Short Relief: Escape from New York

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Contrary to advice, I drove into New York City the evening of Sunday, Dec. 26. I couldn’t help it. We had seven tickets to “Phantom of the Opera” at the Majestic Theater and they weren’t cheap.

Given the prediction of snow, we decided to head into the city early so as to have plenty of time to park and grab a bite to eat before the show. After all, we were Mainers, we knew how to deal with snow. We piled into the SUV and headed into the city as the snow fell.

I knew we weren’t in Maine anymore as I merged from the exit ramp of the George Washington Bridge onto the Henry Hudson Parkway heading southbound. It was dark. The road was empty. From out of nowhere, lights swirled around me. Looking into the rear view mirror, I could see another SUV, doing a 360-degree spin, just behind me.

Otherwise, our trip into the city was relatively uneventful. At 44th Street, I turned left and headed east. It was slow going, but progress was possible until a cabbie stopped in the middle of the street, obstructing traffic, to brush the snow off his cab. He did a very thorough job of it.

Eventually, we found the theater and an underground parking lot nearby. As we reached the street, the snow was blowing hard, making it difficult to see. We tried Carmine’s for dinner, but were told the wait would be an hour and 15 minutes. Sardi’s was more accommodating. They had a table for us right away and we had a pleasant dinner surrounded by caricatures of famous actors and a few mayors.

The journey across the street to the theater wasn’t into thin air, but it wasn’t easy either. Inside, it was warm and dry. The lights went down, the curtain came up, and the bidding for the Phantom’s music box began. It was a blockbuster of a show, with a great score and impressive special effects.

After the Phantom’s heart had been moved by Christine’s selfless love for Vicomte Raoul, we headed back into the storm. By now, conditions were significantly worse. I started west on 45th Street, but cars were getting stuck everywhere and I became concerned that we could get trapped behind one on such a narrow street. I decided to head down to 42nd Street, thinking that the chances of getting stuck were less on a street that’s four lanes wide.

At first, my maneuver seemed to pay off and we made good progress. Then a guy in front of me, who wasn’t able to get forward traction, decided to make a U-turn. I went around him to the right.

Around 10th Avenue, I encountered a line of buses, pulled to the right, with their lights flashing. Understanding this to mean that they had wisely taken themselves out of service, I started to go around them to the left. To my surprise, they moved left to block me. I rolled down the window to inquire. The driver was unpleasant. I gave her wider birth.

All of the sudden, a cab coming from the opposite direction veered directly at me. I was able to squeeze between him and the line of buses, only to confront a log-jam of cars. My brother hopped out and broke the jam using a combination of diplomacy, traffic direction, and his shoulder.

We made it back to the West Side Highway and headed north. The going was considerably slower than it had been coming in. There was a surprising amount of traffic. At 72nd Street, I saw the first plows of the night. Three sanitation trucks were poised to get on. I elected not to wait for them.

When we got to the first exit for the bridge, cars were backsliding on the ramp. The second exit was clear. I circled up toward the lower level of the GWB. It looked like we were home free – until we reached the final curve of the on-ramp.

A line of about five cars was stopped. My brother got out again, went to the lead car, and rapped on the window. After several minutes of his ministrations, the car moved on. When I picked him up, he reported that they had stopped because they were afraid of overheating. He suggested that they pull over a hundred yards further on, where the road widened to two lanes and their concerns would not impede others.

We got home around 1 a.m. The next day, the news reported the snowfall to be 2 feet, the sixth deepest on record for the city. It took me three hours to shovel my mother’s driveway.

New Yorkers were livid at their elected, “No Labels,” “I’m above partisan politics” Mayor Michael Bloomberg, because their streets had not been plowed. The City Council announced it would investigate the city’s poor response and the rumor that it was the product of a union slow-down.

For better and worse, that sort of thing doesn’t happen in Maine. There was hardly a peep about Portland’s poor response to its first major snowfall of the season on Monday evening, Dec. 21, when there wasn’t a plow in sight, traffic in downtown Portland was gridlocked for two hours and the outer thoroughfares were bumper-to-bumper. I didn’t get home until about 9 that night.

At least by the winter of 2012 I’ll have an elected mayor to complain to.

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Halsey Frank is a Portland resident, attorney and former chairman of the Republican City Committee.