Ann had an appointment for her first Covid vaccination in Syracuse, 250 miles away. It was the nearest venue with appointments available anytime soon.
Car rental in New York City is expensive, so I shopped around. By far the lowest price was with a company at the far south end of Manhattan in a building situated sort of on top of the entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.
The office was closed when we got back, but it was still possible to return the car. Just drive into the garage, they had said, get a ticket from the machine, watch the barrier go up, park, and turn in keys and ticket. Simple, except that the entrance I thought I had been pointed to in the morning turned out to be an exit.
I got out and walked into the garage. An employee who was about to leave was moving cars around. His English was like Danny Kaye doing his foreign language shtick, but he supplemented his funny sounds with a good bit of arm waving, pointing, and undulating crescendos. Finally, he seemed to say, “follow me.” In my eagerness to get back to the car, I fell backward over a curb crashing my head into a wall, an event happily out of Ann’s view. This was a matter of serious concern to Danny Kaye. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but in his eyes, I could see, “Should I call 911?” I jumped up like a jack-in-the-box to dissuade him from doing that.
As Ann tried to back the car to where she could follow the guy after he emerged from the garage, the area around the garage became clogged with cars, sort of like what you see outside Yankee stadium when a game ends. It had been a long day of heavy traffic and sheeting rain; Ann was in no mood to be honked at. At that point, I recalled that in the morning, the counter person, who had a Danny Kaye routine of her own (was there an office competition?), had told me that when returning a car after hours, I would have to use an entrance on the back side of the building. Ha! That might explain why we were trying to enter through an exit.
In an impressive display of testosterone-fueled authority, I commanded Ann to “just turn the corner and go around to the back of the building.” She did turn the corner, but it didn’t take us to the back of the building, it shunted us into the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, “the longest continuous underwater vehicular tunnel in North America.” While meditating and doing deep breathing exercises during the journey to Brooklyn, it occurred to me that in the tunnel at least it was not raining. I didn’t say it, though; it was not the moment for “let’s look on the bright side of things.”
After we escaped from Brooklyn and were coming up from the muck under the East River into Manhattan, we discovered that the tunnel’s exit was not in quite the same place as the entrance had been, and there were one-way streets all over the area, and a wrong turn would have put us on FDR Drive, a controlled-access speedway up the east side of the island. Please, God, give us a break. She did.
Ann pulled up in front of the now dead-quiet office. I got out again for a look around, this time making sure not to walk backward. And there was the entrance. Not on the back side of the building, but just on the other side of the office, a few yards from the exit. It was, however, not readily visible, which for a parking garage indicates a failure of planning.
In we went. It took a while to find the area marked for rental returns, but we did. We felt much relieved, but not for long.
At ten on Sunday night, lower Manhattan is as deserted as Chernobyl. We set off in a northerly direction, i.e., toward the apartment, which was ten miles ahead. After a time, we asked a doorman at a lifeless hotel where we’d be likely to find a taxi. He shrugged and said in defeated tone, “You can come in and phone one, but they never come.”
We turned east and walked till we got to Broadway, then followed it up as far as City Hall. Still few cars and pedestrians. And no taxis at all. I had never used Uber, and I was too frazzled to download a stinking app in the dark on Sunday night. Even if I had, it’s doubtful a driver would have been near enough to come for us. Taking a subway was unthinkable in this time of Covid.
I went Mary Sunshine again. “A nice walk will refresh us, and look, the rain has let up.” I don’t think I persuaded anyone. After half an hour, maybe more, in a touch of magic realism, out of the shadows on an empty, dimly-lit side street, a taxi drove toward us. I gave him such a big tip that now he probably cruises lower Manhattan every Sunday night.
Next week, we’re going back to Syracuse for Ann’s second shot. It will be full spring by then. I’m looking forward to it. And – I’m going to rent a car from a company that’s a ten-minute walk from the apartment.