Tuesday, May 22, 2007

NYC: Alien Sightings and MetroCard Malfunctions

New York City is a favorite vacation destination for DH and me. We've been several times and enjoy taking our friends with us as well. On those trips we play the knowledgeable, know-the-city-like-the-back-of-our-hands, tour guides. Truthfully, DH is the real tour guide, I just tag along to eat cheesecake and do some shopping.

We are also expert on doing NYC on a budget. Which means no shopping at Burberry, standing in line for hours at Times Square for discount theater tickets, and rarely taking a taxi anywhere. When we first arrive in the city, we each purchase a multiple day, unlimited ride, MetroCard. This way we can rely on the NYC transit system and our two feet for virtually all our travel needs. While it is my opinion that the Subways in the Big Apple are generally confusing and crowded, with DH's impeccable sense of direction, they are more than doable.

On a trip a few years ago, we brought several couples along with us including Janna and Troy. (You remember Father Love, right?) They were enjoying the long weekend trip, but Janna had routinely struggled with her MetroCard. Somehow the timing of swipe and then walk through the turnstile had eluded her completely. More than once she had improperly swiped only to bruise her hip, slamming into one of the metal rotating arms of the turnstile. She'd swipe, bruise, swipe, bruise again, and then start swiping furiously. At some point she'd get a valid swipe, but in her fury, would miss her chance to enter through the turnstile. By this time, we would all have long since passed the seemingly simple test of MetroCard usage and were lined up waiting for our train.

Once the MetroCard was successfully swiped to travel in a certain direction, it could not be reswiped for 15 or 20 minutes. So Troy would have to go back to the turnstile and through the bars hand Janna some coins, and lovingly talk her slowly through the MetroCard vending machine process, so she could purchase a one-time use MetroCard and, hopefully, gain entrance to the Subway platform with the rest of us.

If this had happened once, it would be funny. But this exact scenario occurred numerous times throughout our trip. And it seemed the bigger hurry we were in, like if our Subway was already approaching the platform, the less likely Janna would be able to successfully maneuver the turnstile requirements in time to catch the train. But we were all on vacation, not racing to a job interview, so we didn't mind too much.

On Sunday morning of this particular trip, we were making our way back to the hotel from church. As we went down into the Subway tunnel we were reminded that there is at least one time when the New York City Subway looks like a ghost town. That is Sunday mornings. As we neared the silent platform, Janna and I were right next to each other at parallel turnstiles. Suddenly Janna's screaming voice echoed, "Debbie! Look! It's..." and then she started to furiously swipe and attempt to walk through the turnstile. Banging her hips one after the other, in her futile attempts, she did not slow down her swiping efforts. After each swipe, she'd look up and shout, "It's...oh my gosh!" She would then again bang a hip on an unmoving bar. Undaunted, she'd swipe again, "I can't believe... there is..." and again, a jam. "That guy..." she swiped, "...from TV..." another bang.

I had managed to make it through the turnstile without incident, and looking around to see what Janna was loudly freaking out about, on the nearly empty Subway platform, just as Janna, still stuck on the other side of the entrance, finally spilled out, "...from 3rd Rock..." I looked up to see John Lithgow passing right in front of me. He tipped his head slightly with a polite greeting while trying to hide his smile. I replied with a big grin and a thoroughly enunciated, "Hello," as he passed. Our exchange was not more than a few seconds.

Once again, Janna was permanently stuck at the turnstile and after we all quietly (except for Janna) watched John Lithgow walk away, we finally handed her a few quarters so she could purchase another Get-Out-of-Jail-Free MetroCard.

We thought we had lost sight of the famous alien, until our train approached. As we hopped on, we noticed a few cars ahead of us, Dr. Dick Solomon had boarded the very same train. At each stop a couple of us would peer through our train's open doors to see if he had exited yet. We continued this little game all the way from Lincoln Square to Times Square. Finally, our lookout team spotted him leaving the train. "Should we exit too?" we wondered. "Or should we give the poor celebrity his space?" While debating our options, the doors of the Subway closed. With our decision made for us, we looked up at a map to see when our own exit, which should have been near, was approaching. Just then DH, the Tour Guide, shouted, "Hey that was our stop too!"

The missed exit automatically meant more walking (in our church shoes) than we had planned, or trying to get Janna to pass through the turnstiles again. We opted for the Sunday stroll.


  1. I lived in NYC for 10 years. Many subway stories. Yours is hysterical.

    I once followed Andy Warhol down Lexington Ave. On my lunch break, ran out of time, had to quit my little game. Didn't have the courage to say anything to him.

    Wonderful New York City, you never know what's around the corner! I've also had some unpleasant experiences. Always keep attentive to who's around you.

  2. Chewy,

    I am so jealous you lived in NYC for ten years. How cool is that?

    I once heard a NYC native talking who had been out of town traveling on business for a few weeks. He remarked how glad he was to be back home in the safety of the city.

    It sounded very funny to a girl from Orem, Utah.

  3. Hi Chewy,

    I think he might have mentioned that episode in his memoirs.

    Hi Danna,

    I'm on your team. I also experience (frequently) the same sort of swipe malfunction. That's why I ain't never been to Nu York.

    Hi Debbie,

    Another great piece of narration. It sounds like an episode from `Third Rock From the Stunned'.

    Keep smiling and make sure S1 is observing school phone rules.

    Cheers all round


  4. I think if I ever saw John Lithgow, I'd completely throw him for a loop, by being part of the 1% of the population that references something other than his "big roles."

    I'd either tell him that you can't grow a good hotdog indoors (part of a conversation he has with Roy Scheider in 2010), or I'd ask him how Harry was (a reference to the cinematic gem "Harry and the Hendersons").

  5. After each swipe, she'd look up and shout, "It's...oh my gosh!" She would then again bang a hip on an unmoving bar. Undaunted, she'd swipe again, "I can't believe... there is..." and again, a jam. "That guy..." she swiped, "...from TV..." another bang.

    I was visualising this as I read it... ha ha ha ha.

    You have captured the moment fantastically!!!! Ha Ha Ha!

  6. David,

    Another well-contrived title. I am sure Janna appreciates your sympathy. We were probably not so understanding.


  7. Bart,

    And all I said was, "Hello." Gawh! How can I be so dumb!

  8. Ozlady,

    I was remembering it so vividly while I wrote it, I ended up homesick for NYC for the rest of the day. Really.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.