PART I: Escape from New Jersey
My flight was the Newark to Knoxville Express. Surprisingly, a popular flight (full both ways).
The story starts at home in Astoria. The check in time for the flight was 3:15pm for a 4pm departure. Fine. I can do this. I leave home at 12:35, am on a moving N train by 1245, and I arrive at Penn Station just about 1:15pm.
I walk over to the PATH terminal, where I am surprised to find Absolutely No Signage pointing the correct way to the Newark airport.
After asking about ten befuddled New Jerseyites, one finally pipes up and tells me to take this line to Journal Square, then to transfer to Newark line, then to hit the air train from there. Fine and dandy.
I wait 15 mintues for a PATH train to even show up. Then an announcement comes over the PA.
"Due to Track work all Journal Square bound trains terminate at 9th street. Transfer at 9th Street for a Journal Square bound train."
I momentarily contemplate hopping a cab to Port Authority and grabbing a bus, but I figure I'm already there and once I transfer, all will be well.
Jesus, if only.
As the train pulls into Penn Station and the lemmings pile on, the man who gave me directions before then says -- "Oh, and this train goes to Hoboken, then to Journal Square."
Wha-- HOBOKEN? What the flip - "Trackwork" he says, "They do this on the weekends."
GREAT. THANKS FOR POSTING FUCKING SIGNS.
So now Im on a death car to 9th street, where we all pile out, and then another PACKED car takes 10 minutes to empty, then we all PILE IN again and head to HOBOKEN, where we proceed to sit in the station for 10 minutes.
Its now 1:45 pm. I'm only one stop into Jersey and things are not looking promising.
The thing about the Newark-Knoxville flight is that there's only ONE departure a day. So if I miss this, I miss the trip entirely.
Finally we get to Journal Square. Its 2:00. We walk across the platform to the Newark bound train and proceed to wait another 15 minutes for a Newark bound train. I feel like Jack Bauer for a split second as I hear the BLIP - BLIP! BLIP - BLIP! of the 24 theme song in my head...
Things are looking worse. Im panicky. Not good.
At 2:16 the train pulls in. I jump on. Two stops later, boom, Newark. Time is 2:25.
Exit the train, run down the stairs, ask someone IN A NEW JERSEY TRANSIT UNIFORM "Where is the Airtrain?", only to recieve a vacant stare.
I run down 2 more flights of stairs and am in...a food court.
No signs saying TO AIRPORT, TO BUSES, nothing. Just an Information booth wtih ONE sad looking person working there and ONE PERSON ahead of me in line who is complaining that he doesnt want to take a bus to Secaucus and why cant he just take the train and why is it so expensive and Im a senior citizen and what is the discoutn rate AND JESUS CHRIST IM ABOUT TO MISS MY FLIPPING FLIGHT TO THE CAR RACE YOU ASSHAT GET THE HELL OUT OF MY WAY SO I CAN GET SOME INFORMATION!!
I mull my options. I have no idea where the airport is, or how to get there from here, or how long its going to take. The terminal I'm in is apparently IN Newark, but where is beyond me.
I RUN to a ticket counter that says NEW JERSEY TRANSIT; I cut in front of two people in line and frantically hand the attendant a $20 and scream
I NEED TO GET TO THE NEWARK AIRPORT NOW !! HOW DO I DO THAT?!
He gives me a ticket and tells me to run up the stairs, the train may already have left.
ALREADY HAVE LEFT!?
Shit. The departure time on the ticket is 2:32. I look at the clock. Its 2:31.
When is the next train, I ask?
"3:14", he says calmly.
I run like I've never run before up 4 flights of stairs and am greeted to an arriving Amtrak train.
I scream at the conductor IS THIS THE TRAIN TO NEWARK AIRPORT?! Confused, he says yes, I get on, the train pulls out, I go exactly 3 miles on this Amtrak, and then am told to exit here for the Air Train to the airport.
I run off the Amtrak at 2:39, run down 3 more flights of stairs, and run onto the Air train, which may as well be called the Air Snail Train as a child on roller skates goes faster, and get to the terminal I'm departing from.
I clear security quickly, considering the line. (And FYI, YELLING at people to take their fucking Ziploc bags of travel sized goo out does not do much to aid flyer calm, TSA at Newark Airport)
I check the departure gate...here it is...Newark to Knoxville...gate 125.
Of course, gate 125 is at the ASS end of the terminal.
I check my watch. 3:12 pm.
I run, run, run.
I get to the gate, breathless. The time is exactly 3:16pm.
And the flight is delayed.
NEXT TIME, PART II : How did a Red State like Tennessee ever elect Al Gore?