The old axiom, “travel is the best education,” has new meaning for me now that we have returned from our latest trip to New York. Not only have I been educated, I have received the traveler equivalent of a Ph.D. In a week’s time I’ve learned more than the 12 years I spent in the public school system. Keep reading while Professor Crosby enumerates for you all the things I have learned from this travel adventure, beginning with Day One.
Ticketed and confirmed for an early morning flight on December 27, the blizzard that struck the Eastern seaboard put us in traveler limbo-hell for two days. The good news was we didn’t have to sleep at the airport; the bad news was it cost us $200 in carfare for nothing and we didn’t know when we would be able to get another flight out. For almost two days we were prisoners in our own home.
It all started when we arrived at the airport and checked in at the appointed time. The woman at the check-in desk looked at our tickets then back at us with an expression that ran the gamut between distain and disinterest and told us matter-of-factly that our flight had been cancelled. Silly us. We had foolishly trusted the United Airlines website, which informed us that our flights were absolutely on schedule…right up until we left for the airport!
Companies like United are constantly urging customers to use the Internet instead of calling on the phone, so you’d think they would at least try to keep their website up to date. I should have trusted my own gut. Intuitively I just know that it’s always better when you can speak with a real human being (which is becoming harder and harder to do). So the first learning lesson of this trip: Never, never trust the flight information off an airline’s website. Or as Ronald Reagan once said, “Trust but verify.” Or in this case don’t trust at all; instead, verify at once with a real-live person on the phone, if you can.
We were able to get on a flight two days later and arrived in New York on December 29. I don’t know if it was because of the snow banks on the roads or the added tourist traffic coming in for New Year’s Eve, but the car trip from Kennedy to our hotel in midtown Manhattan took somewhere in the neighborhood of three hours. That’s right, about five hours for the first 2,500 miles and three hours for the last 15 miles. Lesson No. 2: Just because the plane lands doesn’t mean you’ve arrived at your destination.
We dragged ourselves through the hotel lobby and up to the registration desk. When the desk clerk told us that the room we had reserved was not available on the floor we had requested it was just like that gut-wrenching scene from The Out-Of-Towners. Happily, though, we fared much better than Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis did in the picture. We were given an upgraded suite (although on a higher floor) for the same money. They turned out to be the best rooms we’d ever had at the hotel. Lesson No. 3: Sometimes life is actually better than the movies.
There were plans made to get together with family and friends while in New York. Most of those plans went right down the old pipe. Friends, for one reason or another, just couldn’t get in to the city to see us on this trip. And then there was a bit of family friction, a bit more than usual, which brought a sour note to the whole thing. The good news was, we had a hell of a good time with the other loving family members that we did get to spend time with. And that brings us to lesson No. 4: Not all family members are created equal.
All in all the trip was not a bad one as trips go. New York City in the winter is magical. The restaurants are always great, the city itself is wonderful, and the shopping is the best. The family thing was unfortunate, but as I said, the good people we spent time with made it all worthwhile.
Lesson No. 5: Pick a time other than the Christmas/New Year week to visit New York City. Although we were in last year at the very same time and it didn’t seem nearly as frantic, this year the crowds were overwhelming. I’m guessing a visit just after Thanksgiving might be a better time to be in the City during the holidays.
“Travel is the best education,” they say. But sometimes I wonder if the happiest people might be the ones who maybe aren’t so darned educated.