For the last year and half, I've been taking a weekly acting class, a renewal of an old love after twenty-something years away. It's a long story. Anyway, an unanticipated benefit of my return to The Theatre is the pleasure of shlepping all over town to see classmates in shows. Not, I assumed, that the city held many more surprises for a lifelong resident and enthusiast such as myself. Silly, silly me.
A couple of months ago, I went to see a friend in Mrs. Warren's Profession. The production was in Long Island City in Queens, a neighborhood I know well, or somehow thought I did. I've been there many times, not to mention my many visits to the Noguchi Museum and Socrates Sculpture Park, which sticklers might say are in Highbridge or even Ravenswood, but are so close to LIC they might as well be there. I once even had a birthday party at the late, lamented barbecue joint Stick to Your Ribs, which operated for years on quiet, semi-residential LIC street with a lovely slice of Manhattan skyline looming at one end.
I know how to get there, of course. There are numerous ways, but I usually stay as close to the East River as I can, winding along the Navy Yard and the edges of Williamsburg and Greenpoint before joining McGuiness Boulevard, crossing Newtown Creek from Brooklyn to Queens via the Pulaski Bridge (not to be confused with the Pulaski Skyway, which is in New Jersey and briefly glimpsed in The Sopranos' credits) into Long Island City itself. Then a few jigs and jogs and I'm at the stage door.
On this particular evening, I decided to take the unpredictable-except-it's-always- jammed Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. If it were not jammed, it would be much quicker than my customary route, and since it was a dreary, drizzly mid-week night, I thought it might be worth a try. Actually, it was my wife who suggested it. I mention this to make clear that what followed was certainly not my fault, but might possibly have been my wife's.
Unsure of just how to get from the BQE to the Pulaski, I visited the theatre group's Website, which directed me to MapQuest or Yahoo, I forget which. I always use those online map guides with a shaker or three of salt, because, as everyone knows, the best route concocted by navigational software is not necessarily the best route. Still, no online guide has ever provided directions that were flat out wrong. Until now.
According to my instructions, I was to get off the BQE at the Humboldt Avenue exit, turn left on Humboldt to McGuinness, right on McGuinness and ahead lies the Pulaski Bridge and over it, if not the Promised Land, at least Long Island City.
Only it turns out that you can't turn left on Humboldt coming off the BQE, you can only go right, instead of which I went straight on whatever street I was on, then left again, figuring I could finesse my way to McGuinness and all would be well. Suddenly, in front of me loomed the BQE, which I'd just exited, and to my right an entrance ramp which would take me back onto the Expressway and over the Kosciuszko Bridge, not the Pulaski. If I took the Kosciuszko, I'd have to get off at the very first exit, wherever that may be, before the BQE gets all involved with the Long Island Expressway (LIE), which lay not far ahead. Time was growing short. I got on the Kosciuszko.
Minutes later, I found myself in a post-Apocalyptic wasteland, empty streets cutting across fleet-sized parking lots on which stood serried ranks of Fedex trucks, city buses, UPS vans. I kept heading toward what I hoped was the river, because once I got there, or even within sight of it, I could figure out my way. Other possibilities might have opened up if I'd had a city map in the car, which I usually do, but not at the moment. On the brighter side, I was well equipped map-wise for getting hopelessly lost in upstate New York or New England.
Undaunted, I thought I would manage by following the numbered avenues and the numbered streets, a strategy I had to modify to following one or the other, because following both at the same time is stressful unless, I suppose, you're from Queens.
Still, I couldn't find the river or even head in the same direction for more than a few blocks. I'd hit a dead end, or the side of a cemetery (Calvary, I later found out), or the damned BQE again, which I could not figure out a way around.
It dawned on me that I did not know where I was or even in which direction I was facing.
Stopped at a BP station. Asked two employees and one patron for directions. Zip. The cashier pointed at someone, another employee and told me "Ask him." Not wanting to appear desperate, I lunged at the man in a charming sort of way and asked him if he could please, please, please, in the name of all that is holy, tell me how to get to the Pulaski Bridge. He smiled and patted me on the back and told me to head back along the wide road I'd just turned off and within three or four blocks I would find the Pulaski Bridge, from which I could find my way.
He lied, or maybe it was his accent. Three or four blocks down I ran smack dab into the BQE, which we know by now crosses the Newtown Creek via the Kosciuszko Bridge, not the Pulaski. I had less than fifteen minutes to get to the theatre. I didn't like the odds. My vaunted (at least in the privacy of my home) sense of direction was failing me big time.
The next period passed like a fever dream. I crossed the Kosciuszko at least twice, possibly four times, but got no closer to the Pulaski, nor any more enlightened on how I do so. I'd missed the curtain by now, just hoped to get there. It was still drizzling and misty. I saw another gas station a few blocks away, pulled up to the side of the front door. It was the same gas station.
The drizzle turn to rain as an enormous trailer truck about to turn into the service station stopped courteously to allow me to pull out first. Instead I honked my horn, threw the car into park and ran toward the truck's cab waving my arms. The young man at the wheel gestured and threw the engine into gear. His gesture was hard to decipher, as anyone would assume Ukranian body language to be to a non-Ukranian. I thought he was either telling me to meet him in the service station lot or to drop dead.
Turned out to be the former. He gave me directions which I followed as closely as possible, given what I could understand. Back over the Kosciuszko, off at Humboldt, winkle past the Kosciuszko entrance and over to where Humboldt should be. A dubious turn but then a gas station that I know is not the same one as before. McGuinness is, if not within site, within reach. Then I'm over it. A partial right, then a sort of dog-leg left and turn under an elevated subway track which obscures the street sign in shadow, but if I've figured my online directions correctly, if there is any logic or mercy to Queens' street system, if there's any justice in the world, it will be the street I need.
And it was. Only I couldn't see any of the addresses. And even when I found the right building, I couldn't find the entrance, because I didn't know that the entrance was through an unmarked loading dock. Then I couldn't find the theatre. I just tried every door in the hall until I opened one and heard Shavian dialogue sparkling in the distance.
A man in a ticket booth smiled and whispered to me, "Did you have trouble finding us, Mr. Gingold?" I smiled back, thinly, and was led to my seat at the end of the front row, well away from the bulk of the eleven-strong audience. Also unlike them, I was as well lit as the actors, including my pal, who was in the middle of his big scene when I came in and whose eyes I tried desperately to avoid while settling as quietly as possible into my seat, which I managed just in time for intermission.
The following Sunday I journeyed up to Columbia to audition for a student film. Because of weekend schedule changes, the 2 and 3 trains made all local stops to 96th St, lulling me into thinking I didn't need to change to the local at 96th. Wrong.
I emerged on at 116th St. and Malcolm X Boulevard; I needed to be at 116th St. and Broadway. Did you know that there are four long blocks and a park (Morningside) before you get anywhere near 116th St. and Broadway? I didn't. And did you know that between the western edge of Morningside Park and the rest of the West side is a staircase so tall that you should really check with your doctor before attempting to scale it? And then you're only at Morningside Drive? Who says the arts aren't broadening?