Molten Boron Goes to Newark Liberty International Airport

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School starts for me at 11:15 tomorrow morning. My winter vacation officially has left than half a day left to live. In light of that, I feel it is appropriate to solemnize its passing by recounting its rather inauspicious start.

I was booked on a flight to San Diego out of Newark Liberty International Airport that was scheduled to depart at 7:45. The flight was to occur on December 21st, also the day of my last final, Evidence. The Evidence final went from 10 AM to 1 PM. The Evidence Final also occurred at the end of a vicious gauntlet of five finals, each more harrowing than the last, with breaks of two days between them at most, half a day or less at the least.

In the confusion of finals I made a number of crucial errors the avoidance of which would have made my trip to Newark Liberty far more pleasant. First, I failed to schedule a shuttle ahead of time. In my haughty self-confidence I had decided that $20 was far too much to pay for a trip to the airport when I could get there via public transportation for a mere $7. By the time I began to think that perhaps a shuttle would be worth the price it was too late to call one. Second, I failed to buudget my time to include an allocation to pack and prepare for my trip before my final. While this may have been for the best with respect to my grades, it proved unfortunate when it came time to get ready to leave for the airport. Third, and this is a more general error in judgment, I got very, very little sleep during the final period in general and the night before my evidence exam in particular. By the time my exam was finished I was exhausted and left to pack my bags and get myself to the airport on two hours sleep and the lingering effect of the stimulants I had taken for my ADD that morning.

This may help to explain the frustration I felt and the general lack of clarity in my thinking during the episode that followed.

I arrived home around 2 PM. I had spent half an hour in semi-coherent conversation with fellow law students on such engaging topics as how great it was to be done with school for the semester and exactly how much of a bitch the prior exam had been ("Quite a bit of one, actually" was the general consensus). I arrived home and promptly collapsed onto the couch, where I engaged myself for the next hour and 15 minutes playing through the first Metal Slug game on my Wii. This proved to be the first notable error of my trip home.

I finished and did a mental calculation of how much time it would take to reach Newark Liberty. My flight was to depart at 7:45. It was to start boarding at 7:15. Figure I want to be at the gate no later than that. Add 30 minutes to be on the safe side, so 6:45. Thirty minutes to go through security, 6:15. No need to check bags, and I'd already checked in on-line. I'd be taking a bus from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, but that couldn't take more than half an hour, so 5:45. Fifteen minutes to get from the subway to the ticket office to the bus at the Port Authority, 5:30. And half an hour to take the subway down to 42nd Street, so I should depart at 5:00. Beautiful, I had an hour and forty-five minutes to wrap my Christmas presents for the family, pack, and do some light cleaning before I left. I did so, but kept thinking of little things that needed doing before I left or items to add to my pack. Then I would decide that items needed taking out of my pack in order to accomodate stuff I would be bringing back from San Diego. Then I realized that, really, how could I live without that item, and I'm sure one more bafmodad wouldn't hurt. I left the house, reasonably assured that I had thought of everything, around 5:10.

Around 5:15, I passed the library at the end of the block and remembered that I had checked out some CDs that would be due in the middle of break. Crap! Well, I had made a generous calculation of the time required to get to Newark Liberty, plus there was that extra half-hour of slack time. I ran back to the apartment, got the CDs, turned them in at the library, and was on my way by, I'd guess, 5:25.

The subway ride was uneventful. The Port Authority was not. I arrived about 5:45, a bit behind schedule. I found my way to the New Jersey Transit ticket counter and asked for a round-trip ticket to Newark Liberty. With a grunt the counter worker dispensed two slips of paper with the baffling notation "Interstate 4 Zone Ride 107-PABT Thank You." I tried to ask a question but was told I needed to get out of the way for the next customer. I wandered off in search of a directory, hoping that it would direct me to the New Jersey Transit buses.

It did not. The Port Authority keeps its bus stops in four geographically distinct locations identified only by number. While a given stop is only used by a single bus company, that isn't really the concern of the Port Authority or its directories. The Directory will lead you to one of three Duane Reade drug stores or the Wetzel's Pretzelry, but busses aren't really a priority. I began scouting the different embarkation areas. All four came up blank.

At this point I almost paniced, then reminded myself that panic was unlikely to solve anything. It was then that I noticed a sign reading "Buses to Airport." I followed it to a magical zone not on the directory, where I found a sign pointing to New Jersey Transit buses. I eventually found a staircase labeled 107. "Ah-ha!" I thought. "That's what I'm looking for."

I went upstairs and found a stop labeled 103, one labeled 107L, and a third labeled 107X. No buses, though. I began to get worried. Where was 107 PABT? Well, maybe I could ask the driver when one of the buses arrived. First came the 107L, but I decided that that couldn't be what I was looking for; L stands for Limited, so it must be limited stops. I was drawn to the 107X that arrived just behind it. I waited in line, boarded the bus, and asked just as I was about to insert my ticket "This goes to the airport, right?"

"Nope, this is the Express bus. You want the Local, right behind us."

("Whoops" I thought.)

I made my way as carefully as one can with a backpack and a large black piece of luggage back through the line of annoyed bus passengers behind me. I ran back to the 107L and sat down. It was about 6:15. Surely I would be fine.

The bus sat there. Eventually a rider went up and asked the driver when the bus would be leaving. Not until 6:30, came the answer. No big deal. It shouldn't take too long to get there, not long to get through security, and it wasn't strictly necessary that I arrive right when they began boarding, so long as I got there before they pushed back from the gate. I re-adjusted by goal from "Arrive before they start boarding" to "arrive before they take off at 7:45."

As we began driving and then stopped, thirty seconds later, when confronted by a wall of cars, I suddenly recalled that driving into New Jersey from Manhattan during rush hour on a work day was not the speediest mode of transportation ever devised. This might delay me further. As time wore on my drowsiness overtook me and I very nearly fell asleep. This may, perhaps, explain what happened next.

We were driving down the New Jersey Turnpike, not making any stops. We began passing signs that said "Newark Liberty Exit - 2 miles," "Newark Liberty Exit - 1 Mile," "Newark Liberty - Next Exit." We took the off-ramp. It deposited us at the outskirts of the airport, at the very edge of a large parking lot. We passed a dark, desultory bus stop on the right. A sign loomed above us: "Right Lane - Terminal A. Middle Lane - Terminal B. Left Lane - U Turn to New Jersey Turnpike." Alright, I thought to myself, pay attention now. Look for which terminal services Continental and get off at that stop. The bus abruptly veered left. We got into the left lane and looped around back onto the on-ramp.

"Oh shit!" I thought to myself.

"Oh shit!" I exclaimed, much to the chagrin of my Bible-reading seatmate. The woman in front of me turned around and asked if I had wanted to get off at the airport. Yes, I replied, and asked her where the next stop was as we pulled unto the highway.

"Just get off at the next stop and take the bus going in the other direction."

This made sense. I thanked her, hit the Stop Request button, and waited until we got off the freeway again. I got up and stumbled off of the bus.

I found myself standing about 100 yards from the highway off-ramp under a broken street light. There wasn't an intersection in sight. I was surrounded by warehouses. The streets were paved with broken glass bottles. There was no bus stop on the other side of the street. There were no cabs in sight. There were no pay phones. The sun had set an hour ago and the night was pitch black. At this point, I stopped caring about whether I would make my plane and started caring about whether I would survive the night.

It is also more or less at this point that I decided that panicing was my best possible option, given that none of my other choices seemed to offer any better prospect of success. I started running like in the direction the bus had gone. I stopped when I reached a bridge that I couldn't see over, and decided I would really prefer to see whatever it was I was walking towards. I fell to my knees and shouted for help. It was not forthcoming. I held my head and told myself to calm down. I got up, looked around, and finally noticed the bus stop in the other direction about 50 yards from where I had been dropped off. I crossed the street and waited. Nothing came.

Up until now I was alone, which I decided was a blessing. That ended when I heard a group of young men approaching on foot from the off-ramp. My nerves got the better of me and I decided to walk in the opposite direction. As I did so I got a better angle on the warehouse to my left. It seemed to have an awfully large parking lot for so small a facility. Then I realized that it wasn't a warehouse at all, but a private parking lot servicing the airport. The warehouse-like facility with loading docks was the garage used to service the shuttles.

I ran around the barbed-wire fence that enclosed the lot, into the building, and approached the counter.

"Please can you help me?! I got off at the wrong stop on the bus and I need to get to the airport fast to catch my plane and I'll pay for the service but I just need to get to the airport!"

"Don't worry, you can take the shuttle. It's free!"

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Outside a shuttle was getting ready to depart. The driver tried to keep me out; wait for the next one.

"I can't wait! My plane leaves in, like, 5 minutes and I need to get to the airport now and I can stand please let me on!"

He grudgingly aceded.

The clock in the shuttle said it was 7:20. By 7:25 I was at the airport. 20 minutes to get to my plane. I steeled myself to be that asshole who cuts to the front of the security line because he's late for his plane, but it wasn't necessary. There was no line to show ID and boarding passes, and I had only to get straight into the screening line and begin stripping myself of metal objects. I picked the shortest one, behind a family of three asian people.

Unfortunately, the family I was behind had a less-than-fluent understanding of the English language. They didn't seem to know what could and could not be taken on the flight or through the metal detectors. I took command of the situation by silently alternating between hyperventilating and spasming nervously. I couldn't switch to another line, they were already filling up. I couldn't get in front of the family, because their bags were already in the machine and couldn't be gotten out without causing more delay. I eventually made my way through, tastefully ignoring the snide remark by the woman behind me that I was holding up the line.

It was now 7:40.

Newark's Terminal C, where my flight departed from, has a hub-and-spokes design, with the security check at the hub and the gates on three spokes. I was at the right-most security check on the hub. My flight departed from Gate C135, the gate at the tip of the left-most spoke.

I ran until I was too exhausted to run, slowed to a walk while heaving for air, then summoned the energy for another burst of running. I pushed past people standing on the moving walk way, I narrowly dodged small children wandering in Brownian Motion paths. At last I reached Gate 135, featuring a Flight departing for... San Juan, Puerto Rico. I looked at my ticket. 7:45, San Diego, Gate C135. I ran up to the attendant at the gate. This time I did ignore the line. At this point I was both excited and out of breath. I said something to the effect of:

"I'mterriblysorryforcuttinginlinebutI'msupposed *HEAVE!* tobeonaflighttosandiegoandit'ssupposedtoleavefromherebutit'snothereand *HEAVE!* diditalreadyleaveandPLEASEHELPME!"

"Calm down, there's no rush. Let me check for you."

I noted on the screen that it was now 7:45. I considered telling her that I begged to differ on the question of whether there was a rush or not, but decided against it.

"Your gate has been changed. You're flying out of Gate C90"


"Calm down! There's no hurry! It's at the end of the right-most spoke. But don't worry, your flight's been delayed. It doesn't leave until 7:55."

"Thank you!" I shouted as I began jogging back the way I'd come.

"There's plenty of time! Don't run!"

I arrived just as the last passengers were boarding. I got at the end of the line and heaved a sign of relief. My nerves were still tightly balled. Just ahead of me a woman was boarding the plane with her young daughter. She was saying to her, in a grating Minnewegian accent, "Are you exciiiiiiiteeeeed? We're gonna get on the plaaaaaaaaane! It's gonna be fuuuuuuuunnnnn!"

I very nearly shouted to her, "If you don't stop talking RIGHT NOW I will PUNCH you in the FUCKING FACE!" I decided, though, that getting thrown off the flight for threatening another passenger would probably not be a wise course of action.

I found my seat and sat down. The woman next to me was rather chagrined that I had chosen to show up at the last minute, depriving her of the opportunity to stretch out into my seat. I didn't care. I sat back and waited for take-off.

It was a long wait. I have mentioned Newark Liberty's hub-and-spokes design. Gate C90 is at the end of the right-most spoke, on the inside. Apparently another plane, as it was taxiing out of the interstice between the rightmost and middle spoke, broke its landing gear. It was stuck on the tarmac, preventing any entrance or exit for planes in that area.

Once the flight was in the air the trip was largely uneventful. I had the opportunity to watch Pirates of the Caribbean 2 (Mini-review: Not as good as I had been led to believe it would be, though I'm willing to allow that the roar of the engines made me miss some of the dialogue, and that, having not seen the first film, I was perhaps not as familiar with the characters and situations as I ought to have been to fully appreciate it) and to re-watch The Devil Wears Prada (Mini-review: This film starts out very promisingly, with a montage of shots of attractive young women donning fashionable underpants. It begins to lose its way, however, as it stops showing underpants and becomes over-concerned with the occupants of said underpants. Once dialogue entered the film it became a lost cause. The screenwriter should have known his limits, or perhaps the limits of the source material, and stuck to underpants.) Miraculously, I stayed awake the entire time.

Fortunately, the trip to the airport was pretty much the lowpoint of the break. At this point, I have flown out of Neward twice and twice have been put in fear for my life because of the journey. I submit to you that this is strong circumstantial evidence that Newark Liberty Airport is not to be trusted, and that people should avoid travelling to it whenever possible.

1 Comment

Newark Liberty sucks so hard, that when traveling to NJ on business, we'd fly into Allentown, PA and then drive the last hour and change to our destination.

I feel your pain.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on January 8, 2007 12:32 AM.

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