I’m writing this from the Amtrak Accela heading south into DC. It’s been an adventure.
So let’s see… Newark, NJ.
Quick background: I’ve spent two weeks – a week apart – this month at various Crestron training seminars. The first was in Las Vegas the week before last, the second this week in Rockleigh, NJ at their headquarters. This past seminar in particular was pretty fantastic: great facility, superb teaching environment and absolutely stellar, engaging teaching by Marcus Simmons. The dude is a blast.
I arrived in Newark on Sunday by train, easily got my rental car and was on the road to my hotel in New York (the VERY cool Dolce Palisades – IBM’s executive conference center) which was only three minutes from Crestron. The drive was flawless with my iPhone running TomTom… not a wrong turn getting there, nor all week in the Palisades area of New York and New Jersey (note this important fact for later).
As I said, the training was good. The incredibly sad twist comes on Tuesday afternoon during class when I get word that my Aunt Beth has died and I’ll be returning for a small family graveside ceremony on Friday. This was not at all unexpected as she has been very ill and made a conscious decision to cease her dialysis ahead of an aggressive and potentially horrific sarcoma diagnosed while I was in Las Vegas. We’re all quite sad, but also recognize the mercy of her peaceful exit ahead of what would be a terrible and unquestionably terminal experience on the horizon. Obviously, this is a depressing turn in an otherwise peaceful trip.
I finish class on Wednesday, say goodbye to both new friends and others I had met in Vegas two weeks prior. I hit a sushi place in the Palisades area where a very dour looking Korean chef ends up being the neatest, most passionate philosopher on food that I’ve had a chance to talk with in ages. I’d almost call him the Korean Anthony Bourdain. Short of another chance trip to Crestron someday, though, I doubt I have cause to make a visit to the area again.
Now we must discuss Newark.
As I said, my exit from it Sunday heading north was smooth. This tale concerns my return trip to start the journey home. I had booked the night at the Holiday Inn just outside the airport with the intention of returning my rental mid-morning today and taking the 12:57 PM train home to Virginia. I quickly realized that being trapped in a concrete box for 18+ hours in a virtual island outside the airport in Newark was a crap idea. I also realized at this point that I could have taken an evening train to DC, overnighted there and had some DC time before the afternoon train home today (I am a frequent DC visitor and know the city well). Bad planning on my part… but I decided the next best thing would be changing my tickets for the 6:15 AM Accela and having some layover hours in DC prior to my final train home.
I took a 45 minute trip to the fitness center while thinking on it, decided I liked the plan and made my call to Amtrak to readjust the tickets. Now I need to take the rental car back at night instead of the morning since I’ve just changed both the time and the station from which I’m leaving (now Newark Penn rather than the godforsaken airport Amtrak which I vow to never set foot or tires on again).
No problem… GPS fired up on the iPhone and a mere mile to Newark Airport from the hotel. I’ll return the car, hop the airtrain to the hotel shuttle and be back for a few hours sleep before the early train.
I am a stupid, stupid man, apparently.
Fast forward two hours. I’m a crazed, pissed off maniac in a rental car shouting at everything and banging on the steering wheel as I make my zillionth pass through the greater Newark Airport area. By this time I’ve encountered GPS confusion, crazy road signs, road construction, poorly labeled detours, angry drivers, 60+ MPH decisions to choose from exits in all directions and a somewhat humorous conversation with a sweet lady at Enterprise who also can’t figure out where the hell I am.
Seriously… I have a VERY good sense of direction and am an otherwise good navigator. I drive well in crazy traffic. I supplement it with a good GPS and know when to use it and when not. I know how to read signs. And I still ended up utterly confused and lost for a full two freakin’ hours.
The real fun began when I missed a crazy U-turn exit that was about a car’s length within the service road exit. It comes up so fast the GPS can’t even complete the sentence before you pass it. Big deal. Quick up and back and I’m entering the airport which, itself, involves this strange U-turning process even under normal conditions. I follow all the signs through the complex for Rental Car Return. Great. It all goes well until you round the last corner and the Rental Car Return arrow is pointing into a barricade where the road is shut down for construction. There is no alternate information given and you’re suddenly whisked off toward interstates and NYC. I repeated this numerous times looking for the sign I missed. I’m convinced there isn’t one.
I ended up in neighborhoods where I wouldn’t stop, much less get out of my car. I had a crazy lady at a traffic light repeatedly yell at me through my closed window to tell her the time. I did. She thanked me and then started asking me again a few seconds later. Turn green. Turn green. Turn green before this time-obsessed lunatic starts banging on my window. Dear God this lady is getting pushy! Green. GO! (sound of squealing tires)
I finally called Enterprise and we mutually tried to figure out if I was still in the continental US. Even the lady there was apologizing and saying that Newark is impossible to navigate. She still gets lost and she lives here.
I eventually ended up – for the third time – out in a cargo area on the far end of the airport but realized the road I was on matched the road name for Enterprise. Since the airport was now in the distance, I knew I could head that way and MAYBE find the stinking place. That plan ultimately worked, but not before several more misleading options were properly ignored or reasoned out from previous experience. For instance, when reacting in a split stressed out second, you realize that taking the exit that says “Airport Exit” means a quick exit FROM the airport (which it’s not obvious I’m even in, for &$@!’s sake!), NOT the exit TO the airport. Enjoy Manhattan, sucker!
If I hadn’t found it in that second hour, I was sure that the next time I passed through the airport, I’d stop by the blocked off Rental Car Return exit (the one with no alternate signage), get out, rip all four wheels off the car, relieve myself in the back seat and then set that Nissan Altima on fire right there in the street. I suspect others driving by would cheer me on in solidarity.
I wasn’t back in bed until midnight and had to get up at 4:20 AM to shower, get a cab and be at Newark Penn Station before my train. This timing was based on advice from the front desk.
I stagger around in the morning, get my cab called from the front desk and sit to await its arrival.
It gets weird again.
Over my shoulder and across the lobby I hear a male asian man possibly speaking Korean. He sounds excited and kind of loud. Then louder. Then clearly angry. I can’t understand a word, obviously, but the timbre of his voice says it all. I glance over and the man is standing in the lobby and viciously dressing down what I assume to be his wife. Clearly, I find this to be monumentally bad form. Geez, dude… put a lid on it and don’t treat your wife like that.
He really gets going, too, and she just stands there staring at him. It’s getting exceedingly uncomfortable.
Then the dude hauls off and pops her one… right there in the lobby. My mouth drops open.
She shoves him back.
He yells again, then pops her again. She shoves him back again. By now, all I want to do is wish Newark totally out of existence. I’m fed up.
The couple separate a few tens of feet, sit down and get quiet. Clearly we’re entering the sullen standoff stage. Someone at the front desk is pointing at them and talking to the manager. I head out to either find my cab or hotwire a car – whatever will get me out of here faster.
A lady outside tells me that this lobby cage match is round two and that they were REALLY going at it last night. Security shows up just before my cab arrives, so I’m spared witnessing how this plays out.
My cab driver is very nice. He pops the trunk, loads my luggage, asks me for specifics on my destination, etc.
He then rolls up to the edge of the road and, without putting on goggles or a pressure suit, proceeds to kick the car into something several times the speed of sound. This is punctuated by whipping between lanes and stomping on the very effective brakes every two to four seconds so he doesn’t hit whatever he’s rolling up on (or potentially over). It’s all I can do to hold on in the back seat and not scream like a little girl all the way to Penn Station.
Last night I found lots of potholes. He hit all the same ones, but a whole lot harder.
We ultimately roll into Penn Station, stand the car on its nose outside the main entrance and, after collecting my teeth from the back of the passenger side headrest, I kind of stagger out of the car, pay him too much (he claims to have no change and I don’t even care anymore by now) and I go stand in the Amtrak station for 20 minutes waiting for them to open so I my updated tickets can be printed.
Things have been a lot calmer since, improving as I get the heck away from Newark. The only hitch on this otherwise comfortable train has been the 15 minutes it took in the cafe car to get a bottle of water. As I feared, my absence led to my seat being taken by a man who was already asleep in it when I got back. Wonderful. At least I found a window seat this time.
DC in about 30 minutes. I’m exhausted, but at least I’m not in Newark anymore…