This is a story about the dumbest thing I ever did.
It’s not dumb because of what happened as a result of my doing it. Actually, it all turned out just fine. But it’s the potential — of what could have happened; the fact that I could have ended up as nothing more than a picture and a story on the ten o’clock news — it’s that potential that makes this, hands-down, the stupidest decision I ever made.
I was 21 and was heavily involved in AOL’s message board for the t.v. show “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (see also: where I met Robert). I had become friends with a particular lady on the boards (Cheryl) who lived in New York City. It transpired that another friend of ours, a penpal from Australia, was coming to the States and would be visiting Cheryl at her apartment in NYC. I was struck by the sudden desire to go — so I did. (This is not the stupid thing.)
There was some trouble with the plane (an entirely different story that I’ll save for another day) and, thus, my flight that was supposed to arrive in Newark at 9-something p.m. didn’t get in till after 11. Cheryl, being a typical New Yorker, had no car and was not able to travel out to Newark to meet me due to also having to wait around to hear from the Australian friend, who was coming in that night, as well. She had given me instructions which bus to take into the city. It was to drop me off at the Port Authority, where I’d call her and she’d come meet me. But, upon investigation, I discovered the last bus of its kind had left at 11 carrying numerous bodies, none of which were mine.
Now here was a quandary. Keep in mind that I was only 21. I come from California, yes, but it’s a small town. There’s no such thing as “public transportation.” I’d never ridden in a taxi in my life and had never even seen a subway. The extent of my travels, at this point, consisted of drives to L.A. or Oregon with my folks, and one trip to Virginia. A more seasoned traveler might have been able to identify more options available for hieing herself into Manhattan — but not I; not then.
It was at this point I realized that I only had a little bit of cash and the rest of my money was in traveler’s checks. I began asking the waiting cab drivers how much the ride into Manhattan would cost ($40) and whether they took traveler’s checks (no). If I recall correctly, there were very few official-type people inside the section of the airport I’d arrived in. Between the fact that it was late, and I’d flown El Cheapo Airlines, which dumped me off at a lesser-used terminal, there wasn’t much in the way of help in that area of the airport. Plus, that thing they say about New Yorkers not being friendly? Well, I can’t speak for all of them but I can sure tell you that plenty of them heard me asking questions and explaining I’d missed my bus and nobody stepped up to offer any sympathy or even suggestions. I’m just saying. Now, as for why I didn’t go back inside the airport and start walking until I found someone who would help me? I don’t really know. I got into the mindset that I was stuck, and panic started to set in.
In the midst of this I was approached by a skycap, who saw my distress. (Which, by now, could be picked up on satellite by the U.S. Army) He informed me that he was getting off duty just then and, if I wanted, he would take me to the Port Authority for the same $40 the cab drivers wanted — only he’d take my traveler’s checks.
Y’all — I agreed to this.
My rationalization, at the time? “He can’t be a bad guy. He works for the airport!” Because, as you know, psychotic axe murderers are never gainfully employed. Go down to the unemployment office sometime. Place is crawling with serial killers.
Even as we were walking to his car I was thinking, “This is stupid this is stupid this is stupid,” and, when another guy showed up who was supposedly coming with us, the little bells that had been going off in my mind turned into full-blown air raid sirens.
And yet….I got into the car with them.
I know this was stupid. I may have been from a small town but we got the LA news. I wasn’t ignorant of what went on in big cities…I was just naive enough to think it wouldn’t happen to me. It never occurred to me just how bad an idea this was until years later. I could be….nothing now. I could be a memory; a story whispered around about the girl who went to visit “online people” and was never heard from again.
But, being that you’re reading this right now, today, you know how the story ends. The details are, the skycap and his friend drove a very nervous me all the way to Manhattan. I kept my hand on the door handle the entire way, ready to throw the door open and fling myself from the vehicle if I got wind of even the slightest oddity. I did almost pass out when we got off the freeway and the guy locked the car doors. But, likely noticing all the blood draining from my face, he explained that you don’t drive around the city at night with your doors unlocked. We arrived at my destination, I signed over two traveler’s checks and thanked him. He even gave me back my bag and didn’t try to drive away with it (bonus!) And so I found myself at the Port Authority at midnight, which, when you think about it, is rather a case of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Cheryl arrived quickly to meet me and I went on to have a lovely trip. I even cried when I had to get on the bus to head for home. I never did tell Cheryl how I’d gotten there. And I certainly never mentioned it to my parents (surprise, mom!) I knew what they’d all say. I was saying it to myself.