There are two, I repeat, TWO, train stations called Newark. When I go to New York, I fly into Newark Liberty Airport and then take the NJ Transit train to the city. I've done this three times. And yet I'm beginning to suspect that I'm just not very good at trains. Last Friday, I was pretty sure I was getting on the right train. But then a couple of other people confused me with their questions. One of them asked me if this was New York. I thought that was a stupid question, because Newark does not look like New York. The other person asked me how to get to Newark. This is Newark, guy. But maybe he wanted the other Newark, because as I've already told you, there are two. But I didn't know that then.
One Newark station is for the airport. The other is just a plain train station, complete with one of those boards with the flipping signs and a big waiting room with long church-style pews.
I like to make fun of Newark. It's the only part of New Jersey I've ever been in, so I'm really making fun of New Jersey. Everybody likes to do that. We all have vague ideas that New Jersey smells bad and is full of toxic waste and greasy people. I've never noticed that to be true, but I've already explained that my experience with New Jersey has been limited to Newark, or rather, Newark Liberty International Airport. Last Friday, when we landed, the lady sitting next to me took in a deep breath and said, "Ah, smells like my childhood." I didn't want to be mean about her treasured memories or anything, but I couldn't help but ask, "Newark?" She said, "No, your fruity lip balm." Oh. I had forgotten that I'd even put it on. Then we talked about roller skating and perms and other aspects of being a child in the 80s. Still, I have nothing against Newark specifically or even New Jersey in general. But when one is from the South, it's best to make fun of the other places before they make fun of you.
I have to say, though, that after Sunday night, when I was trying to return to the South, I do have something against Newark now.
I was already stressed out from walking around Manhattan with my overnight bag in the rain, trying to find Penn Station. And then once I found the station and got on the train, I got off on the wrong station. I had not previously known that there were two Newark stations, probably because not all the trains that go to the airport go to that other Newark, and so my previous trips had just skipped that station altogether. I got off and found myself in a very attractive, non-airport, train station. Once I finally realized that some sort of mistake had been made, I went to the ticket counter. A lady in front of me, an aggressive and angry lady, had made the same mistake. She bickered with the ticket lady about what she needed to do. Ticket lady told her that she needed to wait for the next train to the airport, which would leave at 8:19. Angry Lady said that her flight left at 9:15, and wouldn't it be quicker to take a cab? Ticket Lady said no, not in the rain. There was more bickering, but then finally Angry Lady went to Track 4 to wait for the 8:19.
And then Tired and Docile Southern Lady went to the counter. Her flight left at 9:00. She was me. Ticket Lady told me the same thing, I nodded in resignation and went to wait at Track 4. I drank a whole 20 oz Coke, which was the first thing I'd had since breakfast. Oh yeah. Besides being stuck in a train station, wet and far from home, possibly about to miss my plane, I was hungry, too. I was past the point of hungry, where you are so hungry that you can't even eat. I blamed it on Newark.
I was feeling pretty low just then. I had finished my book. I had another, but it was wordy and my brain just wasn't up to the effort. I drank my coke and wished that I had someone to talk to who would distract me from my currently complicated relationship with time. Every minute, I was closer to getting on the train, but it was another minute that I spent not getting any closer to the plane. I am not the type to strike up conversations with strangers, but at that moment, I deeply wanted the comfort of another human being. A lady with a small daughter sat next to me. She looked too young to have a child. I tried to focus on that to give myself some perspective on my own miniscule troubles. Then I thought about the floods in Pakistan. None of this worked, of course, because I am a selfish person. I talked to Young Mother Lady about her daughter, which helped some.
The train came and took me to the airport station. It took like four minutes. Once there, I had to wait some more for the airport shuttle train to take me to the right terminal. Those trains supposedly come every five minutes, but I waited for probably ten. Again, I felt compelled to go up to a stranger and ask them to please talk to me.
The shuttle train came. It was probably 8:40 by then. I went over the evening in my mind as the shuttle took me to Terminal C. Somehow, the part that bothered me was that getting off the wrong station seemed like a perfectly reasonable mistake to make. I couldn't even really blame myself, and for some reason, I thought that having some momentary stupidity to point at would make me feel better about the prospect of spending the night in Newark.
I played the Worst Case Scenario game, which is something that uptight and responsible people do. I thought about likely things that could go wrong and then how I would deal with them. Clearly, there are plenty of awful possible Scenarios. I could develop acute appendicitis on the shuttle train or get arrested in the security checkpoint for carrying a pair of tweezers. So I'm really only interested in predictable, likely Scenarios. Obviously, the giant blinking marquee sign of a likely Scenario was that I would miss my flight. The corresponding action was that I would get a hotel room and then take a flight out in the morning. I could email my boss and tell him that I would be late, and everything would be fine. Usually, the Worst Case Scenario game gives me comfort, because it shows me that I can easily deal with the sort of things that might happen to one in Newark. I am free, white, and twenty-one. Also, I have a credit card and a smartphone. But that night, my spirits just refused to be lifted. I was so tired and hungry and in Newark.
A lady on the airport shuttle started asking the other passengers in the cabin for change. She first did a general plea to the group, and then she asked us each individually. "Miss? How about you? I'm semi-homeless right now." I shook my head silently, then looked away, which seems to be a popular choice in dealing with beggers. After she had asked each of us in turn, she began yelling at the group. She asked what she had ever done to us. She wondered why we were so mean. Then she speculated that we might each be the devil hisself. Again, I tried to find comfort in her situation. I may be stuck in Newark for the evening, but at least I am not begging on the shuttle. Again, it did not work.
Finally, we arrived at Terminal C, and I readied myself to sprint. On the narrow escalator, I was behind Begging Lady, who had become Crazy Yelling Lady. She yelled that no one had better touch her stuff, that she went to school and earned that stuff, it was hers. I was too busy preparing my bags for a hard run to pay her mind.
I got to security at 9:50. Continental has a system where you can call up your boarding pass on your smartphone. I hadn't planned on doing that, being a little suspicious of using a boarding pass that I could not hold in my hands. But that was before I got off at the wrong Newark. Now, as I ran full tilt to Security Checkpoint 3, I embraced the new technology. I got through the short security line, tweezers and all, and did another sprint to gate C103. When I arrived, panting, the plane wasn't even boarding, and the schedule departure time now said 9:17. But I was there. I had made it. I ate a Snickers and tried to untangle to Newark-induced knot in my stomach.
Two hours later, I landed in Raleigh. And just as badly as I had felt in Newark, when even the floods in Pakistan could not cheer me up, once in North Carolina, I felt elated. I wanted to kiss every tree. I sang a made-up song to my car as I walked through the parking deck. I didn't even care about the parking fees, which were higher than I expected. I drove home. Upon entering my front door, I dumped my bags and left them where they landed, while I received the much-needed human comfort I had desired in the form of an extended hug from my sweet man. Then he held me while I told him how much I hated Newark.