, and even though it was a redeye hour of the morning, my optimistic mind was at work.  “Hey,” I thought, “Jesus would get on the elevator with these two guy/girls.  He chilled with prostitutes and other outcasts.  Why hesitate?”

My hesitation must have come across.  For just as I was resolved that, yes, I needed to ride the elevator with these two people, one of them looked at me, smiled, and said gently, “It’s okay, honey.”

And it was okay.  I entered the elevator; Holly followed; I pressed the “5” button; and the doors to the elevator shut.

“Now what?” I thought.

Four floors of continued awkward silence later the doors opened and Holly and I exited.  As the doors closed, just before they cut this connection to another world off forever, one of the transvestites giggled and said to the other, “Aww, isn’t that so cute?”

Twenty years, honey, and we’re still cute.  And, by the way, I’m still an optimist.  Happy anniversary, dear!

For what it’s worth, the rest of the getaway was awesome.  We navigated the New York subways, took in Central Park, purchased a new outfit each courtesy of the airline company, saw the 9/11 Memorial, ate a suptuous dinner at Rosy O’Grady’s, and enjoyed a phenomenal show on Broadway.  The trip home even arrived fifteen minutes early.

2 Responses to “Optimism Tried: My First Visit to New York City”

  1. Tim and Holly, Happy Anniversary. I couldn’t stop laughing at your expemse. At least you have great stories and a great sense of humor. I love you, Mom

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