Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Road trip to New York

A bus trip to New York.

You knew there would be drama.

And there was plenty this past weekend, when a handful of friends and I joined a group of 250 people who took four buses from Charlotte to New York to see “The Color Purple” on Broadway.

Before I get into the drama, I will say that I had a great time. I paid $350 for the trip, which included the bus ride, excellent seats for the play, and rooms at a Sheraton hotel.

In New York, I shopped, enjoyed the play, and went clubbing at Cielo in the Meatpacking District.

The lessons I learned:
1) Plan your own itinerary before the trip.
2) Bring your laptop.
3) Know the address of where your planning to go, and don't be afraid to ask New Yorkers for help.
4) Don't rely on a chartered bus to get you anywhere on time in New York.
5) Bring cash for cabs, trains and the subway.
6) Wear comfortable shoes.
7) Do not eat a Greek omelet at 3 a.m. knowing you have to catch a bus back to Charlotte in six hours. Really bad idea.

The drama

We arrived at Hopewell High School on Beatties Ford Road for the registration at 10:30 Friday night. All four buses were already there. Maybe -- just maybe -- we might leave on schedule at 11 p.m., I thought.


An hour later, I hoped we’d get on the road by midnight.
The delay? The line to register stretched down a hallway inside the building, and the organizers were collecting money for breakfast at the same time. Plus, there was confusion about whether we needed to have our bags while we waited in the registration line, and what we were supposed to do after we checked in.

Then there didn’t seem to be enough seats on the assigned buses. Everyone had to get off the bus and board one by one to make sure they were on the correct bus. Think of Noah’s Ark without the rain.

At midnight, we rumbled out of the parking lot. A few minutes later, I looked out of the window and realized that we weren’t cruising down I-77 headed to I-85. Instead, we were pulling into the parking lot of a mini-shopping center off Beatties Ford Road.

The bus driver dashed into a store, and then returned to the bus with an armful of toilet tissue. This trip wasn’t planned yesterday. Why wasn’t there any toilet tissue on the bus?

Who has the turkey pepperoni?

My friend Cee-lo is crawling on the floor of the bus looking for her package of turkey pepperoni.

Anytime you take a bus trip, you have to pack snacks. The traditional snacks for black folks are canned soda and fried chicken wrapped in aluminum foil.

But not L-Boogie and Cee-lo. They pull out two bottles of wine, turkey pepporoni and cheese. Somehow, the bag of turkey pepperoni (which was quite tasty) disappears. L-Boogie will not rest until she finds it. I swore I saw Frodo scurrying off with it toward the front of the bus.

Cee-lo crawls along the floor as passengers lift their legs and move their bags so she can see. Cee-lo finds the pepperoni!

Think of Gollum getting his hand on the ring -- my precious.

On the road again

It’s sometime after 2 a.m. on Saturday, and my friend Road Dawg yells, “We have an emergency! Stop the bus!”

I look under my seat for a defibrillator. I figure someone must be having a heart attack. Nope. Road Dawg’s sister is having a panic attack.

Apparently, the toilet tissue-less bus driver sprayed some kind of disinfectant in the bathroom (which hadn’t been cleaned prior to the trip) that smelled awful. The combination of the tight quarters and the odor made Road Dawg’s sister feel claustrophobic and sick.
We pass her plastic bags, and the bus driver pulls off the road so she cang get some fresh air.

The ugly rumor

We’re sitting in Golden Corral in Landover, Maryland, when the rumor starts. It’s 10 a.m., and we were supposed to be at the restaurant three hours ago. There’s a rumor going around that we're going straight to the city instead of stopping at the hotel, because we are so behind schedule.

Now, mind you, some women are wearing bedroom clothes and slippers, and folks haven’t brushed their teeth or washed their 2000 Lever parts in more than eight hours. Yuck. We plan a mutiny.

Homey We Made It

We arrive at our hotel about 3 p.m. I quiz the hotel staff about catching the train to and from New York. I bump into Road Dawg, who’s looking for ice, and ask when the bus will head to the city. She doesn’t know.

I return to the room. Road Dawg sends me a text at 4:17 p.m.: “Bus leaving at 4:15 p.m.”

I laugh. I haven’t showered, and there’s a Maker’s on the rocks calling my name. Road Dawg is on the bus. I text L-Boogie and tell her my girl and I are taking the train into the city.
L-Boogie, Cee-lo, my girl and I catch the 4:55 p.m. train to New York.

Road Dawg, who is on the bus, sends me a text: “We still riding.” It’s 5:42 p.m.

Our train announcer announces our arrival at Penn Station.
We get off the train. My spidey senses tingle. I look at the signs, and I see one for Newark airport. I don’t think we’re at the right Penn Station. We head downstairs and ask a police officer. He laughs. It's a common mistake. We’re at Newark Penn Station, not New York Penn Station.

The next train to New York is at 6:15 p.m.

It’s 5:45 p.m. We grab sandwiches and sit in a bar to kill time.

Road Dawg sends me a text at 5:59 p.m.

“Still riding.”

Partying at the Cielo

The DJ plays ’90s house music hits. Two men vogue.
The last time I saw guys vogueing was at a gay bar in Winston-Salem in October. I figured they were just country, and didn’t know vogueing was so '90s.

I don’t know what to make of these guys. We’re at Cielo nightclub, and it’s a Sunday night. The club is famous for Monday night’s Deep Space party, which features DJ Francois K. Co-owner Nicolas Matar DJ'd for eight years at Pacha, the renowned Ibiza club, before opening Cielo.

Cielo is an intimate dance club with a lounge feel. It has a sunken dance floor, cozy ground-level tables, and soft log-like seats surrounding the dance floor. There’s a heated patio outside, and the bar is only large enough to order drinks, not linger and sit.

On Sunday night, the club seemed like the island of misfit toys. There is an odd collection of people -- gay and straight, corny and cool. Nearly everyone in the club dances. A few smoke on the outdoor patio. A handful stand around the bar watching the dancers.
The DJ spins house music songs I grew up with, such as “Lonely People.”

It’s 12:15 a.m. Monday, and the last train back to New Jersey leaves at 1:48 a.m. I tell everyone in our crew -- my girl, Road Dawg, Cee-lo, L-Boogie and another couple -- that we have to leave the club by 1 a.m., or we will be stuck in New York.

OJ Simpson time

We leave Cielo at 1 a.m., and head to the subway station. It takes about 15 minutes to get there. At 1:25 a.m., we’re standing on the track waiting for the train that will get us back to Penn Station, where we have to buy tickets and catch another train to New Jersey.

L-Boogie says we’re not going to make it.

The train arrives a few minutes later. We arrive at Penn Station at 1:37 a.m. I sprint up the steps to find the NJ Transit kiosks. An announcer says the last train to New Jersey leaves in 10 minutes.
My girl looks for a transit official to figure out what track the New Jersey train leaves from. The rest of us buy tickets.

Five minutes to go.

Me, my girl and Road Dawg sprint down the steps to Track 9. The train is already there. Four of our friends haven’t made it down the steps yet.

I’m having visions of an earlier incident on Sunday afternoon, when L-Boogie and a couple of other folks missed a train. But that was in New Jersey, and the next one came 15 minutes later.

This time, we were in New York, and this was the last train out of the city. I look up the steps. The last four storm down the stairs.

We all make it.

I smile, thinking I will never take a bus trip to New York again, and I will never stay in New Jersey again.
But boy did I have fun.

What about "The Color Purple?"

I’m not blogging about the musical. Read my take on “The Color Purple” next week in my online column That’s Wassup!.

I will tell you this: Fantasia, who watched from a balcony seat on Sunday, is going to be great as Celie. She has a much stronger voice than the current actress.

Fantasia makes her Broadway debut on Tuesday, and I have a feeling that performance will be emotionally overwhelming for her. It’s her first, and too much of Celie’s life mirrors her own.