The Weekend the Pope was in Town

The past several years have been quite the adventure and full of stories, most of which, I haven’t been able to share until now. In part due to being smart about the timing of when to share certain adventures and for some experiences, well, just being ready to tell them.

My travel misadventures during the weekend the Pope last visited the U.S. falls in the first category.

In the late summer of 2015, I was working remotely for a company located in Long Beach California as an SEO Specialist. I was also doing a fair amount of free-lance consulting in the hours before and after the office in Cali came to life. For a variety of reasons, it became obvious to me that it was time for a change and I added a full-time job search to my already full plate.

My goal was to get back into a leadership role, be a part of a team and return to the world of eCommerce and making websites easier for people to use. Much to my surprise and delight, I didn’t have to wait long until my first in-person interview.

On the evening of September 24, 2015, I boarded a plane to Indianapolis. Indianappolis Boarding

I lived in Philly at the time but had the company I was interviewing with make my flight arrangements through Newark, N.J.

Knowing that the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia and NYC that weekend had the potential to make local travel a hassle, I figured it was safer to suffer finding my way around the airport in Newark rather than risk missing my flight.

The flight went off without a hitch, I landed on time and felt like a fairy princess when a limo picked me up from the airport and again in the morning at the hotel the next morning.

One interview blurred into the next as I answered what seemed to be the same questions over and over again. Midway through the back to back day of interviews, the executive admin assistant who had made my flight arrangements burst into the conference room.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but your return flight was canceled and we had to rebook you. We’ll adjust the remaining interview schedule and the limo will be here to pick you up an hour earlier.”

I looked at the itinerary she handed me and replied, “This will actually work out well, this flight will get me home an hour earlier than the original flight.”

A final limo ride to the airport, a glass of wine and some dinner to celebrate the day and the flight took off on time, I made my connection without missing a beat. And then…

About 45 minutes before landing, I pulled the itinerary out of my bag to double check connecting gate and the details for my final destination. My heart almost stopped.

I turned to the young man sitting next to me, “Am I reading this right? Does my flight land at LaGuardia, in the middle of New York City?”

“Yes, you’re reading it right.”

“But, my car is parked in Newark. I’m supposed to be flying into Newark, not New York.”

“Let me start checking train schedules for you. Oh,… but wait, the Pope is in town. The train schedule will be completely unreliable. Let me see if I can think of something else for you.”

While I appreciated his optimism and desire to help, it seemed unlikely that he was going to be able to help me out of my predicament. I was on a plane that was about to land more than 30 miles away from where my car was parked. Thirty miles in the Midwest is nothing, it’s thirty minutes or less depending on how fast you drive. However, thirty miles between NYC and Newark is an hour’s drive under the best traffic circumstances, let alone on a Friday night when the Pope was in town.

I turned to my journal and started listing out possible solutions while bargaining with my travel angels. If perhaps I could get a taxi from LaGuardia to Jersey for $100, the day would be saved. The chances of finding a hotel room were none, so images of myself on a bench in Penn Station or on a chair at LaGuardia, one eye open, seemed to prevail. I had no idea how I was going to get home that night.

I closed the journal with the realization that I would just have to figure it out.

The young man next to me flagged down a flight attendant, “Her flight was booked into the wrong airport and she needs to find a way to get to Newark tonight. Do you have any recommendations?”

“Well, a cab is out of the question. The fare between New York and Newark is normally at least $100, but with the Pope being in town, the traffic is crazy and it will cost at least double that.”

There went my hopes.

“But, there is a bus that shuttles passengers between JFK, LaGuardia and Newark. I think it costs around 30 bucks.”

Hooray! The day had been saved, or had it?

My flight into LaGuardia landed late. Like a madwoman, I made my way through the crowd – down the escalator and to the ticket counter for the airport shuttle bus. The agent was just turning the sign from open to closed, the hours said 9 am to 10:30 pm. It was 10:33.

I must have looked like I was going to burst into tears, or perhaps I actually did. At any rate, he turned the sign around and asked, “How can I help you?”

I explained my situation and he nodded along.

“Here’s the thing,” he said.

“I’m not sure if you’ve heard about it, but the Pope is in town. This has changed our regular route. Normally my bus would take you to the parking lot at Port Authority and the next bus would pick you up from there and take you to Newark. But because the Pope is in town, the roads have been rerouted.

We would drop you off near the Port Authority parking lot and then you would need to walk about a mile to a temporary lot. From there we can get you to Newark.”

This was not what I wanted to hear as the hour was nearing 11 pm in the heart of NYC.

Just then, a man near my age turned to face me.

“I’m in the same boat and am trying to get a cab. Would you be interested in splitting the fare with me if I can negotiate it?”

Without thinking twice, I answered yes. Somehow, he miraculously negotiated a fare of $160, to be split between us.

My share, plus a $20 tip equaled a $100 taxi ride from LaGuardia to Newark.

I never saw the Pope in person, but I’ll never forget the weekend he was in town. It was quite an adventure.

Turn Around When Possible

Back in the dark ages, before I had a GPS, prior to any outing, my kids demonstrated what considerate people they are by looking the address up on MapQuest.  Not only did they look up the directions, they printed out both map and the text directions and maybe most importantly, they calculated an appropriate departure time.

They’ve never told me this, but I’m fairly sure that they collaborated on and developed a complicated algorithm to determine when we should leave, an equation based on the estimated time according to MapQuest, whether or not we’d been there before, and the number of turns along the route.  I’m certain that each additional turn exponentially increased the risk of getting lost, which is something I seem to do very well.   I also suspect that their motives may have been more out of self-preservation than thoughtfulness.

I’m a pro at getting lost, what I don’t do so well is staying calm while I’m off course.  The more disoriented I am, the redder my face gets and the more irrational and irritable I become.  It’s especially unpleasant if I forgot to brew my coffee with an even mix of leaded and un-leaded.  (There’s a reason my kids call me half-caf).

I’ve been known to call friends and family from unintended destinations which have included finding myself in a neighboring state rather than wherever it was I was trying to get to.  The most dramatic by far was when I was in my early twenties on a job hunting mission. I somehow found myself on the toll bridge going into East St. Louis sweating through the back of my dress as the warnings about going over the bridge raced through my head as I approached the toll booth.  I handed the shaking dollar to the silver haired attendant.

“Honey…are you sure you want to cross this bridge?” he asked.

“Noo…I got lost….” I replied.

He handed my dollar back and said, “Honey, across that bridge ain’t no place for you.”

To this day I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to stop traffic and find a way for me to turn around and head back to the security of being lost in a slightly safer city.

You can imagine how relieved people close to me were when they heard I purchased a GPS a few years ago.  No more phone calls from across the river wondering how I got there and how to get where I needed to go:  no more MapQuest or Google Maps, no more irrational outbursts, and no more getting lost.  I think the person that was the most relieved was me, no more embarrassing albeit funny stories of getting lost.

Much to my chagrin that has not been the case.  Between cities that have one name on Google Maps or MapQuest and another name in my GPS, walking vs. driving instructions on my smart phone, and good old “operator error,”  I still manage to find ways to end up in a CPA firm inquiring about my scheduled Tarot card reading.

A young woman raised her head from behind her monitor and asked, “Can I help you?”

“I…I…ummm I have an appointment….” I stuttered.

“What is the appointment in regard to?” she inquired.

“Uhhhh…a Tarot card reading….ummm…I’m pretty sure I have the wrong place,” I replied.

“Oh.  That must be on North Sixteenth this is South Sixteenth, we’re an accounting firm ma’am.”

My guess is they’re still laughing about it, I know I am.