Jun 8, 2012

The Experience: Getting There and Getting Around

Two of my students, who I'll refer to as "Free Spirit" and "Smile", anticipate their plane ride as they look out the airport window at our gate at Cleveland  Hopkins International Airport, Sunday morning, May 20, 2012.

We landed at Newark International Airport in New Jersey just after 9 o clock Sunday morning, May 20, after having driven up to Cleveland, Ohio from Columbus the evening before to catch an early morning flight out (the flights to the airports around New York were significantly cheaper; we easily saved over $1200 by flying out of Cleveland).  I love flying with kids--before we've even gotten to our destination, many of the kids are already having an Experience.  Almost all the kids had either never flown before, or had last flown when they were babies, and so for all intents and purposes had never flown either.  Some were a little anxious, but I think for most it was a thrill.

 We had begun the trip with something that would become a pattern throughout the trip: a late night followed by an early morning.  All of us except for Mrs. Arthurs, the school principal, decided to catch a showing of The Avengers when we arrived in Cleveland Saturday night, and didn't get to bed until after 1 A.M.  We were up again four hours later to head over to the airport.   So when we landed at Newark, we were tired, but still game for adventure.  We took a shuttle to our hotel, the Radisson Carteret, not to sleep, but just to drop off our bags before we hit the city.

We decided to stay in New Jersey and take the train into Manhattan.  The hotels in the city that fit our budget were quite spartan (one property I looked at had no air conditioning) and fraying at the edges, whereas the Jersey hotels for the same price where much more comfortable and several stars up in quality.  While I don't regret that decision, I do think I'd seek to modify it somewhat if I could do it over again.  The trip to Manhattan only took forty minutes or so, but we also had to factor in the shuttle to and from the train station (a ten minute trip, but it often involved a 20 or 30 minutes at the train station waiting for our train--we invariably would miss the train we were aiming for and have to wait for the next one.  We usually ended up taking the same amount of time on our return while we waited for the shuttle to come get us).  Once in Manhattan, we had to then switch to the subway system, and between waiting for the right train and the journey itself (which was never long) we might add another 20 to 30 minutes of travel time.  And finally there was the hike from the subway station to wherever our actual destination was--another 10 to 20 minutes.  On average it took us about two hours to get from our hotel to wherever the first destination of the day was and two hours to get back.

In addition to being lengthy, the trek to the city was expensive.  That Sunday we dropped $210 to just to get  into New York.  Then we spent another $348 to get Metro Card passes that gave us unlimited subway and bus fare for the rest of the week.  Unfortunately, those passes did not cover getting from New Jersey into New York, and I realized we were going to be spending a lot more on transportation than I had first anticipated.   We were able to save a few pennies after the first day by taking a slightly different route that involved us switching from the New Jersey Transit Line to the PATH (Port Authority of New Jersey and New York) train.  That brought costs down to $162 per day, but when you consider that my budget only called for us to spend the $48 per day to ride the PATH train plus the Metro Card passes, this still took a chunk out of our budget.   I had originally assumed that we'd be able to use the PATH  exclusively--I didn't realize that our hotel wouldn't take us to the PATH, only to the nearest train station.

At the very least I'd consider looking for hotels near the PATH station.  This would have cut our commute to 20 minutes, and likely would require shorter wait times should we miss our train, as the PATH has more departures than New Jersey Transit.   One of the other chaperones, Benin Lee, and I played around with some math during the trek back to our hotel on our last night of the trip, to determine whether it might indeed be more cost effective to simply pay the higher hotel rates to stay right in the city.  I'm not quite convinced that the savings in transportation would balance out the additional hotel cost, but it was an interesting exercise.

Leaving the station.  I'm not sure how or when "Supremo" took this photo.  I'm guessing we must have been on the last car on that particular ride.

At any rate, taking the train, riding the famed New York City subways, and even the city buses on occasion was an Experience in it's own right.  For the kids (okay, and the adults too), mastering the art of sliding the metro cards at the turnstiles was an adventure.   The students learned to hold on to the poles when the trains started or stopped to avoid being pitched into someone's lap.  They jockeyed for empty seats, and also graciously offered them to older passengers or women with kids.  They learned to board quickly, stand clear of the closing doors, and be aware of when their stop was coming up.  All mundane realities for a New Yorker, but a real Experience for us wide-eyed visitors from Ohio, at least at first.  By the end of the trip the kids looked like seasoned veterans of New York's public transportation.

"The Scientist" and "Free Spirit" on the subway

And finally there was the walking.  In every city I've visited where public transport is central to getting around, wallking--a lot of it--is attendant to the bus or train ride.   Naturally, New York is a walking city, and the kids handled the hoofing basically without complaint.  They quickly learned the difference between long and short blocks, when to wait with the crowd at the crosswalks, and when it was safe to slip across when the "no walking" sign was lit.  We all learned the difference between an Ohio Walking Speed and a New York Walking Speed.  When we got off the PATH at the World Trade Center on Tuesday morning we were informed that the quickest way to get to the Statue Cruises ferry dock was a 10 to 12 minute walk.  The guy failed to remind us that this was 10 to 12 minutes at New York walking speed.  We trudged along at Ohio walking speed and it took us closer to 20 to 25 minutes.  Still, by midweek when the adults were ready to start taking a bus a few short blocks rather than walk the distance, the kids were still game.

 One of my favorite memories of the trip was on Tuesday night when we got off the bus several blocks east of the Empire State Building.  The wait for our transfer was taking awhile, and a couple of the kids decided we should just walk it.  I agreed to go with them, while Mrs. Arthurs and Mr. Lee waited for the bus.  Well, it ended up that all the kids walked, and we took off at New York speed--a nice brisk pace.  It was a special moment-just me and my students, talking and walking in the Big City as the sun dipped behind the towering skyscrapers and the lights of the city began to come on, feeling like New York natives, and enjoying the pleasure of each other's company.  Little moments on a big trip, seemingly insignificant at the time, but they're the ones you never forget. Of all the ways we got around during our four days in New York, that walk was my favorite.

And it turned out that we got to the Empire State Building faster walking than the other chaperones did riding the bus!

One of my students who I'll call "Supremo" enjoys a nice walk in  the  city

One of my favorite things on the subway was a wonderful painting posted in the interior of many of the subway cars.  The poster by Sophie Blackall charmingly illustrates the colorful and diverse people that may be found on a subway car.  I've linked to her blog here so you can see the painting.

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