Lost in New York City

Let me give you some advice about hotels in New York City. Don’t pick one that’s located in some off-the-wall location or on an unfamiliar street — even if it is part of a common chain. You’ll regret it.

I traveled to NYC last week to attend a series of press conferences. To avoid as many taxi charges as possible, I usually try to stay near the main event hotel. Using Google Maps, I located the press conference hotel and selected a hotel nearby.

I won’t bother telling you the hotel’s name because I’m not complaining about the actual hotel. Suffice it to say that it was located at 6 York Street. During my three-day stay in NYC, not one of the taxi drivers I used was able to locate the hotel. Even Google couldn’t accurately find it.

If you put the hotel’s address into Google Maps, you’ll be shown a hotel located in Brooklyn, near the east exit of the Brooklyn Bridge. The problem is that’s not where the hotel is located. The hotel is located on the west end of the Brooklyn Bridge, in the lower Manhattan area called Tribeca. The hotel directly faces the Avenue of the Americas. However, the hotel has an address (but no door) on York Street.

During my stay, I took four taxis to the hotel. Not one of the drivers knew where the hotel was located. One of them actually did find the hotel, but only after he got on his cell phone and asked some other drivers if they knew of an xyz hotel in Tribeca. The other three taxi drivers couldn’t find the address at all. The problem was I didn’t know where the hotel was either.

After a series of press conferences last Wednesday evening, I once again placed myself into the hands of a New York City taxi driver, hoping that perhaps he could safely return me to my hotel. The resulting experience more resembled water torture.

My first clue on the driver’s competency should have been how he handled technology. Upon entering the cab, the older driver was trying to clear the previous $35.45 charge from the meter. He couldn’t figure out how to do it. He repeatedly hit every button on the control panel and the printer. He then banged on both of them to no avail. I think he was cursing the machines, but of course I couldn’t understand him. I asked him if I should get another cab. In standard NYC taxi driver lingo, which means grunted and broken English, he replied, “No. I fix this meter. Just wait a minute.”

After more than five minutes of fumbling, he finally reached under the dash and pulled loose some wires, and the meter and control panel all went dark. He then plugged the wires back in, and the system reset itself to $0.00 fare. Most of us would call that a cold boot, but at least it worked.

Then I told him where I wanted to go. He didn’t seem to understand, so I handed him a paper with the address written on it. He looked at the paper like it was written in hieroglyphics. He slowly scratched his head and pushed his cap back on his head of gray hair. He turned to me and said, “Where is this?”

“Danger, Will Robinson!” said my brain. For younger readers, see "Lost in Space."

Becoming frustrated, I said, “Just take me to 322 Avenue of the Americas.” I’d seen this address near my hotel. If he got me there, I thought I could walk home.

“No. No. I figure this out,” he replied. Reaching into his dash glove box, he retrieved what must have been a 1950s era map and some kind of slide rule with street names and numbers. After pushing the slide up and down for a couple of minutes, he announced, “OK. We go now. Avenue of the Americas.” At least, I think that’s what he said.

In typical New York City taxi driver fashion, we began a series of high-speed, Indy 500 driver-like moves, rushing into lower Manhattan, hopefully toward my hotel. Once we got to somewhere along the Avenue of the Americas, we began driving north as he looked for the address.

Watching the meter climb, I decided the neighborhood looked familiar and shouted, “Just let me out here.” “No no, I’ll find your address,” he replied.

More forcefully, I said, “Just let me out here.” As he pulled toward the curb, I handed him the standard $30 taxi fee and stepped into the twilight zone. I suddenly realized I was totally lost.

"Okay," I thought, "I can find 322 Avenue of the Americas. I’ll just find an address on one of these buildings and backtrack to my hotel."

That’s when I discovered there is a New York City law against putting addresses on buildings.

I walked north for five blocks, and not one building had an address posted. I then turned around and went the opposite way again looking for some indication of where I was on Avenue of the Americas. Maybe it was the tattoo and sex shops that finally clued me in, but I realized the neighborhood wasn’t anything like that of my hotel.

Then I figured it was time to be a man and ask for directions. I approached a security guard in front of another unaddressed building and asked him where York Street. was. He not only didn’t know of the street, he’d never heard of the hotel either.

Next, it was time to call the hotel. Surely someone there could walk me in once I gave them a set of crossing streets.

Uh-oh. No answer. I called the hotel again. Same result.

Although I’d already paid $30 to get home, at this point what was another $20? So I flagged down another taxi.

Knowing he too wouldn’t be able to find 6 York Street, I asked the taxi driver to take me to the Tribeca Grand Hotel, which is near my hotel. My logic was that if I got back to the hotel where the Panasonic press conference was held earlier in the day, I could retrace my steps to my hotel.

Another $12 later, I was let off at 2 Avenue of the Americas, now a familiar location. For trivia buffs, this is the beginning of the street Avenue of the Americas. The street is also known as 6th Avenue, but that’s another story.

Anyway, once I recognized my location, it was easy to follow the breadcrumbs back to my hotel.

I’m sure this story sounds totally odd to a New Yorker or someone familiar with NYC street numbering. But I’m a Midwesterner and have been trained to think of addresses based on a square grid. The grid is subdivided into blocks, with numbers starting at 100 and increasing by increments of 100 per block. If you’re in the 1500 block and you need to go to the 900 block, you are exactly six blocks away. If the numbers go up, you are traveling north. If the numbers go down, you are traveling south. Streets and avenues are all numbered the same way.

However, I’ve learned that New York City uses a totally different and mysterious numbering scheme for avenues. For instance, I discovered that it costs $12 to ride from 183 Avenue of the Americas to 2 Avenue of the Americas.

Where I live, I could have spit from the first address to the second address.