A Ruined Evening

Gina and I were registered to hear Malcolm Gladwell speak in New York. The evening didn’t go according to plan.

Traffic was heavy on the way in — we figured there was probably a Yankee game backing up the Cross Bronx onto the George Washington Bridge. We might have made it if we had left the house three minutes earlier. But as we got about half way across the bridge, traffic came to a dead stop. And then we saw the great billowing clouds of black smoke blowing across the bridge up ahead. We weren’t going anywhere for a while.

The lady in the car next to us jumps out of her car and starts running back to the Jersey side, yelling “We can’t leave the children parentless.” The guy gets out and is yelling after her “How are you going to get home?” But she’s out of earshot. Gina points out the “No Loitering” sign, just as the guy who got out of the next car over is standing in the middle of the road saying: “Hey, this is a first for me — I’m standing on the bridge!”.

We all turn our engines off, and stand around trying to see what’s going on up ahead. Loitering, if you will.

I didn’t bring my camera. I should have brought the camera, because it would have made it easier to explain what happens next. Plus, it would make it easier for you to believe me. Luckily, the web helps with the first part — this picture will almost do:

This is about exactly where we were stopped. You notice the sets of steel cables hanging down from the large suspension cables. And the railing between the roadbed and the pedestrian walkway. Well, Gina starts to while away the time pacing back and forth along the top of that railing, taking in the view.

I didn’t have my camera. But, at some point curiosity gets the better of her, and she decides that if she climbed up the cables, she could sit in the little chair formed by the cross brace holding the cables together near the suspension cable — and that would give her a better view. Gina is always very timid about engaging in this kind of activity. She always asks the same question before she begins: “You don’t think I’ll get arrested if I climb up there, do you?” Luckily she was wearing a pants suit instead of a dress. Then, she answered her own question: “Nah, the police are probably too busy dealing with the car fire that closed the George Washington Bridge in both directions during rush hour.” And up she went.

I didn’t have my camera. So there we were, stuck on the bridge, traffic not moving in either direction, everybody out of their cars, and Gina perched up in the suspension cables. You have to admit, it makes for a great conversational gambit. Usually it goes something like: “Hey, how’d you get up there?” Sometimes it’s: “Hey, how’d she get up there?”

So it turns out that the guy whose wife ran off the bridge, and the guy who was excited about standing on the bridge were both going into the City for dinner and a show — they were going to see Spamalot. And, yes, the people in front of them were on their way to a Yankee game. We kind of guessed that because they never stopped waving their Yankee flags. Pity I forgot the camera.

It only took about an hour to clear the burning car, and traffic started moving. As we drove down the West Side, it was clear that our evening plans were scuttled; we weren’t going to see Malcolm Gladwell. On the other hand, we would be getting into midtown early enough to catch a show — if we could get tickets. So instead of heading over to the Oxonian Society, we went here:

and Gina asked (because we’d just been talking about it on the bridge) about tickets to Spamalot. The lady laughed. “It’s sold out until March” she said. “Thank you” said Gina, then added “Where’s it playing?” — and off we went, here:

“Umm, they’re sold out until March”, sez I. “I know,” answers Gina breezily, “but maybe we can get tickets at the box office. You never know.”

Now, you probably can’t see it very well, because I didn’t bring my camera, and these aren’t my pictures, but if you had gone to the Shubert Theatre that night, in the very lower right hand corner of this picture; right at that spot, was a sign that read: “Cancellation Line”, and there were 22 people standing in line behind that sign. It was about twenty minutes before show time. Gina asked the theatre employee at the head of the line “What are the chances we could get in tonight?” And the answer, unsurprisingly, was “None.”

So we got in line.

A few more people joined the line behind us. Occasionally, the guy at the front of the line would go inside, come back out, and announce, “OK, I have two tickets” — and the people at the head of the line would go in. A couple of people gave up hope and wandered off. We fell to talking to the woman behind us. Mostly commiserating about the impossibility of getting in. And as we’re doing so, Gina blurts out: “Hey! There are those guys from the bridge. And she turns to the woman behind us and confides “They have an extra ticket. His wife jumped out of the car on the George Washington Bridge and ran home.” Which, when I think back on it, probably sounded a little odd.

“Really?” asked the woman behind us. “An extra ticket?”

“Sure” said Gina. And she dragged the woman over to the other line, and started waving at our recent bridge acquaintances. “Hey,” says the guy whose wife ran off the bridge. “Didn’t we just see you on the bridge?” And he turns to the woman who was behind us in line and explains “She was climbing up the suspension cables on the George Washington Bridge and sitting on top of them.” Which, when I think back on it, probably sounded a little odd, too.

“You still got that extra ticket?” asks Gina. “Sure” he says, and takes it out of his pocket. “She could really use it” says Gina. “What about you?” they both ask. “Nah, it wouldn’t do me any good,” Gina explains. “I’m here with my husband.” And she rejoins the cancellation line.

We watch the woman offer to pay for the ticket, and the guy refuse to accept the money. Just as they are about to go into the theatre, he turns back one last time and yells out “You’ll never believe this, but we got to the restaurant in time to have some dinner. I managed to wolf down a half a plate of penne and sauce before coming here.””Lucky you,” yells back Gina. “We’ve been stuck in this line the whole time. We haven’t had anything to eat. I’m starving.” And with that, he waves one last time and is inside the theatre.

“Did you say you were hungry?” asks the gentleman in front of us, with a German accent. He’s a member of a party of four in front of us. “We have an extra sandwich from the deli across the street”, and he hands Gina a grilled steak sandwich on ciabatta. Then, the four of them give up on the line and walk away.

The guy at the head of the line comes out a couple more times — he has four tickets. Then another two. Then three. Then two more. Then just one. The couple at the head of the line can’t use it. They leave. The next group is a party of three. We’re behind them. The party of three is three guys. The one wearing the BMC Software shirt volunteers to take the ticket and see the show. He goes inside.

A minute later, he comes back out: “They only take cash on the cancellation line”, he explains. “I don’t have enough. Let’s go.””Nonsense,” retort both friends, and they dig out their wallets and empty them. Between the three of them, it’s just enough to get the BMC guy in. He disappears inside. They close the doors. We’re alone with the two friends.

“Let me get this straight. Your friend ditches you, and you go broke paying for it?” asks Gina. “That’s right,” they say with a laugh. “He owes us big time.” And then they too are gone, and we’re alone in Shubert Alley.