I am such a good Host Mother.
Really. I am.
I make pancakes and waffles for my German temporary son. I do his laundry. I pick him up from his girlfriend’s house three days a week, at least, and I never bug him about homework.
And my awesomeness hit its peak when I offered to take him and a friend to New York City during our April vacation. I knew that he wanted to go, knew that he had always dreamed of seeing the Big Apple. And he is a boy from Berlin, stuck out here in the backwoods of New England. Stuck in a place where the biggest excitement comes when a moose wanders into town.
I kinda figured I owed him the trip, you know?
Even though I’m wicked scared of big cities. Even though I’ve hated New York ever since my grad school days at Rutgers, when I had too many run-ins with rude, obnoxious native New Yorkers. Even though I’m pretty neurotic about being in charge of two teenaged boys in the City That Never Sleeps.
I contacted a friend who knows and loves NY and who I knew would be kind enough to host us for a couple of nights at her house on Long Island. I packed up a carload of snacks and made plans to drive from our house to the famous “High Line”. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best, and off we went.
We got to the city without the slightest mishap. Ha!
That should have been a clue.
But all was well as we made our way down the West side and looked at the river. The boys were incredibly excited, chattering away in a charming mix of German and English. They took pictures of everything, pointed out every building, every boat, every flashy sign. My heart was pounding as I tried to hear the tinny voice of the GPS app over the mixed voices and the German hip hop coming out of the speakers. Did she say “14th St” or “13th St”? Should I be in the middle lane here, or the left?
The music and the boys were starting to give me a headache, but I pressed on. I had no idea what the German artists were singing, but it sounded a lot like “Shishka-shishka-shishkabab, baby!” and it had a beat that seemed to match the rhythm of the traffic. “Boys…..”, I tried to get one of them to read the map on my iPhone, but they were shishkababbing too hard to hear me. I gulped and turned left onto 14th Street, and then followed the little voice on the phone. A left, a right, a right.
There it was. Like a miraculous mirage. The golden light of the sun poured down on it. I’m pretty sure that angels were singing.
An empty parking spot! With a meter! Allelujah!!
I pulled in and parked, my heart still pounding. Oh, my God! I’d done it! I’d brought the boys to New York, I’d driven through the city streets and now I had found a PARKING SPOT!!!!
We all hopped out, and I went to look at the meter. The directions were a little……..um……..vague. And I was still nervous. And the sun was shining directly on the face of the meter, so I was having a hard time reading it. The boys were trilling like little German birds behind me, delighted by the realization that we had parked directly in front of a German Bier Garten. I half listened to them as I slid my credit card into the slot. “Nine dollars for two hours”, I read. Yikes! It was expensive, but I shrugged. Hell of a lot cheaper than a lot, I told myself. It took me four tries to get the meter to read my card, but I finally managed to put the two hours on there. The next button read, “Print receipt”, so I did. The boys were asking me to unlock the car again because they needed something, so I pulled out the receipt and popped it into my purse.
We got our cameras and jackets and off we went. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and we walked for an hour and half, seeing the city from the elevated gardens on the High Line, eating hot dogs from a truck, and shopping for athletic shoes. We checked our watches and headed back toward the car.
I was sooooooo proud of myself! Yay, me!! I pictured the headlines, “Chicken hearted older lady takes two German boys to New York!” I hadn’t gotten lost once!! And I had found on street parking! And I had saved at least thirty bucks on parking! There was quite the little strut in my step as we wound our way back to the car. I was extra proud that we were getting there with 20 minutes left on the meter!
I was chatting along with Marvin about our fun day when suddenly Lucas stopped walking.
“Um. Where’s our car?”
I heard him ask the question, but my brain refused to register the words. There was our street. There was the adorable German restaurant. There was the meter. There was the empty spot in front of the meter.
The world stopped turning. The angels stopped singing and started snickering. I tried to speak, but all the air had left my lungs.
It. Must. Be. A. Mistake.
I looked at the restaurant. Yep. Same cute Alpine sign. Same German menu.
I closed my eyes, squeezed hard. I slowly opened them again, willing the bright red Sonata to appear at the curb.
I stood there with my mouth gaping. I’m pretty sure that a little drool escaped.
The boys dashed across the street and into the outdoor bier garten. I saw them talking to the pretty young waitress and saw her point to the curb. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, though, what with being immobilized on the opposite side of the street and the screaming noise going on in my head.
I slowly wobbled my way across to the boys, and Lucas met me with a steadying hand on my elbow and the words, “Good news. It wasn’t stolen. It got towed.”
After all I went through with that meter?! I don’t think so! My face got hot, and my ears started to burn. “B.b.b.b.b.b.bb.b….”I began to sputter, “But I….but there…..wait, but……..” The sweet young waitress was trying to figure out what had happened, and I was getting madder by the minute. I was steaming! We had 20 minutes left!!!! I could prove it, dammit!
I forced my shaking fingers to open the tiny purse I had chosen and packed specifically for this trip. It was so tiny that I could barely shove my fingers inside, but at last I managed to pull out my parking receipt. “Ha!”, I crowed, waving the ticket in the air over my head. “I can PROVE that we were legally parked!!!!!” The waitress and a very handsome dyed blonde young waiter by her side both turned to look at me. “See?!” I demanded, “See?! It says that the meter expires at 3:15 and its only 2:54 right now! See????” I pointed to the ticket in my hand. Both of the kind young waiters leaned in to see, as did the dear German boys who were counting on me to get them safely to Long Island. “It says the time right here!” My finger jabbed the time stamp and my eyes glanced down one line.
And I read, “Place this receipt on the dashboard on the driver’s side.”
All the air went out of me. I looked into the confused eyes of my boys and the sympathetic eyes of the young waiters.
“Uh. Um. Ok.” I gulped a little. My headache kicked up a notch or three. “Yes. Well. Thank you so much for your help. We’ll just…..” I turned to the meter, and read “Call 311 for any questions about the NY transit system.
I called. I pressed 1. Then 3. Then 5. Then I waited. Thank you, dear Lord, the woman who answered the phone was calm, knowledgable and (better yet), sympathetic. She guided me through the process, informing me that my car was towed away from the meter (are you ready for this?) TWO MINUTES before we got there.
It was now safely and expensively stored at “Pier 76” by the NYPD. We tried to figure out how to get to Pier 76 (why does the GPS App send you to freakin’ New Jersey when you enter “Manhattan NY”????) but finally ended up calling my pal on Long Island. She and her husband advised us to get a cab.
“OK!” I said, cheerfully, pretending that a shell-shocked middle aged lady from the woods of Central Mass would have some idea of how to hail a cab in the middle of Manhattan. I put away my phone, fought back my panic and opened my mouth to speak. All that came out was “eeeeeeeeeee????” The boys patted my back, and Berlin based Lucas began to speak in the same voice you’d use with an out of control toddler, “We’ll just get a cab, OK? It’s OK…..”
“Buh, buh, muh…….” I chittered, as he lead me by the elbow along the street. How are you supposed to stop a cab in the middle of the zillions of cars whizzing by? How? I’d never manage it! Never! The boys would be stuck forever in Manhattan, and we’d be mugged and terrorists would come and get us and rats would bite our feet and……….
I looked up to see Marvin dashing onto a side street, where a cab was stopped at the corner. “Excuse me, sir!”, he called into the passenger side winder, “Are you free? Our car was towed! We need to get to Pier 76!” The doors opened and in we piled.
We swerved through NY traffic as the boys swapped stories with the sympathetic cabbie.
Finally, we got to Pier 76. I got my paperwork and finally we got our car back. Everything was fine; nothing had been damaged or stolen. We were only about an hour behind schedule.
I settled behind the wheel and booted up the GPS App.
“OK! No more Shishkababbing while I drive!” I ordered. We got on the road to my friend’s house, where it occurred to me that in an effort to save 30 bucks, I’d ended up paying about 300.
No more big city adventures for me!!!!!!!!