12 November 2008

Winter Hat

A few years ago, I left home on a sunny early spring day for a business trip. It was unseasonably warm, the kind of warmth that makes you realize that winter really has been that long and makes you hopeful that the warmth will stay. It was a quick trip - just two days - and the weather forecast was all about how warm it was suppose to be for days on the Eastern seaboard. And so it was, for most of my trip.

As I dragged my small roller bag from the train station into the office at the start of my last day, having already checked out of the hotel and confirmed car service to LaGuardia for early afternoon, I noticed that it was starting to sprinkle. No problem, I thought, I don't have to be walking about in this, and I'll be home this evening to spend a restful weekend.

Thinking one will get home on time is the curse of frequent business travelers.

Within an hour one of my colleagues, seeing the suitcase in the corner of the conference room, asked: You're not staying? You didn't keep your room?

I looked puzzled.

My flight was cancelled at 6 am this morning, due to weather he said. I'm leaving tomorrow.

No, I checked in for my flight when I arrived at the office. Just a few minutes ago, I added as if to convince myself that he was wrong. Must have been a mechanical problem with the plane.

I looked out the window. I saw nothing but a dim, light, greyness hanging over the Hudson. When you can't see Manhattan from across the river, you're in trouble.

Within minutes, my cousin C and my husband both called me, C to offer her sofa and my husband to say that he didn't think I would make it home. No, I reassured them. The flight was still on.

Within minutes, all three airports in NYC had been closed. There wasn't a snowball's chance that I would get through to the airlines, although there was suddenly plenty of snow everywhere.

I made arrangements for the car service to pick me up at 5:15, rather than 2:30. No need to drag my luggage to the Upper West Side on the subway, I thought. I went back to work.

Sometime during the afternoon, locked inside a conference room, the stranded travelers and those who only had a short distance to go home, decided to continue to work as long as we were stuck there. Our project had a deadline and we had been given bonus time. I cancelled the car service and continued to work. Somewhere around 7:30pm, we decided to call it quits for the weekend.

I had tried all day to call the airlines, but only received a fast busy. Nevertheless, I told my co-workers that I would join them via conference call on Monday morning. I'm sure I'll get out of here tomorrow, I said, oblivious to the current weather conditions outside.

I packed up my laptop and notebooks, grabbed my suitcase and a box I needed to bring home with me, and headed to the door. As I walked outside, I realized that I might have underestimated the snowstorm. First it had rained. Then it sleeted for a few hours. A few inches of heavy wet snow had been piled on top of the ice glazed streets. As I stepped off the curb onto the cobblestones, I knew it wasn't going to be easy crossing to the PATH station. A few steps and suddenly I was knee deep in a water-filed pothole. Bad enough that my shoes -- an impractical pump - had already filled with snow, but now my slacks were wet too.

I continued on, grousing under my breath, that I never should have given up the car service and should have left a few hours earlier. I knew I had no chance of catching a cab after the short train ride across the Hudson. As I waited nearly 30 minutes for the next train, I was just short of shivering from my now wet clothes.

As soon as the train left the station, I realized that I wasn't on the train I normally took. Not a problem, I assured myself, I can still get to where I'm going from the other station. It was only a matter of taking a different subway line; I had done it before. Had the weather been nice, I could have walked a few blocks and caught the train I had originally intended, but the other was a workable option, so that's what I did.

Except I didn't know that the train made different stops after a certain time of night, so I couldn't switch where I wanted. Still, I had been on the NYC subways enough times to know my other options. I switched trains where I knew I should, and without a delay, caught the next train.

But, it was now after 9pm. Track repairs had been scheduled. I sat on a track between stations for another 25 minutes. My hair was wet; I had no hat. My slacks were wet. I was toting a heavy briefcase, a box of manuals that I held with a plastic handle that cut through my hands, and a roller bag that suddenly seemed more suited for a 3 month tour instead of a 2 day trip. My fingers and toes were numb. I sat in the subway car, watching water pour down the sides, never wishing more that I was anywhere but where I was. I puzzled why there was so much water; it didn't occur to me that it was the melting snow from the streets above. Was there really that much snow?

As I waited for the subway to begin moving again, I debating whether I would make one more train switch. I was tired. I didn't want to walk up any stairs carrying the baggage that I had. Yet, there was a nagging voice in my head that said that I should. Had I stayed on that subway line, I would have had to get off at a stop that I had only been to once, about three years before. I knew the walk to my cousin's apartment wasn't long, but I figured there must have been some reason why I always took the 1/9 train.

I made the switch at the last minute and regretted my decision as I waited on an empty platform, watching several trains move through the station without stopping on the other tracks. Finally, a train stopped, and I hopped aboard. Within a few minutes, I was at the stop I needed. I'll be inside in a few minutes, I thought. I only had to get up the stairs with the suitcase.

Once on the street, I realized that I my challenges were not over. The snow had turned to a sharp wind-driven ice, falling heavily and quickly, each pellet stinging you as if you were in a desert sandstorm. I had two blocks to walk. Two blocks to pull a suitcase through slush the consistency of pea gravel.

Snow and ice accumulates under the wheels of a roller bag, just as it does the wheels of your car. 40 lbs propelled by ice covered wheels may be less treacherous than a 1 ton car on icy roads, but it is not much easier to navigate.

As I got to C's building, the door was open, so I didn't have to ring. (Her super would be at least one full blog post and it would explain why this could happen under his watch!) I got on the elevator and made my way to her apartment. There was a chef who got on the elevator at the same time. He had flour on his shirt and his checked chef's pants and he smelled like garlic. I wanted to follow him when he exited at the 5th floor. I'm tired, cold and hungry. Will you make me dinner? I wanted to say.

When I got the C's, I was exhausted and out of breath from walking so hurriedly down the street, trying to get out of the elements as quickly as I could.

Why didn't you call me? she said. I would have helped you carry your bag. I knew you would have a miserable trip, so I didn't have the heart to tell you that the elevator was broken.

It's fixed now, I said. Had it been broken, I would have stayed in the lobby and slept in a corner. I don't think the super would have noticed, and I don't think his noisy kids would have kept me awake!

After I had changed clothes, had a cup of tea to warm up, and a glass of wine to wind down, the 2 hour trip didn't seem so bad. I laughed at how ill-prepared I was with the only clothes that I had: a Spring-weight jacket, heels, no hat, no gloves.

When I finally reached the airlines around noon on Saturday, the first flight available was Tuesday night. Somewhere over the next three days, I managed to find a pair of gloves and C gave me a hat. My clothes dried and I felt better about being stranded. By the time I was ready to leave Tuesday evening, I had worn the hat -- a beige, brown and red cloche -- several times. C said it looked like it was made for my head and that I should keep it.

I don't live in a city where you walk outside much in the cold weather, so the hat doesn't get much wear, sometimes just a few minutes in the car. But, whenever I go to NYC in the winter, I wear it. It is a perfect hat for the subway: easy to take off without messing your hair, not so hot and heavy that you can't leave it on. I've come to think of it as my New York hat.

Last Sunday, as I prepared to go outside, I realized that it was cold. I grabbed my hat and gloves. The air was not only cold, but it had that heavy, November feel to it that tells you that winter is about ready to knock on your door, announcing that Fall is over.

I'm flying to New York in a few days to spend time with some friends (and meet some bloggers too!). The hat will be making the trip as well.

Last winter, I was in an elevator in New York. There was a little boy about 2-years old in a stroller. He looked up at me and pointed. Nice hat he said.

It is.


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to seeing the hat in real life!
I think I may have been trying to fly into NY during those blizzards.

Cam said...

It may be a little warm for the hat! I've been trapped by a few snowstorms, several summer thunder boomers, the tornado that went through here last year, and in general whatever is the problem of the day at LaGuardia! My flight was delayed today too, but I made it -- and hope that I don't need the hat or my umbrella this weekend.