Friday, June 30, 2000

At 7:30, I couldn't sleep any more. I got up, pleased that my legs were no longer so sore that I limped. I showered, then, walking normally, I got a hot breakfast from the hotel restaurant. I returned to the room, packed, and headed to the lobby, where I checked out. I checked my large bag at the bellman's station, then headed to the concierge's desk one more time. The concierge gave me directions to the Statue of Liberty. I had to catch the #1 or #9 train at a station a block and a half west and three blocks south. The end of the line for those trains is South Ferry station at Battery Park. The ferry for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island leaves from there.

I left the Hilton at 9:00, keeping close track of time so I would know when I had to head back. At the 50th Street subway station, I bought two more tokens and headed through the turnstile. At that point, I realized that I was on the wrong platform, and the only way to get to the right one was to go back outside. That would cost another $1.50 token. The vendor at the newsstand told me that I could go up one station and get to the other side there.

While I waited for my train, an express train came through, making a lot of noise. I remembered my earplugs were in my pack, so I put them in. Much better. I kept them in until I was out of the subway at Battery Park. It was 9:45 by the time I got there, thanks, in part, to my start in the wrong direction.

Here's an interesting fact for anyone traveling to South Ferry station by subway. The platform there is only long enough for five cars, so only the first five cars on the train open their doors there. The only problem is that the cars aren't numbered inside, and it's impossible to tell (at least for a novice) which car you're in. One of the other passengers mentioned to people passing through that car five is the first one in front of the conductor's car. Once there I sat down. However, the train stopped, and I couldn't see the platform, so I started forward again. The train started moving again, and the platform appeared outside. The woman had been right, and I could have stayed in that car after all.

I walked up, out of the subway station and headed across Battery Park, following signs that told me to buy ferry tickets at Fort Clinton. On my way to the ticket booth, I saw a sign that said the crown was sold out for the day. It would have been nice to go to the top of the statue, but I mostly wanted to see it from the outside, anyway. I bought a ticket for $9 and headed for the line for the ferry. On my way, I got my first good view of the Statue across the water. The day was perfect: sunny, with puffy white clouds decorating the sky. It was the kind of day when photographers go out and take post-card pictures.

The ferry was crowded, but I got on early and got a window seat in the enclosed area on the second level, starboard side. That is the side we boarded from, and I figured it would give me the best view of the statue as we approached. I had guessed right. The ferry approached in a wide arc in front of the statue, giving me a great opportunity to take lots of pictures.

We finally docked at the island at 10:45, just short of two hours since my departure from the hotel. An announcement on the ferry once again stated that trips to the crown were sold out for the day. It recommended that visitors go to the top of the pedestal to get good views of the skyline. I decided to check that out after I had walked around for a while.

I walked all the way around the statue, taking picture after picture. I also helped out four teen-age girls who were taking turns getting pictures of each other. I offered to take a picture of all four of them. Each of them handed me a camera, so I had my camera and one of theirs hanging from my right wrist, and three more cameras hanging from my left one. As I took a picture with each camera, I transferred it from my left wrist to my right one, ending up with all five hanging off of the one arm. After the third picture I jokingly complained "There are such things re-prints, you know!"

Finished with the photo-op, and done with my first pass around the statue, I got some pictures of the Manhattan skyline. Then I checked on the line to get to the top of the pedestal It was awfully long. It wove through a maze, then along a chain cordon to the base of the steps to the statue. I walked along the cordon as far as I could and asked the man at that point in the line how long he had been waiting. He said "Thirty-five or forty minutes." I thanked him for helping me make my decision. He and his family looked at me like they wished they had made the same decision as I backed away.

After looking around for a while longer, I headed back to the ferry dock, making it there just in time to get on a ferry that was about to leave for Ellis Island. Ellis Island isn't much to look at on approach, but it has wonderful turn-of-the-century architecture and ornamentation. However, the most interesting thing for me about the place is the feeling I got walking through this building where so many millions of immigrants had entered the United States. The restored main building is a museum, with displays of baggage, clothes, photos, and personal articles brought by immigrants to this gateway into the country.

There is another display dedicated to the three decades of decay that the island and it's facilities went through from 1954 to 1983, when restoration began. This display has photos taken during that period as well as furniture and other articles found on the premises when the restoration work was started.

The third floor of the main building was used as a dormitory to house immigrants detained at Ellis Island. One of the rooms there has been restored to its condition of 1908. There are three levels of bunk beds that can be raised above the floor to turn the area into a waiting room during the day. The beds are about five feet long and a foot and a half wide. They consist of a sheet of canvas suspended between two-inch pipes that make up the frame of the bed. Immigrants who slept there were given only a blanket; no pillow or sheets. There are three large sinks at one end of the room. I cringed to think of having to spend even one night in such a place. Alcatraz had better conditions.

I thought that the most moving part of the museum was a gallery of photos taken of immigrants as they arrived. These are poster-sized, head-and-shoulders, face-front shots of people from all over the Europe, taken as they were processed through the facility. Many were wearing traditional clothes and jewelry from their home. Most looked bewildered, dazed, and exhausted. Looking at those faces, I got a better sense of how these people must have felt than I could have gotten from reading any history book.

It was noon, so I decided to get some lunch at the Ellis Island Cafe. I choked down a dry chicken sandwich and chased it with a coke, then headed outside. On the northeast corner of the island is a ring of metal panels about four feet high, covered inside and out with names. I mistakenly thought they were names of people who had passed through Ellis Island. While some of them probably did, the memorial is for people who have donated money to the island's restoration.

I was getting tired, and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to get back to the hotel for my trip to the airport. At 12:30, I got on the ferry heading to Battery Park. As the ferry made its way across the harbor, I saw some beautiful sailboats crossing between us and Manhattan.

The trip back from Battery Park on the subway was easier than the trip out, since there is only one platform there, and only one way to go. Those helpful touches kept me from going the wrong way. I was back at the Hilton only an hour after I left Ellis Island.

I stopped by the concierge desk to ask about a shuttle to the airport. She directed me to the ticket desk, where I bought a $19 ticket on the 3:25 shuttle. My flight was scheduled for 6:30, and I knew there would be Friday afternoon traffic and crowds at the airport. I expected to get there about ninety minutes before the flight.

With some time to kill, I sat down in the Hilton lobby bar, ordered a Bronx Lager and a glass of water, then started writing in this journal. After about an hour, I had finished my beer, made headway on the journal, and figured it was time to get my bag from the bellman. I got the bag, then asked the clerk at the ticket desk how I would recognize my shuttle bus. He said it was just a van, and would have Gray Line on it somewhere. I proceeded to the sidewalk to wait.

The shuttle was right on time, arriving at 3:25. There were seven passengers already aboard, and the four of us from the Hilton got our luggage into the back, then clambered to the back seat. The driver got in and informed us that he expected it to take us about an hour and twenty minutes to get to the airport. The woman sitting next to me groaned, saying that she and her husband were supposed to check in for their flight at 4:30. The were scheduled to be on the 6:30 British Airways flight to London.

Traffic was atrocious. After 25 minutes, we had gone 9 blocks from the hotel. At 4:15, we finally got to the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Traffic merged from eight lanes to two. I half expected the traffic flow to start swirling like water draining from a tub as we entered the tunnel. As we sat in traffic, periodically making a few feet of progress, I kept talking to Sarah, the woman next to me. We compared travel horror stories. She and her husband, John, have far worse stories than I do.

We finally entered the airport at 5:00 and the driver started dropping passengers off. Each time he stopped, he had to dig through the luggage to find the bags for the person getting out. Sarah, John, and I all had huge bags. Since we got on last, they were in the way every time. I watched my suitcase go out of and back into the van five times before we got to the United terminal. Poor Sarah and John were still on the bus. British Airways was the next stop. I gave them my business card and asked them to write to tell my how they fared. We wished each other luck, and I went into the terminal.

Check-in was a breeze. I noticed that the business class check-in also had the word "Premier" on it. I now have a United Premier card, so I stepped up. Minutes later, my bag was checked, and I had my boarding pass. It was 5:26pm.

I found my way to the gate for my flight. I checked the departures monitor, and my heart sank, as I saw the word "Delayed" flashing in the departure time column. There was a huge line at the gate counter, so I sat down to wait for more information about the delay. Fifteen minutes later, the gate marquee was flashing the message that the flight was delayed due to late arrival of our aircraft. Five minutes after that, the gate agent announced that the airplane we were waiting on had been cancelled in Chicago. They had found another plane, but it wouldn't be at JFK until 9:00. The estimated departure time was 9:45, three hours and fifteen minutes late. That would get us into San Francisco around 1:10am Saturday. Ugh.

I went back out to the main ticket counters to see if I could re-book on a flight to San Jose or Oakland. No dice. The only way to go west was through Los Angeles, and that flight was full and already loading. However, the nice ticket agent gave me two $25 meal vouchers that I could use in the airport. I used one to get a sandwich and drink. When I handed the voucher to the cashier, she must have thought I was crazy, since I could have had much more. She said, "Is that it? You don't want some chips or something?" I said, no, that I had another voucher if I wanted something later.

I finished my sandwich and killed time in the waiting area getting my journal up to date. By 8:30, I was up to date and wondering what I would do next.

What I did next was to continue to wait. At 9:15pm, our airplane finally arrived from Los Angeles. The passengers filed off, and the caterers and cleaners took over. The gate agent announced that we should be ready to board in fifteen to twenty minutes. Twenty minutes passed, passengers queued up to board, and nothing happened. The gate agent finally got on the P. A. again and announced that the catering and cleanup was taking longer than expected. She said that "hopefully, we will be able to board in twenty five minutes." A groan arose from the passengers, but they sat back down.

I had been trying to call Chris all evening to let her know that the flight was delayed. I was especially concerned after I checked United's voice-response system. It gave the correct, adjusted departure time of 9:45, but when I checked the arrival time, it said that the flight had been cancelled! Apparently, the system can't handle a flight that is delayed enough to arrive on the day after it's scheduled arrival. I did the math and figured we would land around 2:00am in San Francisco; 5:00am in New York; twenty-one and a half hours after I had gotten up that morning. At 9:45, I finally got in touch with Chris. She had played my earlier messages and knew I would hire a shuttle to get home from the airport. I would call her when I got in.

At 10:00pm, we finally started boarding. By 10:15, we were all on the plane and waiting to push back from the gate. We didn't actually take off until almost 10:40. The pilot promised to "put the pedal to the metal," but he didn't say what time we would arrive. The flight was quiet, with most of the passengers opting for sleep. After the meal was served, I put in my earplugs and closed my eyes, getting about an hour and a half of sleep, waking up at 11:30pm Pacific Time. For the rest of the flight, I alternated between reading and watching the sitcoms playing on the cabin's main screen.

We touched down at 1:00am PDT. I made my way off the plane and to baggage claim, getting my bag after about twenty minutes. I then called the South and East Bay Airport Shuttle to see if they were still running. They were, and a van was parked upstairs already. I found it quickly, put my bag in the cargo area, and then we waited for some other passengers who had called. When they arrived, they had a travel voucher from American Airlines, but S&EB doesn't accept vouchers. While one of them went to get a check from American, we continuted to wait.

These three people, a mother, father, and son, had started out in Washington, DC at 5:30. Their flight was delayed, causing them to miss a connection in Dallas. They were originally scheduled to land in San Jose, but it closes to jets at 11:00pm, so they had been routed to San Francisco. About the time the woman finished her story, her husband came back with the American Airlines rep, who said he couldn't write a check, so they would have to make other arrangements. The driver and I got in the van and took off. It was 1:35am.

There was no traffic on the highways, so we made very good time getting me home. I pulled myself through the door at 2:10 and dragged my luggage to the spare bedroom to at least unpack my suit. Chris called to make sure it was me. After I hung my suit in the closet, I brushed my teeth and fell into bed. It took me a while to stop my mind from whirling, but at least I was home in my own bed. It had been 22 hours since I got up in New York.


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