It’s not that I don’t ordinarily take the subway in New York–I do. But usually it’s to go to, say, the theater district, not to a foreign land.
I was inspired to undertake the journey by the fact that at the end of it were the men’s semi-final matches. I love to watch tennis, although admittedly I’m a little vague about the personnel. I’ve already forgotten the names of the unfortunates who played against Federer and Djocovic in those back-to-back contests.
Tom and I were to meet up with friends at Arthur Ashe Stadium, and Tom was going early, as to sneak a peak at random lesser matches before the big one. So, feeling a little rush of can-do confidence, I told him I’d get there on my own.
“You can Uber,” he said.
“Sure,” I said. But I had other thoughts. I’d be going to wherever it was I was going at rush hour on a Friday. The idea of sitting in traffic was just too L.A.
I texted my daughter’s boyfriend, whom I torture with subway queries whenever I’m in New York. Of course, I could find all the info I need online but it’s much for fun to talk to Lee.
“How do I get to the U.S. Open? Can I take the B train?”
Lee patiently explained that I should take the B to Bryant Park and switch to the 7, avoiding a switch at the Times Square stop which is a hellhole rivaled only by that other stinkpot travel hub, Penn Station.
“I’d be happy to get ya on the 7 if you’d like,” he said. But I declined Lee’s offer. For some perverse reason I was enjoying facing a navigational challenge. “If I run into problems I’ll text you,” I texted.
My guess is that, at this point, Lee debated whether to tell his girlfriend, my daughter Elizabeth, what I was doing. He knows that she, who has inherited my sense of direction (which is to say she has none), gets very anxious whenever she knows I am going from A to B in this city whose subways I am no longer familiar with. She thinks I will end up in something like a scene from “Gangs Of New York.”
It’s true that have mistakenly acquainted myself with subway platforms in Harlem and the Bronx more than a few times. It’s not without reason that, when I go to visit her in Brooklyn, Elizabeth holds her breath, staring at her phone, until I am on her doorstep.
Lee decided to spare Eliabeth the news of my folly until later. Meanwhile, I descended the subway stairs feeling like Resse Witherspoon in “Wild.”
On the B, the conductor’s announcements were inaudible. It was only because I happened to see the Bryant Park signage that I didn’t end up in Staten Island.
My next source of confusion was that the 7 platform had two tracks. One 7 went to 34th Street and possibly beyond, the other went to Queens. I fumbled for my phone, but, underground, Lee’s guidance was out of reach.
“I can do this,” I thought. I can figure this out.”
Lee had said I should try for the express train, and only the Queens line had that option. Also, that train seemed to go to Flushing, and in a brain flash, I was pretty sure that was where the tennis was. (Clarity on destination has never been my strong suit.)
I picked the 7 express, thinking, “Worst case, I’ll be in Flushing. Aside from the name, how bad can it be?”
It was close quarters, with the 500,000 other people fleeing Manhattan at rush hour. Again, the conductor was amumbler and the signage iffy. I realized I had no idea how I’d identify my stop. I tried to wrap my mind around asking one of the 500,000, “Excuse me, can you poke me when we get to the tennis?”
Then a miracle happened. The train went above ground.
I texted My MTA advisor: “Am I supposed to be on the 7 to Flushing?”
“Yes!” said Lee, likely relieved that I had not entered a Martin Scorcese movie. “Do you know if you’re on the express?”
Queens rolled by endlessly, building after building, gas stations, mysterious industries, apartments loaded with people. Who knew this borough was a small country?
“Thanks for being my coach,” I texted. “Otherwise I’d be reaching for the Xanax.”
When I managed to establish that I was approaching Junction Boulevard, Lee said mine was the next stop, Mets-Willet Point. Once I landed, signs would point to Metes Stadium—don’t go there—and to Arthur Ashe—go there.
It had taken me an hour. “No wonder nobody goes the Mets games,” I texted.
I’m guessing it was around then that Lee told Elizabeth. She later reported that he began with, “Everything’s fine, but…” He said this in the way you do before telling someone that a loved one has been in an accident. “But, your mother is on the subway on her way to Arthur Ashe.”
Elizabeth shrieked: “WHAT??? Why didn’t you TELL ME?” Poor Lee. He’d have been damned if he’d told her and was damned anyway.
But all’s well. The tennis was fun. The usual guys won. I may have forgotten the names of the losers, but I won’t forget the ride.