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Monday, August 25, 2003
(personal) Travels, part 2  
So I'm finished with the conference, and I get to continue my US adventure. I'm heading to New York, and I've got as far as my stopover in Denver. I'm cursing the fact that I have to wait three hours or so for my connecting flight. I've just purchased a copy of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (after laughing my way through a chapter of Ann Coulter's Treason in the bookstore).

I get to the boarding gate, and the airline staff are saying something about '....flight delayed. Take a look at CNN'. So I walk over to the TV and see the first pictures of the NYC power blackout. Pretty soon, it's clear that this isn't something local, or something that will be over quickly, so I do what any sensible New Zealander would in this situation. I go to the bar. Where I watch CNN and see the blackout spreading through Jersey, Conneticut, even Ohio.

I'm convinced there's no chance of reaching NYC that night, so I rebook for Philadelphia the next day, and email everyone I can think of to tell them I'm OK (just in case NY descends into riots and they think I'm in it). I also phone Cory (who I'm supposed to be staying with), but can't get through as cellphone networks are down.

Surprisingly, a few hours later flights are back on, so I get on my originally scheduled (but now 3 hours late) flight. There's hardly anyone on it - I've got a whole row to myself, so I try to catch some sleep. We arrive La Guardia around midnight, to applause from the passengers. I must commend United Airlines' staff - they were great in a really difficult situation. La Guardia is mostly dark, with essential lights and electronics running from a generator. It's midnight, but maintenance men are still hard at work, trying to get water running in the toilets. Baggage handlers are working by hand as the carousels aren't working. People are sleeping all over the arrivals lounge, on the floor, on the stationary carousels. I join them (the floor is quite pleasant, and the cold helps with the lack of air conditioning).

Next day I manage to get a bus into downtown Manhattan. This is the only downer of the trip. The bus is supposed to go to Penn Station. It doesn't, it just goes to Times Sq. Which is cool, I understand things are difficult. But when I try to ask the driver how to get to Penn, he just snarls at me that I'm lucky I even got into the city. Maybe he's right. There are hundreds of people wandering around who clearly slept on the streets (uh, that's in addition to the hundreds of people who usually sleep on the streets, obviously). In a park, Liz Phair is getting ready to play a free concert. I don't know why, and I don't stick around. I help an Australian backpacker with her navigation (she's looking for a hostel that is "somewhere near Central Park"), then head to Penn Station. Luckily, the Jersey transit is working. There's one scary moment when our train is announced, and a crowd of people flood down the stairs. I really thought for a moment that someone would get trampled.

Get into Hamilton. Try to call Cory. No answer. Phones don't seem to be working. Shit. She's only a 20 minute drive away, but she thinks I'm going to be in Philly, not Jersey. What do to? The internet to the rescue! I ask at the station if they know any internet cafes in the area. After establishing that they barely knew what the internet was, they suggest the parking attendant's office. So I go ask him if he knows where I can get online. "Nowhere I can think of round here...except on this computer". I wait hopefully...."go ahead and use it if you like".

What a saint! This is one of the things which I really noticed on this trip - there are many many very helpful and friendly people in the States. It takes me about 5 minutes to track Cory down on line, send her a personal message, and within half an hour she's there to pick me up.....


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