Our plans sounded fine when we made them: after Spamalot, Peter and I went to Brooklyn for supper and to his place for a film. The plan was I’d return to Philip’s at midnight (or later) when he’d be home to let me in. Time flew and it was suddenly 12:30 a.m. Sunday night and I departed from Peter’s a little apprehensive about riding the subway in the middle of the night out to East Harlem. The subway ride was fine, utterly uneventful. I got out near Phil’s and free from the underground, called his cell phone. Oddly, it went straight to voice mail. I left a message and walked on. But by the time I got there he hadn’t called back. I called again, and then again a few minutes later. The apartment door was locked, and other than some “ladies” on the street corner, the area was strangely quiet and deserted, completely different from the previous two noisy nights.
The buzzer on the door did nothing (I found out later it doesn’t work) and I racked my brains for a solution: I had absolutely no other way to get a hold of my cousin. If his mobile phone was turned off or out of power or broken or he was merely sleeping, I had no way to get in touch with him. I only knew the first name of his roommate, and I didn’t know anyone else in New York. I had my cousin Peter’s number in Brooklyn, but not only was that a 45 minute subway right in the opposite direction, Peter had told me he always leaves his phone on vibrate: he would be unlikely to hear me call. What was I to do? Here I was alone in East Harlem, with nothing but the clothes on my back, no way to get inside the apartment building, no way to wake Phil, and it was nearly two o’clock in the morning!
My first thought was that Phil had accidentally left his phone off and was sleeping: but surely he’d wake up a wonder where I was. He’d notice the voice mails I’d left him and call, right? But it might be a while before he happened to wake up, so I thought maybe there’d be a 24-hour restaurant I could hang out in. But this was East Harlem: even the McDonald’s was closed except for the walk-up window. Google Maps on my iPhone was useless for finding a hotel (the one it found nearby turned out to be homeless shelter). Finally I found some cops and asked them for help. They were brilliant, suggesting that I was nuts for being there in the middle of the night. “What are you doing here? This isn’t a safe place. You shouldn’t be out here!” I was like, “Duh! That’s why I’m asking for your help!”
Finally one of them suggested I find a taxi and have the driver find a hotel; that seemed as good as anything, though I dreaded the thought of what a hotel in Manhattan would cost me. The cost would be even more insulting since it would only be for half a night and I didn’t even have a change of clothes or anything else for a comfortable night’s sleep!
The taxi driver turned out to be a great guy: the first couple of places we stopped at were full, but then he found a place off Central Park that had a vacancy. The desk clerk said, “You know this is dormitory housing, right?” I was like, “Huh?” I soon learned this was a hostel, so most of the rooms were shared, with bunk beds. Under most circumstances that wouldn’t have been my travel accommodation of choice, but in this situation it sounded perfect: for about $35 I could get off the street and sleep in relative safety and comfort. Much better than crashing on a bench in Central Park and probably not waking up!
I was a little nervous about the room as I made my way down the hall. What if someone stole my wallet or iPhone while I slept? But I was soon comforted in an usual way. The room was dark but I saw an empty lower bunk and took it. I found an awkward brick in my back and thought at first it was a heated blanket control unit as it had a cord attached. But the cord ended in two small knobs and wasn’t connected to anything. Suddenly I realized I was holding an iPod with earbuds! Sure enough, when I touched the controls, the iPod lit up brightly in the dark room. For a moment I wondered why someone would leave a perfectly good iPod — then I realized that the bed I was in was occupied! Probably the person had gone to the restroom or something. So I hastened out of the bed and up to the unused top bunk. Sure enough, a few minutes later a figure came in and climbed into that lower bed and began playing with the iPod. I lay back thinking, “Well, this can’t be too unsafe if someone’s willing to leave his iPod in the room.”
I won’t say I had a great night’s sleep: I slept in my clothes with my shoes on and a hand on my wallet and iPhone. The place was quiet and I was tired, but I was also keyed up, uncomfortable, and my contacts were killing me since I had no way to take care of them. (I’m really not supposed to sleep in them but I had little choice.)
In the morning, I checked my iPhone but there was nothing from Phil, which I thought was odd. I knew he had to get up early to get his daughter, so surely he would have noticed my voice mails and called me. But nothing. I sent him a text message, and for good measure, an email as well.
At about 7:30 or so he called. He was shocked to discover I’d been trying to get a hold of him. “I have no messages, no voice mails, no missed calls, nothing,” he said. “This is terrible. I had no idea. I waited up but when you didn’t come or call, I figured you must have decided it was too late and crashed at Peter’s place.” Phil had seen my email and that’s why he’d called.
We eventually learned there was a problem with AT&T’s network that was effecting Phil’s phone. If he reset his phone the new voice mails would show up, but they weren’t showing up automatically when received. He’d also missed calls from other people. Emails went through fine, but not voice mails or text messages.
In the end, everything worked out fine. I had a bit of an adventure, and there was no real discomfort and nobody got hurt. It was a good lesson in over-reliance on technology: we should have had a backup plan. The same scenario could have happened if Phil had been hit by a bus or lost or broken his phone. It’s really not good to only have a single source of communication. Something to think about.
I have chalked the whole thing up to a wild New York adventure! Though I must say I’m glad it’s over.