It has been over twenty years since I lived and worked in the “Big Apple,” AKA New York City (NYC). After a couple years, the twenty-four/seven non-stop lifestyle wore on me and eventually I moved back to the Philadelphia area to start a company during the .com boom. “The City,“ as locals call it, had not yet seen the wheels of my chair; unsure if I would ever experience her special embrace again. Many years have passed since my last visit; all these years she has been slowly whispering sweet words of taunt to me, alluring me back into her arms. She is one-of-a-kind, energy unmatched the world over. It would take the invite of an old friend for me to consider dancing with her once again. Dance, we would.
One late morning while stretching in bed my phone rang. George Solano, a close friend from university, was calling. With a growing Law Practice in Newark, NJ, he is an extremely busy man. What could my crazy irascible friend possibly want today? George recently returned from a one month trip to Ecuador, a trip he invited me on but I was unable to attend as I was in Spain at the same time. So often we tried matching our schedules, making weekends tough and anything longer even tougher. Alas, Georgie had some free time. He invited me to his home in Jersey City for a weekend of pre-holiday cheer. A trip to NYC will take some planning, “Let me get back to you, Georgie.” Two days later I answered, “Yes.”
In my final attempts to be freed of owning a car, I stumble here or there how to get certain places. It is no secret that public transportation in the United States does not compare to other industrialized nations, especially Europe, where I also live. And now that I must travel in a wheelchair, more meticulous planning than usual is required. Auto is the best way from Delaware to New York City – straight up the ‘world famous’ New Jersey Turnpike. Auto no longer an option, other ways would have to be considered. There are only two other viable options: bus or train. Both go to and from the exact same stations. The train is much more expensive, costing up to three times normal fair on an off day.
Knowing the travel-ways would be busy the week before Thanksgiving I decided to plan ahead. Having established Amtrak was too expensive, Greyhound won out as the chosen type transportation. Being that George lives in Jersey City, it would be more convenient for both, and a closer pick-up/drop-off, If I traveled via bus return trip through Newark’s Penn Station. Greyhound’s website is [still] not the easiest site to navigate. Once able to locate available trip information online I quickly found two convenient departure and arrival segments. As they had a special area to designate, I checked the box for injured travel, with wheelchair as transportation mode. All planned, including wheelchair reservation, I smiled.
My bus departed on a Friday mid-afternoon. Forty-five minutes before departure I rode an Uber to the Wilmington bus station. The bus arrives and slowly one by one it loads almost full. There, outside in the blustery cold raw elements, I sat and froze. After a few minutes it quickly became clear the bus driver did not have the key required to open the door to the lift so I could properly board. The driver, from Alabama, was kind and thoughtful, as she sat on hold with dispatch to see how best to proceed with the situation. I requested to get some passers-by to help me onto the bus but the driver declined due to liability. Eventually relenting, one strong fellow passenger, Miguel, lifted me into the first seat. I was on.
As if that was not a peculiar enough start to a trip, it was about to get a bit more interesting. The first omen of many to arrive, once on the bus, appeared when the driver was unsure how to exit downtown Wilmington for the highway to the bridge to New Jersey. She was also unsure which direction on i95 to take, North or South. One goes to Florida, the other to New York, on its way to Maine. Big difference! She entered the entrance to go towards Philadelphia, the wrong way. After directing her through city-center we eventually made it onto the correct highway. After more wrong turns in Newark, getting the bus stuck on tight one-way streets, two and half hours late, we finally arrived at Penn Station, Newark.
George was parked just across the street from the bus station. Upon entering his jeep, he exclaimed he had a long week, was tired of waiting and needed a drink. I concurred. Off to La Fortaleza Mexican restaurant to meet friends we went. Twenty minutes later, two naked lime margaritas arrived as we awaited our table at the bar. Ahh, it was time to relax in the company of a long-time close friend. Soon after, other friends joined us for a memorable night out. Their guacamole is luscious; with a nice twist. I ordered beef tacos. After trading two beef for two shrimp tacos I was in taco heaven. Their chocolate covered churros and fried ice cream are highly recommended for dessert. Their food is delicious.
Saturday morning Bikram Yoga comes early. As George’s neighbor was visiting Vietnam, he was dog-sitting Herman, a French Bulldog with an impish grin. I awoke to my jacket on the floor, covered in slobber. Hermanator swears it was not he who was mischievous in the night. And George thinks perhaps there is more to the story. Ask Herman. Deciding to sleep through Yoga (great session) gave me an extra two hours stretching and preparing before departing to NYC. We had ferry tickets reserved for a 14:00 departure. The ride from Jersey City to NYC midtown takes approx. 12 minutes. Once parked, we met up with Tim, a SAP Software Engineer, who incessantly travels the world implementing software solutions.
The ferry dumps you out on the West Side of Manhattan, midtown section, which now is predominantly taken up with the ever expanding growth of real estate project Hudson Yards. It is the largest private real estate development in the United States, including Chelsea and Hudson Yards neighborhoods of Manhattan. At $25 Billion one would expect some wow factor. It delivers, NY style: in your face. It has an outdoor courtyard with beautifully light-lined trees and various landscapes for walking or sitting to watch people. It is anchored on one end by The Vessel, an eclectic structure and landmark that offers great vistas of lower Manhattan from its lookout deck. The shopping, food and drink are world-class.
The fact Georgie is a foodie, and one of the friends we were meeting out, Steve, is a local NYC hotspot and food critic blogger, was sure to make for a gastro-oenophile connoisseur’s experience of a lifetime. Not five minutes passed before George arrived with a round of fresh Sangria. Every person circled Mercado Little Spain over and over, each time returning with new exotic and delicious tapas. Mike and Tim also ventured into the unknown abyss for food. Each attempt took a bit longer; the queues were long. Mike was mistreated by a chef. Steve returned with rabbit-chicken over rice. Then Mike with tasty succulent octopus and paprika potatoes; George with chorizo sausage and tomato bread, and on and on.
Bellies filled, we decided to see Tim’s friend’s jam band play in the West Village. The band did not come on for a few hours and so we headed to Washington Square via Uber. As the area has many obstacles for a wheelchair, and for obvious safety reasons, I am grateful to George and friends for their selfless assistance. This square, always filled with interesting and unique characters, served as my balcony view when living on 9th St. during my Wall Street days, with clear views of Arc de Triomphe, NYU Library and the [prior] World Trade Center. As stated in my book, Unbreakable Mind: Doing the Dirty Dishes of life is the truest path to real growth. The night’s participants were out in full effect. The night was young.
Only in Washington Square can you find a virtuoso opera singer singing aloud atop a $85K Steinway Grand Piano, sand artist (Joe Mangrum) constructing a Mandela about three meters across, tourists busy snapping photos in front of the Washington Sq. Arch and drug dealers every fifteen feet – “The City,” a class its own, unrivaled on this planet. We left there to take a stroll down Bleecker Street, a street replete with the most delicious of foods, endless comedy show cabarets (hawkers too) and innumerable supply of the odd variety. Oh, and plenty of homeless too, mixed within misfits and unusual people lining the Village streets late into night. The West Village is known for being strange. It always delivers.
The show was at The Red Lion sports bar on Bleecker Street at 21:00. They host rock and blues bands, all while international futbol is broadcast via satellite to TVs throughout the bar. On the way we stopped at Olive Tree, an Israeli restaurant, comedy show below, for hummus and mint tea. Wheeling through the Village streets can be challenging but easily done with some effort. If crowds bother you, better to have someone guide or watch for you. To me, as in life, it is all about our energy. Mine is good, thus those surrounding me are affected in extra-special ways, allowing for pleasant exchanges of acknowledgement and synchronicity of love with complete strangers. The West Village is a people-watcher’s wet dream.
The band performed their original music as well as some covers. They were astounding. Our friend’s friend played the electric violin like no one’s business. This guy could give the devil in Georgia a run for his fiddle. They were a jam band and jam they did – the whole place was rocking, a good time had by all. After a few hours we decided to try some local eats. It did not take all but two minutes for a consensus: Joe’s Pizza on Carmine Street is the best ‘pie’ in the West Village. The line for slices some nights can go on for hundreds of feet, especially when all the bars let out. We were there early. Eighteen minutes and $26 dollars later, we were in an Uber dreaming of eating the large pepperoni pizza steaming in the box.
As is the case with most those who live and commute in the tri-state (NJ, NY, and CT) area, I spent most of my trip on different sides of the Hudson River, which separates NJ and NYC. The ferry between NYC and NJ is easy and convenient for a wheelchair, with parking close by and flat walkways and docks. A one way ticket during the weekday, $9; discounts on weekends. Once in the city you can expect the normal obstacles, with some neighborhoods’ buildings harder to access than others. Do your research, first. Accessible subways in NYC are hit and miss, many MTA stations have no lift access, or the station is under construction – which seems like the whole system some days. Rider beware (rats inclusive)!
Sunday we decided to stay in NJ. With countless options, as a cold damp rain fell outside, we decided on a football game at home, movie in later afternoon and then some food from the old days. Being in the NY TV market the only two games on were the Giants and Jets. I was forced to watch the Jets – it was tough. Afterward we headed off to see the new movie starring Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which was much better than I had expected. Bow Tie Cinemas in downtown Hoboken is easily accessible, with limited handicap street parking however. Hungry from theater treats, we headed to Mamoun’s for their renowned falafel. It is as delectable as it was twenty-five years ago. Wow!
After delicious Lebanese food in NJ, original location on Bleeker in West Village in NYC, we were off to Newark’s Penn Station for part II of the Greyhound debacle. Life is a journey but sometimes we have smaller unforgettable fiascos along the way. This was one of those strange times. If I didn’t know better I might think there was some LSD in my system. Hmm, maybe some was leftover – sure felt like it. Would that make this Gonzo Journalism? The weekend was one of those trips in which you are never quite sure which dimension or plane you are living on. It makes way for fresh growth, allowing sun to shine on your garden of life. It is only through struggle, facing our fears, which we truly grow and prosper in life.
Was it my first choice to take Greyhound to the NYC area for a weekend? No, not exactly. I preferred a different mode of transportation. But that was not in my cards. And so the bus it was. It was quite the experience, no doubt expanding my horizons, branches of tree of life and forming indelible memories. Being that I had lived in NYC many years previous I had no interest in a weekend of the standard tourist hot-spots. It was meant to be a weekend with cherished friends in the Jersey City/NYC area but also turned into a story. It was a most delightful weekend. The bus was late. I had to be carried on and off again by kind passengers. Such was my experience taking Greyhound. Next time I will opt for Amtrak!
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