Welcome to NYC – Oh, and the Bathroom is Downstairs
As soon as the announcement concluded, the incredulous looks on all the faces morphed into an angry grimace. They whipped out various high-end cell phones and, swiveling their heads around as if the answers were written in the rafters of the train station, re-arranged their tightly packed schedules.
When we whizzed through Secaucus in New Jersey, I glanced at my watch and saw we were only going to be late by eight minutes. This didn’t halt the scramble for the doors, briefcases nudging the backs of the legs in front of them, impatient feet sidestepping slower passengers.
As I walked through the underbelly of Penn Station following the signs for 7th Avenue and 34th street exit, I didn’t dare to make eye contact with the soldiers in full gear, strategically placed every 20 or 30 feet. I smiled at their complacent black labs with a “Do Not Pet” jacket.
I had almost an hour to get to my eye cancer doctor’s office. I wasn’t in any rush. I didn’t know what kinds of news I was going to get except that if my cancer came back, my eye would have to come out.
I stood on the corner of 7th Avenue and 34th street and pulled my tightly wrapped scarf around my neck higher to cover my chin. It was only about 30F and windy.
The air smelled as I remembered it. Exhaust fumes and food truck whiffs of hot dogs and pretzels. As I waited for the light to change, tapping my feet on the uneven pavement, I recalled how I used to cross this exact same street to go to my class. Except that back than it was hot and I wore linen pants, the food smells were stronger and I didn’t have cancer yet.
I sped up my pace as I exited the subway on Lexington Avenue because I really needed to pee. I went in to the doctor’s building and nodded at the concierge lady who didn’t smile back. The elevator rattled to the 5th floor. Here I was again. I could feel my heart speeding up despite my best effort to breathe deeply and rationalize that even if I lost one eye, I still had another one. Or maybe my heart was beating fast because by then I really, really needed to pee.
I stopped cold as soon as I entered the doctor’s office. The left side where the bathroom was normally located, was covered by a huge plastic sheet and I smelled fresh paint. I checked in and probed the receptionist:
“So, do you guys still have a restroom here somewhere?” I crossed my fingers in my pockets and held my breath for a second.
“Oh yeah”, she said, “but it’s on the first floor.”
Perplexed, I said I would be right back and rode the shaky elevator back downstairs. I walked around the first floor with no results. I had no choice than to ask the un-smiling concierge:
“Hi, I am sorry, I am Dr. F’s patient and…”
“The door over there!” She cut me off loudly with a sharp smoker’s voice and waved to a door to my left.
I nodded thank you and opened the door.
I found myself in a four by three foot space with tiled floor and a buffet style table that ran along the longer wall. There were boxes and sinks, microwave and backpacks. There was also a young guy sitting on a bar stool by the table, eating. He turned when he heard me come in, his tired eyes completely uninterested, and nodded at me, his mouth full of food.
“I’m….I’m just…,” I stuttered as I scanned the room for the bathroom, “I’m just gonna use…if you don’t mind…”, and I disappeared into the tiny bathroom I finally found at one end of the small room. I realized that the whole time I peed, he could probably hear everything. Bon appetit.
Back upstairs, I experienced a surprisingly pleasant visit with good news and a clean bill of health. For now.
On the way back to Penn Station, I stopped by Pret a Manger and picked up a roasted red pepper and falafel wrap and a bottled water. Since the store was packed, I decided to eat my food at one of the metal tables and chairs on Broadway. Surprisingly, I wasn’t the only lunatic sitting outside in 30 degree weather. Three pigeons circled me hopefully, tip towing around, their city-fed plump bodies waddling like ducks. Feeling that my butt turned to ice on the metal chair, I jumped up and continued my trek.
I was now freezing and in a hurry to get to the warmth of the station. Some of the New York attitude must have rubbed off on me by then because I proceeded to push by people with faint “excuse me’s” and “sorry’s”. I side stepped map gazing tourists and cut slower pedestrians off. I didn’t care. I was in New York, right?
The train ride home was uneventful except for a 45 minute delay. But this time, I was just in a regular Amtrak. No business suits and no power lunch meeting cancellations this time. However, I did manage to find a seat in the emergency exit row/large luggage storage area and had at least four feet of space in front of me. I could also recline my seat without inconveniencing anyone behind me.
I got home 15 hours after I left. My head was spinning, my eye was red from all the tests but I was OK. I could keep both of my eyes for a little longer.