|This summer, I spent a month on the road in Europe, as part of a summer field school experience. For the next little while, I’ll be posting a purely self-indulgent* series of essays, inspired by the slice-of-life wisdom that only travel brings.
*You could say that I’m invoking the “it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” rule. After all, it’s my blog and I’ll… etc. etc. Still, I hope these are at least a little entertaining.
On my way to Europe, I stopped in New York. And there was a reason for this. I had an important task to take care of, one that’s been nagging me for quite awhile.
Let’s Go Back to the Start
Back in 2003, I went to Connecticut to work at a trade show. The jump in/jump out point was JFK Airport in New York. The show wrapped up on a Saturday night, but my flight back to Canada didn’t leave until Sunday night. With a day to kill, I figured out how to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan and spent a glorious few hours roaming its beautiful rooms, joyfully basking in some of the world’s greatest art.
At the time, though, things were not so great in my life. There was man trouble, but worse, as a freelance graphic artist, I was perpetually, miserably broke. When I handed over my credit card to pay for a few small souvenirs, I held my breath because I wasn’t 100% sure it would go through.
Walk Like an Egyptian
Now, if you’ve ever been to the Museum, one of its great treasures is the Temple of Dendur. It’s an Ancient Egyptian temple, gifted to the U.S. government by the Egyptian government. It was dis-assembled, shipped to the U.S. (don’t ask me how) and then re-assembled in its very own room in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The minute you walk into that room, you feel an immediate sense of calm. Because it’s set off by itself, all of the ambient noise falls away and you find yourself in a peaceful, tranquil oasis.
There’s a pool surrounding the Temple, and people throw coins in it. Back in 2003, as I walked around shooting photos, it occurred to me that I should toss in some coins too. But I didn’t want to make a wish. Instead, I wanted to make a promise. I tossed a few pennies into the pool, and quietly said
“When I come back here, things will be better.”
Fast forward to 2014. I was now on my way to summer school in Europe, but I’d arranged my travels so that I could stop overnight in New York. I got up early, and got to the Museum just as it opened. I picked up a map, and made my way over to the wing where the Temple of Dendur is housed.
When I walked into the room, I took a deep breath — and immediately started to cry.
I had kept my promise. It had actually happened. Things had gotten better and I had finally come back – to the very same spot — to give thanks.
That morning, I’d tucked eleven pennies into one of my pockets – one for every year since 2003. When I was ready, I pulled them out and tossed them all in at once with a whispered “thank you”.
I thought it was a good idea to add a little extra oomph to my gratitude, so there was a dollar in quarters in my other pocket. Those went into the pool next.
Are You Kidding Me?
Now at this point, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy. Who goes all the way to New York to throw $1.11 in change into a museum display? I mean, seriously?
Apparently, I do.
And if you think I’m crazy, I’ll admit that there are instances where I might agree with you. But — for whatever reason — getting myself back to that room in the Museum became really important to me.
For many of us, keeping a promise to ourselves is so much harder than keeping one to someone else. Especially if the promise is a little wacky. Or expensive.
But I can’t tell you how satisfied it made me feel to realize that I had actually done something I said I was going to do — even though I’d made the promise at a time when I couldn’t imagine how or when I’d be able to deliver the goods.
That, my friends, is definitely worth $1.11.
Plus airfare and hotel.
Always Have A Plan B
And now, today’s travel hacking tips. In my last post, I was busy crowing about the cheap, fast and easy method of using public transit to get from La Guardia Airport to Manhattan.
However, when I tried making the return trip, I discovered that a power outage in Brooklyn had caused severe delays on the subway line I needed. Oops.
Luckily for me, a Plan B appeared to be close at hand with the NYC Airporter bus, which costs $13.00. However, I cannot really recommend this service. It’s advertised as running every half-hour, but I waited close to an hour for a bus that was supposed to arrive “in the next 20 minutes”. (Lying to customers seems to be an acceptable marketing strategy in New York.)
Once the bus arrived, it did get me to La Guardia in 45 minutes, but not before I’d made a panicky call to Air Canada, wondering how late I could check in and not miss my flight. (And because I don’t have US roaming on my phone, that toll-free call cost me an extra $14.87.) You’ll find terrible reviews for the NYC Airporter on Trip Advisor and I’m sorry to say that they’ve earned them.
Here are my tips:
- Take public transit if you can, and save your money for something more interesting. (The Q70 bus from La Guardia is even equipped with luggage racks.)
- Avoid the NYC Airporter unless you absolutely have to use it.
- In both cases, leave yourself plenty of time for something to go wrong.
And always have a Plan B.