Welcome to New Yawk. You Got a Problem Widdat?

NEW YORK CITY — I’m not sure how long a hike it was from our gate at JFK to Immigration and Customs, but it was a damn long way … and I was grateful for the three moving walkways that provided a bit of a respite along the route. (There was one not working, but three-out-of-four ain’t bad and it beats the hell out of the Maui airport, where the walkways have been 0-for-3 for so long that the orange cones blocking access have turned yellow.)

I knew right away I was back in the U.S. and, more specifically, in New York. The young woman just ahead of me told the Customs inspector, a 40ish white guy, that she was returning from a two-week job for a video production company in the U.K.

“So,” barked the inspector, “you an actress, or what?”

The girl said, no, and explained that she’s a make-up artist.

“Oh, yeah?” said the man, waving a hand dismissively under his chin, “Could you do anything to help this mess?” 

She laughed and as she walked away, the inspector looked up at me and said, “What the hell. Got to have a little fun once in a while, right? Now … what’s your story?”

Out on the curb, a short, stocky Latino woman — bundled against the chill and wearing a Day-Glo vest, the unmistakable symbol of authority — was marching back and forth barking instructions to travelers flowing out from the terminal building. Trust me: this lady was in charge! She took one glance at the dazed expression on the face of an elderly couple and somehow know how to direct them.

YOU! Manhattan, right? OK! Stand over there, take the bus that says Group 2 … Got that? GROUP TWO. It goes to Federal Circle. Get off. The guy there will tell you what’s next”

She spotted three people stepping off the curb and heading for a big glass building across the street.

YOU!  Hold it! You want the AirTrain, right?” They froze, startled, then nodded. “It’s not running here until Monday. C’mere! Where ya headed?”

Meanwhile, I was desperately trying to soak all this up because I had been instructed to take the Air Train to Federal Circle where I would catch the hotel shuttle. Then, from the left, a bus appearerd with GROUP 2 illuminated in the window above the windshield. It stopped at the curb, and people began clambering out, bag and baggage. I took a tentative step toward it, eyes fastened on the 
“GROUP TWO sign.”

YOU! … NO, NO, NO, NO!”  (It was, of course, the Latino woman and she was, of course, talking to me. “That’s Group Two bringing people in. You want a Group Two that’s takin’ people out!  Then she pointed up the street. “There’s one now, honey. Go for it. You can do it!”

Then she beamed at me. “And welcome to New York!”
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(This afternoon, I will be on the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, connecting there with the California Zephyr for Salt Lake City and the NARP meetings. More to come.)