I flew out east in October of 2013. A was throwing himself a 70th birthday celebration on Staten Island. His friends and family and all 3 of his children were attending. M and I were flying in from San Francisco and Seattle, N driving up from Delaware with her 4 children in tow. Arriving a week before the party, I planned to see some concerts and connect with my friends who still lived in New Jersey. I also had plans to meet A in Manhattan one of the nights to attend the New York Rangers’ home opener of the 2013-2014 season, which would take place at Madison Square Garden.
A and I had planned to meet up in front of the Garden and go into the arena together. I was staying with friends in Springfield, NJ so I took the train from New Jersey Transit’s Millburn station on a direct to Penn Station, New York. The Madison Square Garden Arena is located directly above Penn Station, literally an escalator ride away once you arrive in New York. A was getting a door to door ride from his home on Staten Island directly to mid-town Manhattan, using New York City’s disabled services ride program called Access-A-Ride.
I gave my father a call on when I arrived at Penn Station. “I’m here” he said. “I’m up by the ramp on 7th Avenue.” I walked through the train station, went up the escalator and straight out into the craziness that is New York City. I looked where I thought he’d be waiting but didn’t see him. I walked the concourse around the Garden’s entrance multiple times but couldn’t find him amidst the chaos and opening game excitement that flurried all around me.
I called A’s cell phone. No answer. “Goddamnit, dad, pick up the phone! Where the fuck are you?!” I muttered through clenched teeth as one unanswered phone call became 5, and 5 unanswered phone calls eventually became a little over 20. I was pissed. I was worried. I was slightly frantic. I called N and asked her what to do. “I don’t know. I’m in Delaware and you’re in New York City. But I hope you find him soon. I’m sorry and I love you.”
I called my stepmother. “You don’t think he would have gone in without me, do you?” I asked. “No, I don’t think he would. He’s not answering my phone calls either. Please, Matthew, call me when you find him and let me know that you guys are alright.” she said before hanging up and leaving me to search for my father alone.
Finally, after pacing and searching and trying with all my might, I saw him. There was my father, down by the curb on 7th Avenue. Shaking and trembling as he weakly held himself up, one of his hands gripping a light post and the other, his cane. “Where have you been? I’ve been here this whole time! I’m cold, I’m hungry and I’m tired from standing for so long.” “I’m sorry!” I replied. “ I’ve been searching for you for a half an hour! I wasn’t sure if you went in without me, if you something had happened to you…” “No Matthew, I’ve been right here, right where I told you I’d be. The entire time. There’s the ramp!” he said as he pointed to the handicapped ramp that starts near the curb on 7th Ave and leads toward the concourse where you enter the arena.
“Pop” I pleaded. “I need you to listen to me. I’m honestly and sincerely as sorry about this as I’ve ever been sorry about anything before. I need you to forgive me, take my arm and walk with me into the Garden and try to have a good time.” And so I walked, ever so slowly, with my not quite yet 70 year-old father unsteadily shuffling along with me as he gripped my arm with one hand and his cane with the other. Up the ramp to the wheelchair lift where we asked arena staff to call for a wheelchair to bring us up to our seats in the disabled seating area. “Dad, why aren’t you using a walker?” I asked. “I don’t need a walker. I do just fine with a cane. You just didn’t meet me when you said you would, so I’m tired from standing and waiting for you” he replied.
Arena staff arrived shortly after with a wheelchair and took us to our seats. I left my father and went out to get us some dinner to bring back to eat. While I’d been to Madison Square Garden dozens of times in my life for concerts, sporting events and the like, this was my 1st time visiting since completion of a total renovation. I found good food and beer and returned to our seats in time to watch the player introductions. After much pomp and circumstance, the game began. It turned out to be a disappointment of a game as the Rangers were shutout 2-0 by the Montreal Canadiens.
After the game ended, around 10:30pm, my father was again wheeled back down to the venue entrance. We walked to the curb on 7th Ave where he was supposed to meet his Access-A-Ride driver. The car was nowhere to be seen. I called the toll free Access-A-Ride number, giving the operator my dad’s information and trying to find out where the vehicle that was supposed to bring him home was located. The operator asked me to please hold. Shortly after, she came back on the line and let me know that the vehicle had been there but didn’t see my father and had left. The driver claimed to have called my father’s cell phone before leaving but A’s phone showed no missed call. The operator told me she would see what she could do and that she’d call me back as soon as she was able to figure out a solution.
“Pop, let’s find a place to regroup. There’s no where to sit around here and you can’t stand for much longer.” So my father and I crossed the street to the Affinia Manhattan, the hotel that was kitty-corner from where we currently stood. We walked inside the door closest to the street to be greeted by a flight of steps and an escalator that was of no use to my unsteady, slow-moving father. I sat my father on the steps and went up to the lobby to see if there was maybe more comfortable seating for him while we regrouped and had to possibly wait a while before another car could be sent.
There was a nice lobby up the stairs, but my father wanted to stay where he was, seated on the steps. A little while later, the operator I had talked to earlier called back. “I’m sorry but the next car we can get out there for you father won’t be able to be there until 1:40am” the operator explained. “Listen, my father is 70 years-old and disabled. We can’t wait that long for a ride” I tried to explain. The operator again apologized but stated that there were just no other cars available.
“Pop, I need you to listen to me for a minute. They can’t get a car out here and we need to get you home safely and soon. Let me hail you a cab. I know you don’t want to spend the money on one but luckily you and I are both at places in our lives where a cab ride won’t kill us.”
“I’m not taking a cab, Matthew. They won’t even go to the outer boroughs. It’ll cost $150. No. I’ll wait.”
“Dad, I need to get on the next train to New Jersey or I won’t get back to where I’m staying tonight. You need to let me go get you a cab. I’m not leaving my disabled father on the steps of a random hotel in New York City. Let me hail a cab and find out if they’ll take you home.”
“Fine. Go see if they’ll take me to Staten Island and if they will, I’ll go.”
And so I went out and hailed the 1st cab I saw. The driver wasn’t sure where Staten Island was, but said sure, he’d take my father home as long as he paid for all the tolls as well as the fare.
Let’s go dad. I’ve got a cab outside for you. He’s willing to take you home and I need you to go.”
I helped my dad out the hotel doors and into the cab. “Thank you for your help” my father told me. “You’re welcome. I’m sorry that it turned out this way but I’m glad we were able to make tonight happen. Take care of yourself and call me when you get in” I replied. I shut the cab door and watched as it drove away toward Brooklyn and eventually Staten Island to bring my father back home.
I shook my head in disbelief at how my night had unfolded and then raced across the street and back down into Penn Station. I nearly missed my train back to Millburn where my rental car waited for me. While on the train heading back, my father called to let me know he’d made it back home without further incident and to thank me for my help again. The cab wound up only costing him about $60 and he’d already called Access-A-Ride to request a reimbursement which made him much less upset about the whole situation. Within a half hour of the phone call from my father, I was at back at my friends’ house in Springfield and on my way to sleep.