Thursday, November 29, 2007

NYC Traffic: Not for Claustrophobes

A colleague of mine was in town this week from Germany, and we had some appointments scheduled together all day Tuesday. Being that this was his first time in the U.S., I suggested that it might be fun for him to stay in NYC - see some of the sights, take in the city, etc. There's nothing sexy about going back to your friends in Germany and telling them that you took in 'Central New Jersey'. So he took my advice, and booked an expensive hotel room right in Midtown Manhattan. (Most hotel rooms in NYC this time of year are about $400-$600 a night, with all the tourists in town to see Rockefeller Center, etc.)

My fateful hotel suggestion came back to haunt me as I sat in traffic for a good 2 hours during morning rush hour on my way to pick him up. I left my place around 7:00am - and didn't arrive at his hotel near Times Square until about 9:00am - a drive that would normally take about 30 minutes. I have 150 XM Radio Channels - so passing the time isn't so bad, it's more the white knuckled, caged-in, and other-worldly experience of driving in New York City.

First off, there are only 4 types of vehicles you will see in Manhattan:
  • Taxi Cabs
  • Limos and Lincoln Towncars (basically fancy taxis)
  • Delivery Vehicles
  • and a distant 4th...normal cars like mine

If you happen to be driving during morning or afternoon rush hour, you also have an additional crush of pedestrians on their way to and from work. Surprisingly, the crowds are pretty good at only crossing the street when the traffic lights tell them to. But not all of them. People are constantly darting out onto the streets, and running across wherever they please. If I could write J-walking tickets, I could retire a billionaire in about a month.

I'm typically a fairly docile driver; about as far as you can get from road rage. But in the 3 or 4 hours I was 'driving' around the city - I probably hit my horn 10 to 15 times. It's true, and not just a cliche - there really are overweight guidos in delivery vans laying on their horns and yelling, "OH! What is this guy doin! Move it buddy!!!" Polite Midwestern drivers will get eaten alive in this jungle. You see an opening - you gotta take it, or 3 cars will zoom in before you blink. Also, if you don't like close quarters - you better stay away. Cars are wedged in so close - I was fairly certain I was going to be sideswiped about 5 different times. This fear is amplified when you're driving a fairly new car without a scratch on it.

If you're not planning to cruise Manhattan anytime soon, here's how you can recreate the experience in your own peaceful suburb:

  • Get 5 friends, and have them box your car in with their cars. As tight as possible.
  • Find an elementary school, and get 100 third graders to play a giant game of tag all around the area where your cars are parked.
  • Open a can of bees in your car, and keep the windows up.
  • Now, everyone inch their cars forward - one at a time, but never more than 3 feet at a time.
  • Try not to run over any children, and do your best to ignore the swirling bees.
  • If available, put in a CD with recorded sounds of horns honking and policemen blowing whistles.

In the end it was worth it - my customers ate up this guy and his German accent, and we closed 2 pretty sizeable deals. We Americans are suckers for a foreign accent.

When you finally get clear of the city traffic, every corpuscle in your body wants to get out on a freeway and drive 100 mph. I also had an overwhelming urge to go running when I got home. I can't help but think that if you lived in Manhattan, you'd have this closed-in feeling all the time....

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