Saturday, December 18, 2010

Adventures in Chess Journalism: Getting there is half the fun!

I got back from Orlando on Monday.  It's taken me most of the week to catch my breath and collect my thoughts.  It was a busy weekend as I tried to keep track of what was happening in 13 different sections, and sort out who I had taken pictures of and who I still needed shots of.  Multitasking was the operative word as I juggled my various tasks over the course of the three days.  However getting there was probably my biggest challenge.

In the past I've usually traveled on the same flight with the kids on our team.  We would get down early so the kids could play in the blitz tournament.  However this year people made all of their own travel arrangements.  Some came down Wednesday so they could go to Disney or Universal and then play in the bughouse tournament Thursday morning.  Other came down Thursday morning so they would get there for the blitz.  I had three classes to teach on Thursday so instead of trying to get substitutes I decided to do my three classes.  Chess teachers don't get paid vacation, so I decided it was worth teaching the classes and taking a later flight.

My last class on Thursdays is in Manhattan on the Upper East Side.  It finished at 4:00 pm, so I had 2.5 hours to get to JFK airport and still have an hour before my 7:29 departure.  There are two things I don't like to do during rush hour.  One is try to take a bus to the airport.  The other is to take a taxi to the airport.  The fastest way around New York City is by train.  However unlike some of the wonderful cities I've visited where there is direct train service in and out of the city to the airport and back, New York sorely lacks in that department.  Chicago has the Blue Line into city and easy transfers.  San Francisco has BART into Powell St.  Seattle recently put in a direct train from SeaTac. Then there is London and Paris where it's easy to get to and from the airport.  So what the hell is New York's problem?

It's relatively easy if you're near Penn Station.  You can take the LIRR out to Jamaica and catch the Sky train there.  However 82nd St and Lexington Avenue is 3 different trains to get to Penn Station.  Lexington Avenue line to Grand Central, shuttle train from Grand Central to Times Square and then #1, 2 or 3 line to Penn Station.  Once you get there you still have to get a ticket for the LIRR train.  I hate Penn Station under normal circumstances.  It's the basement, the ceiling are low and feels claustrophobic. It's even worse during rush hour.  I really didn't want to deal with my luggage, getting a ticket and dealing with all the crazed commuters trying to get home.

I decided I would adventuresome and try to do the entire trip by subway.  I got on the subway and when I got to 59th St. I thought one of the train lines that goes straight out to the Sky Train left from 59th St.  I was wrong, however I really nice lady explained what I needed to do.  She said take the R strain one stop to Queens Plaza and transfer to the E train.  The E would take me right to the Sky Train.  The next train that pulled in was an N train going to Queensboro Plaza.  I figured that was same thing.  However if I looked at a subway map before I got on the train I would have discovered that Queens Plaza and Queensboro Plaza are two distinct stops that have nothing to do with each other except they both begin with Queens and end with Plaza.

Oh crap! Now I'm in Queens, but not sure whether the train I'm on is going where I want to go.  I look at the subway map to see if the N line has a place where there's a transfer to the E.  It looks like there is, but I ask someone to see if I'm right.  She tells me I need to get on the 7 train, and transfer.  She tells me to follow her.  So we get off the N train in a few stops and get on the number 7 train.  I have no idea where I'm going at this point, but I'm putting my faith in this stranger that she'll get me to the E train.  In the mean time I'm starting look at my watch nervously, wondering if I'd make it on time to catch my flight.  Fortunately I wasn't checking any bags and my frequent flyer status on American would get me through security quicker. I also had purposely left myself plenty of time to get from the upper East side to JFK.

My guardian angel tells me we're going to change from the number 7 express to the local because the express skips the stop I need.  We get off the train and wait for a local.  Again I'm glancing at my watch, but I still have over two hours until departure.  It just means less time in the Admiral's Club to surf the internet and finish up the previous post.  A local train pulls in.  She tells me that she's getting off at the next stop, and that I should go one more stop. She tells me the E train is all the way at the bottom of that subway stop. She told me there were elevators to the bottom.  However when I got off the train I couldn't find them right away so I started walking down many flights of steps with my suitcase and backpack.  On one level I did find the elevators, but there were a number of people waiting so I just kept taking the stairs.

Finally I get to the platform for the E train.  It was obvious which side of the platform I wanted.  I could safely eliminate the side with Manhattan bound trains on it.  I spent way too much time getting out of Manhattan.  I knew I didn't want to go back.  I still didn't know how long it would take me to get to the Sky Train.  Nor did I know how long the ride on the Sky Train took to get to JFK.  However at this point I was just relieved to be on the right train. Finally I knew where I was going, and no longer felt like some dumb out of town tourist without a clue.  I pride myself on being a savvy New Yorker who can help tourists get where they want to go on the subway.  I guess every once in awhile it doesn't hurt to have someone return the favor.

I finally got to JFK and to terminal 8.  I couldn't believe how dead it was.  Even if I had a bag to check it would have taken no time at all.  I already had my boarding pass so I just went straight to security and breezed right through.  The hardest part was pulling myself back together once I got through.  Now I remember why when I'm traveling I don't normally wear pants that require a belt.  It's just one more thing to have to fuss with at security and when using the bathroom.  That morning I put on normal work clothes because the new travel outfit I got really didn't fit right.  The pants I grabbed are a little big in the waist so a belt is necessary.  Note to self: When traveling never wear pants have a zipper and need a belt.  There is a reason woman's travel clothes always have an elastic waistband.

The flight was very uneventful. I saw a few familiar faces of other chess people heading down for the tournament.  When I got off the plane I hooked up with one of the other coaches I knew.  He too hadn't checked any luggage.  He was also taking the Disney Magic Express to the hotel.  It's a free shuttle to the hotel and if your flight arrives before 10:00 PM they'll pick up your luggage and deliver it to your room.  Our flight didn't get in until 10:30 PM, so that wasn't an option for me. I didn't really care, especially since I had checked luggage anyway.   I'd never used the shuttle service before since in past trips I've traveled with the team, and we would have vans take us to the hotel.  Jeremy had used it on his last trip, but couldn't remember where it was.  We spent a lot of time wandering around the A concourse looking for the bus and finally found out we needed to go to the B concourse.  It would have helped if I read the instructions that had been mailed along with my bus vouchers.  DUH!

However at least I had read the part about the luggage transfer service not being available after 10:00 PM.  One of the other coaches did not read that part, and left his bag at the airport to be transferred to the hotel.  It was only when he got to the hotel that he found out that his bag was not being picked up and he needed to go get it himself.  By the time he went back to the airport, found his bag, and came back it was well past 1:00 am.  So much for a good night's sleep before Friday's games.  Fortunately round 1 wasn't until 1:00 pm.  That still gave him plenty of time to sleep in and still help prep any of his students who wanted to do a last minute review before the first round.

I was happy that I got a room in building 3 which was just as close as building 1 to the convention center and main part of the hotel.  My colleague with the AWOL suitcase ended out in one of the buildings on the other side of the lake.  The first year we attended this tournament at this site we were in one of those buildings far away from the convention center.   When we came back two years later we made a point of booking early and getting into building 1.  This year I had made my own reservation, but I was hoping one of the early arrivals from the team could check me in.  However they needed my photo ID.  At least she was able to request that I be put as close to the rest of the group as possible.  Building 3 was fine. 

I don't mind the walk around the lake.  I did numerous laps around the lake with various people during the course of the weekend.  It was a nice way to catch up with people without being interrupted by questions or the overwhelming desire to hunt for the next picture or story.  Sometimes the only way to relax is to just go for a walk far from the action.  I needed the walk breaks in order to clear my mind, and mull over possible ideas. Fortunately as the tournament progressed it was easier to come up with ideas for my story.

Stay tuned...

1 comment:

Rich Tanenbaum said...

It was nice to see you there. Glad you were able to make it.

I think you would have been much better off flying out of Westchester airport. We were at the gate about 5 minutes after the cab dropped us off. Both Jet Blue and AirTran have cheap flights out of there.

BTW, here's a funny coincidence: the word verification I have to type in to prove I'm not a robot is: