The only “reality” show that I watch is the Amazing Race. It is fascinating to me as it shows the unpredictable nature of travel that we’ve all experienced at one point. The drama is much easier to watch from the comfy couch than to actually experience it for yourself. I’ve run many of my own Amazing Race type legs as a solo traveler trying to juggle travel changes. For my recent Paris/London trip with my niece, we were scheduled on the 9:30 pm flight from JFK on British Airways. I never expected to start an amazing race with diversions, a roadblock, and my 11 yo niece in tow on the way to the AirTrain.
The Amtrak leg from 30th Street Philly to NYC Penn Station was on time without issue. We met my friend for dinner at Pennsylvania 6 and I called her car service during dessert. My best laid plans started to unravel when the car didn’t show up. I called dispatch and the driver was stuck a few blocks away. No big deal I thought until it was almost 30 minutes later and he hadn’t moved and no cars drove past us. I ditched the car option and walked briskly (as much as you can with an 11 yo and bags) toward Penn Station for a cab. With police all over, barriers up and honking horns, I instantly knew something was going on so I asked the officer, who said “Obama is in town and everything is shut down”. What?! My plans (car or taxi) were quickly shot to hell with my time cushion dwindling and I was out of options (those that I was familiar with anyway) so thus began my amazing race to JFK airport.
All I knew was that there was an AirTrain, I had no clue where, what, when so I started running through Penn Station asking for directions to the AirTrain to JFK. Of course, I entered Penn Station at the New Jersey Transit side of things during rush hour (fun, fun!) to be directed down the hall, turn this way and that way to the Long Island Railroad (LIRR). My niece was a real trooper following closely behind me as I tried to stay calm as I knocked into people with my bags and said “sorry, excuse me, a lot”. I kept thinking “If I miss our flight to Paris what would we do? I hadn’t researched the “is BA nice to reschedule me if Obama blocks all roads to JFK”? (He would later block roads when he had to go to the airport).
At the LIRR ticket counter (thankfully with no line to wait in), the agent told me that I had to take the LIRR local to Jamaica and then switch to the AirTrain. She said all trains stop at Jamaica so I can’t go wrong, the next train leaving was in three minutes. We raced down the stairs with our luggage and backpacks and found seats to pull down, squeeze into and catch our breath (by this time, the wonderful dinner we had with my friend was all but forgotten save the texts she kept sending wishing us well on the race and asking for an update”).
Arriving in Jamaica we followed the signs up to the AirTrain and were helped by staff as to what tickets to buy. With the minutes ticking away, we slowly made our way to JFK and then around to all the stations before arriving at Terminal 7 for British Airways. With our Club World (business class) tickets, we quickly checked-in, made it through the private security check and to the BA lounge to decompress from our adventure before the adventure (Paris/London). My niece found comfort in the mini-sandwiches and despite my need for some wine, I opted for a bottle of water to cool off. We had less than an hour before the flight so the lounge was a pit-stop.
Thinking the BA lounge was the pit stop on our race, we would realize that we were still racing once we were seated aboard the flight and waiting to take-off. After an hour on the tarmac in line for take-off, it was announced that “due to Air Force One departure, a ground stop was in place”. We were airborne an hour and half after we left the gate, and I finally realized the race was over when my glass of wine arrived and I pulled out a cookie from my snack bag (I always travel with cookies). Whatever happened next, this initial leg was over.
The Obama roadblock on my journey from Penn Station to JFK was quite memorable and thankfully we survived to begin our amazing trip – Aunt Sue and Aubrey’s travel to Paris and London. The story will play out in the upcoming weeks so I hope you follow along – the challenges were just as daunting (you are on the Champs Elysees at 3pm and the child must eat now, what do you do? where do you go?), the rewards fantastic and the memories full of laughter and lots of chocolate (there’s always chocolate!).