By Herbert Goldstone
I always prided myself on having a very good sense of direction. Until a couple of weeks ago, that is.
I’ve made a lot of motor trips in my life, several out west, one or two to the far reaches of upstate New York, a couple in Canada and even to places I’d never been to before that were completely strange to me. I always managed to find my way to a special hotel or motor inn, to some highly recommended restaurant or to a particular tourist attraction.
We’d pull into our destination and I’d have a smug smile of satisfaction on my face and my chest would swell enough to pop a couple of shirt buttons
Well, no more of that. Not after the good lesson in humility I recently got.
I frequently drive into Manhattan from my Woodbury garden apartment to visit a lady friend who lives in a very nice building on 79th Street on the fashionable East Side. My route home is along FDR Drive for a short distance. then up a ramp that curves around to the Triborough Bridge, through the toll gate to the spur that takes me onto Grand Central Parkway past LaGuardia Airport and then flows into Northern State Parkway and an easy trip home.
On the way home that night, the radio said something about some construction on the Triborough. I didn’t pay much attention to it. So one lane would be a bit slow for a while, I thought. Big deal.
Boy, was that a mistake!
When I got to the ramp, it was closed off completely.
Well, I figured, I’d better find a place to make a U turn and head back to the 59th Street bridge to get to Queens and then Nassau County.
So I made a right turn the first chance I had figuring I’d turn back the other way after a while and get back onto the FDR in the other direction.
Pretty soon there was a major highway over the road I was on. Was that back to the Triborough, I wondered? I kept going and going, looking for some kind of direction sign. Nothing looked the slightest bit familiar. How would I get up onto that highway? After a long haul, with not a single traffic light or any other sign of civilization, with me starting to get a little worried, I spotted a gas station a couple of blocks off the road.
The lone attendant sort of scratched his head when I asked him how to get back to Long Island. He mumbled a few unintelligible words and pointed off somewhere.
I got back behind the wheel and was off again, headed somewhere. After a while, a traffic sign said something about Exit 8-A. Good, I thought, I’ll get off there and get back on in the other direction. Before I found the exit, I was going past a sign that said Exit 9.
So I got off at Exit 9 and kept going for what seemed like 100 miles or so and there was a large well-lit supermarket. I pulled up and went inside. There had to be someone there, even this late at night, who knew the way to Long Island.
Standing near the deserted checkout counter was a welcome sight, a cop in uniform.
I touched his sleeve and explained my plight. I got lost trying to get onto the Triborough Bridge, I told him, and needed to get back to Long Island.
He smiled at me. “You know you’re in the Bronx,” he told me.
That was not what I needed to hear.
He gave me instructions on how to get back onto the highway. Back in the car again, with some symphonic music on the radio to soothe my jangled nerves, I drove to find the elusive highway, driving through a bunch of very deserted business streets with lots of dark closed stores.
Looking intensely for that missing highway, I came to a gigantic round gray-white structure looming high over my car.
Let me explain something. I’ve been a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees, but that loyalty to the perennial World Champions did not include a desire to find myself driving around the outside of Yankee Stadium at about 1 a.m.
I circled around the stadium for a while, wondering which direction to take to avoid being lost in the Bronx forever, and I saw what looked like a green and white highway sign. I anxiously turned in that direction.
I drove what seemed like another 10 miles and there was an I-95 sign, the major north-south US highway. I once drove it with the family to Florida. This time I drove it north, I guess, and I saw a sign that indicated the next exit was a familiar town in Westchester.
I got off at that exit, by now a bit desperate, and by what seemed like some miracle to me by then, found the ramp to the other direction.
I couldn’t believe it. The sign said something about Manhattan and the Triborough Bridge.
After a while, I found myself on the same entrance to the Triborough toll gate to Queens and Long Island that I would have gotten on from that closed ramp from the FDR drive that now seemed like weeks ago.
I finally made it home, close to 2 a.m. The trip from my lady friend’s apartment, normally between 50 minutes and an hour at that time of night, unless there was some particular traffic problem, took me longer than three hours and a severe case of jangled nerves.
When I got home, I looked at a road map. What I should have done, I realized, was not make a right turn off the FDR Drive, which takes you to the Bronx over the Macombs Dam Bridge, but make a left turn when I could to get to Fifth Avenue and then take that south to 125th Street and onto the Triborough Bridge.
Now they tell me!