by Jian Ping
Christmas Lights in NYC
I went to New York City (NYC) over the Christmas weekend with my husband Francis and daughter Lisa. I lived in NYC for five years in the late 80s and early ‘90s and have always cherished a special feeling for the Big Apple. Ever since I moved to Chicago in 1994, I have visited NYC two or three times a year.
This time, we made our plans for a short excursion to NYC in early December, flying over on Friday, Christmas Eve, and returning on Sunday, right after Christmas. As time drew close, we heard the forecast of a snowstorm, but took off as scheduled nevertheless.
Snow Started to Fall on Broadway
Manhattan always generates a kind of unique buzz and vibration, one that always make me feel excited the moment I enter the city. The pace of people moving in streams, the noise of speeding cars, and the voices of different languages heard on the streets—nowhere else is as dynamic as NYC. For me, I also loved the sweet smell of roasted peanuts, chestnuts and almonds, permeating the air from street vendors’ wheeled carts.
We set out to walk along Broadway right after checking into our hotel in midtown. The sky was blue and the sun casted a nice golden glow on the buildings. The Broadway theatres all went dark on Christmas Eve, so we had a casual meal at “Korea Town” on 33rd St, followed by a couple of rounds of bowling games at a midtown bowling alley, and finished the day by watching How Do You Know, a newly released film at the AMC Theater on 42nd St. The following day, the sun disappeared, but the day was pleasant. I jogged along Fifth Avenue early in the morning and checked out Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree and ice skating ring and made a small loop in Central Park. We watched Brief Encounter, a Broadway play, in the afternoon and had a wonderful dinner at a French Bistro on
Spring St. in the evening. On Sunday morning, the clouds were low when I went out jogging. By the time we walked out of our hotel shortly after 10 am, flurries of snow began to dance in mid air, seemingly non threatening. With each passing hour, however, the snowfall intensified and the wind picked up speed. We enjoyed a wonderful Broadway Musical: Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown, behind closed doors. At the time, I didn’t anticipate I would soon reach that point of near breakdown, albeit for totally different reasons. Several inches of snow covered the ground when we came out of the theatre. Before we finished our dinner that evening, we received United Airlines first notice of our flight cancellation. Lisa called United and after 40 minutes, rebooked our flight on Monday morning, which, before the end of the day, was cancelled again. Back at our hotel room, Lisa used two cell phones to call United, trying hard to reach a representative. 30 minutes later, she managed to book us on a 3 P.M. flight, also on Monday. The city was buried in snow the next morning when I went to an off-site gym to work out. Since moving around the city was difficult, we went to watch another movie, King’s Speech, during the day. However, soon after the movie started, I checked my vibrating BlackBerry. Sure enough, just as I feared, another notice came from United for our flight cancellation. When I finally got hold of a United representative over the phone two hours later, I was told we couldn’t get booked on any confirmed flight until Thursday, December 30th! No begging or plea or breakdown would get us anywhere. Since I had meetings lined up both for Tuesday and Wednesday in Chicago, we decided to take an Amtrak train to Washington D.C. and fly back to Chicago from there. Lisa decided to work out of her company’s New York office and stay with her friend until Thursday, so we took her and her friend Yeye to dinner at an Italian Restaurant before heading to the Penn Station.
Buried in Snow
Postings of delayed trains covered the board and the crowd in the train station made me feel as if I were in China. Our 8:05 P.M. train to Washington D.C. arrived after 10:30 P.M. and on our way to Washington D. C., it continued to get further delayed. By the time we arrived at the Capital, it was 3 o’clock in the morning. The line for taxi appeared to be half a mile long and there were not enough taxi available at the wee hour. I watched in disbelief as cab drivers picked customers, leaving behind those who were not going longer distance. We had to team up with two other passengers—also travelers stranded in NYC, and like us, took the detour to go to Chicago—to convince a driver to take us to the Reagan Airport. Eventually, after on the road for nearly 10 hours, we boarded the first flight to Chicago at 6 A.M.
Crowds at Penn Station
What was most unbelievable for the trip was not only the intensity of the blizzard, but also the inefficiency of the city government in dealing with it. 48 hours after the storm hit, I didn’t see a single snow removing vehicle on the streets in Manhattan. I’m not talking about side streets, but major avenues and squares such as Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and Times Square! Everywhere I turned to, I saw cars spin or stuck on ice and snow, and pedestrians transverse over slush of icy water and compacted snow. Despite the warning, the city didn’t seem to have made any preparation. Two days after the storm, flights out of the three nearby airports continued to be cancelled. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he took responsibility of the city’s slow response and committed to remove snow from every street by Thursday. What was he doing earlier? I wondered.
The experience made me appreciate the efficiency of snow removal in Chicago so much more!
by Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. visit www.mulberrychild.com, www.moraquest.com.