It was a cold December evening when I landed in New York after a long, two-leg flight from Australia. Ahead of me lay two weeks in the US and Canada to be spent with friends, visiting some places I’d already been and some I hadn’t.
My first stop was supposed to be Montreal, one of those on my itinerary I had yet to visit, and home to a dear friend I hadn’t seen for more than a year. I had carefully planned my journey – arriving in NYC at 6pm, I had roughly five hours to make my way through customs, into the city and to Port Authority, from where I would catch an overnight bus to Montreal.
I arrived at the bus station with plenty of time to spare. Straight off the plane from Australia, after 18 hours in the air with the prospect of an eight-hour bus journey ahead of me, I was not quite as perky as I might ordinarily be – and Manhattan’s Port Authority late at night is not exactly the most welcoming or appealing of locations. But the knowledge that Montreal, and a few days of hot chocolate and exploring with friends waited at the other end brought a glimmer of hope to my jetlagged brain.
My first priority at the station was to find out where I had to be in order to catch my bus, so I went directly to the information desk and was informed of the platform number before some bad news: There had been intense snowfall between NYC and Montreal, and in Montreal itself, which meant the route was compromised and the bus would at least be severely delayed, if not cancelled.
Disheartened, I searched for some dinner – and the aging sandwich I found from the only place still open in the station was not exactly enough to lift my spirits. After the questionable meal, I went down several flights to the basement where I located the bus platforms, and crowds of people waiting to hear the fate of their buses.
Though it was late at night in the middle of New York I did not feel remotely uneasy due to the number of people around the station. I found a spot on the tiled floor alongside my (hopefully) travel companions and messaged a couple of my friends – one in Brooklyn and one in Baltimore – to tell them of the developments.
There was no information at the station but my friends rose to the occasion magnificently, doing some internet research that I could not due to the lack of international data roaming on my phone. In contrast with what the person at the information desk had told me, the website said all buses to Montreal were cancelled until further notice, so they looked for alternatives and it seemed there were none that night.
Despite the news on the website, people were clearly waiting for the same bus I was and it remained on the screen as a cruel reminder of what we hoped would eventuate – and never would. I waited for several hours before finally deciding, at midnight, that there was no chance the bus was leaving that night.
My friend in Brooklyn immediately told me to come to her place and gave me directions to catch the subway. With her address in my trusty travel details notebook, I set off on the F train, and arrived at her stop in Brooklyn around 2am. This was not an ideal situation but I had little choice, and all I could do was keep my wits about me as I – so obviously a tourist with my suitcase – trundled along 7th Avenue.
I arrived at DC’s house only to realise that, while I had the correct street and building number, I didn’t know exactly which number was her apartment. There were no names on the buttons and it was 2:30am by this stage, so I could not start ringing bells and simply hope to find her. I pulled out my phone and just as I was about to dial the number, the battery ran out.
For a moment, I stood completely at a loss for what to do, then recalled passing an open bar on the corner so hurried back to find they were closing, pushed open the door and asked/cried to borrow their phone. It had taken me some time to reach this point since my last communication with DC, and she was obviously in bed – but luckily for me, was smart enough to leave her phone volume up high and answered quite quickly.
With the full and complete address, I headed back up to her building and soon found myself recovering from the long, excessively challenging journey with a shower before tumbling onto the couch. The next morning we looked at options to travel to Montreal, but I was concerned about being able to make it back if the weather remained uncooperative.
If I was stuck in Montreal it would jeopardise the rest of the visit to the US and perhaps even delay my departure for my next destination, Madrid. So, I decided to stay put and instead went on a spontaneous weekend away in The Hamptons with my friend from Baltimore, who happened to be driving past NYC on the way there that very afternoon. The Hamptons proved to be a worthy alternative, and as Montreal was still blanketed in snow for almost the entire duration of my visit with serious disruptions to various transport routes, a wise decision.
This experience taught me many things:
1. That winter weather cannot be relied upon to cooperate with travel plans.
2. To always note ALL address details and phone numbers prior to departure from the safety of home and WiFi.
3. That it’s very useful to have friends in Brooklyn with couches ready to save you from sleeping at Port Authority.
4. That if something goes wrong with your travel plans, there will most often be an alternative that can surprise you in the best way.
Courtney Gahan is a serial expat, traveller and freelance writer who has bartered with Moroccan marketeers, seen the sun rise at Angkor Wat and elbowed her way through crowds on NYE in NYC