American Museum of Natural History – Part 1 Getting There
DVPS club invite
My friends and family know this: I hate going to New York City. HATE it.
If I have to drive to somewhere in New England, I swing west and go inland to avoid driving through NYC. Friends declare I’m the only person they know who heads to Allentown when I need to drive to Connecticut. Seriously, New York. You are a hot, neurotic mess. I do everything I can to avoid you.
But NYC is also jammed packed with history and culturally significant sites that I want to experience and enjoy. The struggle is real: to NYC or not to NYC??
As a member of the DVPS fossil club (Delaware Valley Paleontological Society), there is a yearly invite to take a personal tour of the dinosaur exhibits of AMNH museum. This museum has been on my wish-list for decades.
I felt that 2018 was the year that I had to conquer my loathing of NYC commuting. I should get familiar with how to commute to NYC, get to know her public transportation methods, and learn how to be a savvy traveler in the world’s most famous city.
Spoiler Alert: I FAILED
The American Museum of Natural History museum has been on my #BucketList for ages. But, it is located in New York City. We already established that traveling to NYC gives me heart palpitations. So I had not been to one of the gems of the museum world. With my new determined goal in place, I braced myself to face down my fears. I parked my trust Nimbus at Hamilton station and took NJ Transit into Penn Station. I planned to VERY BRAVELY tackle the subway system of NYC.
2018-02-10: Bucket List item Checked and Done. ✔ Public transportation to NYC
If you can’t carry it…
I’ve been to NYC before. Which is where my NYC eye-twitch originated.
During one job-related visit I had a small wheeled luggage with me, since I was staying for a week. The streets were so dense with people that my small luggage bounced over toes. After a while, I just stopped apologizing. And honestly, most people ignored my rude, toe-smashing luggage and just kept marching to their destination. #LessonLearned. If you can’t carry it, don’t bring it to NYC.
Or that other time when I stood on a street corner waiting for the light to change. Two taxis were trying to turn at the same time, but were stopped due to foot traffic. I watched as the rear taxi purposefully edged his car forward until it tapped the taxi in front of it, then he gassed his car enough to push the other taxi forward slightly. Then he took his foot off the gas and both cars rocked back on their axels. Then he repeated the process. Several times.
The first taxi is rocking back and forth with the repetitive ‘tapping’ caused by the rear taxi. And to my eternal surprise, the taxi driver didn’t press on his brakes to stop his car from rocking passively on the axle. But, wait! The passenger in the first taxi never lifted his head up. He just kept reading while he rocked to the rhythm to the car’s tapping.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
No one in the first taxi turned around to see what was happening behind them. How is THAT behavior normalized??! When did it become acceptable chaos as part of the taxi experience?
Sometime in the late 1980s, I was in NYC for work . I tried to take the subway by myself after work one night. So I figured out the route and ventured off to find the subway entrance. I was doing well until I realized I was on the wrong level of the subway and was now going in the wrong direction.
I was unaware there were multiple levels! So I got off the subway car and tried to find the reverse direction. Except when I got off and tried to find my route back to the same subway, someone directed me to the exit. Naively I did as guided; finding myself outside of the subway maze. I had to buy another ticket to get back on the subway and try again.
That was fun! Teeth grinding, skull cracking fun.
So I chalked it up to my ignorance and tried again. This time I managed to capture an express train without realizing it. I missed my destination.
Frustrated, I got off the subway, hailed a cab, and went back to my hotel room to read a book and order room service.
2018 Subway Do Over
Subway Arrows Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean
On this 2018 adventurous dino-weekend, I took NJ Transit to Penn Station and disembarked the train with the mob of fellow commuters. Once out, I was trying to appear like a confident commuter completely comfortable in my surrounding and absolutely NOT a confused, lost, intimidated tourist. Or I hoped that’s what I looked like.
In the underground maze that is the Penn Station madness, me eyes only landed on a single sign pointing to the subway. There is no distance provided – so it’s up to you to know if the distance is ten feet or ten miles. Good luck, visitors!
I continued walking the long, noisy concourse with very little signage or guidance. Eventually came to a four way intersection. The overhead sign indicating the Subway was straight ahead. Relieved and eager to overcome the next hurtle, I marched confidently forward until I realized I was marching straight towards a street exit.
I double-checked the signage. Yep! That sign is unmistakable: SUBWAY ↑
The arrow pointed directly to an exit with giant, red EXIT signs plastered all over them. The exit signage was overkill, obviously due to other victims – I mean visitors! – of NYC also finding the arrow instructions misleading.
Giving up any pretense of looking like I have a clue, I adopted the “I’m lost and obviously a tourist” stance: I stopped and carefully observed my surroundings and read every sign. That was when I found the second sign located on the right side of the intersection – a few inches behind and to the right the first sign. You had to pass under the “straight ahead” arrow signage before looking behind your right shoulder in order to see the second sign telling you to go right.
Why didn’t the first sign just have a right arrow? It was literally at the 4-way intersection – there was zero reason for a ‘straight’ arrow. This, dear friends, is why NYC gives me jitters.
Downtown? Uptown? North? South?
After finally locating the subway and purchasing my ticket, I made my way to the subway line. As I approached, I saw white papers taped up all over the area telling commutes that the subway platform was closed and not operational at this time. People were still heading towards the platform, but I thought they might know different ways of getting around in the underground maze. I was too timid to ignore the signs and risk getting lost or forced out of the subway. So I found another route to AMNH and navigated myself to that train platform. I entered and found myself facing two options: Downtown vs. Uptown.
OMG, New York. It should NOT be this difficult.
Background! First, you should know about my home town, Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s business, historic, and museum districts are all referred to as “downtown.” Everything is downtown. But in NYC, there’s a new and interesting meaning to Downtown and Uptown. There is no Up vs. Down to confuse visitors. Everyone just heads downtown.
I’m standing in NYC trying to figure out where exactly Up begins and Down ends. Was I heading to the northern edge of Downtown? Or was I heading to the southern edge of Uptown?
- Did Downtown just mean South and Uptown mean North?
- No, because if they meant south they would have just said SOUTH. Right?
- Was I heading to a district of NYC that was called “downtown” – like Philly’s center city is called downtown – but it had no relation to any direction?
- Was Downtown the business district?
- Was I losing my damn mind and cursing NYC’s idiosyncrasies? Yes. Yes, I was.
Yet again I find myself struggling with unhelpful information. I’m staring at a graffiti-ed wall map trying to read where the magical Down and Up start in NYC, and where this demarcation was located in relation to the AMNH museum.
Suddenly a woman came out from behind a service door holding cleaning supplies. I rushed to her with the desperation only a lost-tourist-stuck-underground-with-an-undecipherable-map could pull off – and breathlessly asked how to get to the museum. After she jumped back four paces and stared into my desperate eyes – realized I wasn’t actually a threat to her but was instead on the verge of sobbing – she was happy to help the insane lady.
Mystery solved: I was going Uptown. I’m starting to suspect that they just mean North. There’s a subway-sign designer laughing in his grave; possibly clutching signs that read “north” and “south” that we visitors would treasure.
After four exhausting and stressful hours commuting to NYC, littered with delays and mental meltdowns, I finally exited the subway system and into the pouring rain.
New York City’s dirty little secret
Apparently there’s a secret to NYC’s public announcements and signage which are posted all over the subway system: Ignore it.
On my expedition to NYC, I was trying to follow the instructions that were posted everywhere. There were several signs informing me that certain subway platforms were closed and that I should NOT proceed forward. I obeyed and found an alternate route using an alternate subway line. It took me a few blocks out of my way, but no matter!
When exiting the subway car (which had amazingly clear signage!), I came upon a problem that maybe uniquely New Yorkian: Before me was a single, full-body turnstile that currently had a body trapped in it. Apparently another tourist fell victim to NYC’s idiosyncrasies as they tried to use the turnstile with an umbrella, and they were now encased in the metal maw and flailing violently. Next to this single turnstile was a large metal-mesh door with angry red letters declaring Emergency Exit only – Alarm will sound!
I hesitated. I couldn’t use the turnstile and I couldn’t use the emergency exit. I looked for another exit. #FAIL
Native New Yorkers corrected my misunderstanding as they swarmed around me and forcefully slammed the emergency door lever and flung the door wide open. No alarms.
See? Ignore the signs.
I was the only one person gullible enough to obey the signs. So I did what I do best when in a strange place: follow the locals and do what they do. Emergency exit it is! I thunked the emergency exit handle and escaped the subway… leaving the turnstile victim still struggling within the metal cage.
Even the elevator buttons are insane
Earlier in Penn Stations, I was trying to take an elevator to an operational platform. I was pressing the Up button, but nothing was happening. I kept pressing it. Nothing. Then another passenger arrived and pressed the bottom button.
What?! Wait! There is another level below me?
I was very confused and leaned in to study this amazing upside-down elevator button. You won’t believe what I found. This elevator control only had two buttons. There was no lower level at this place. I was already on the lower level.
Instead, the elevator’s bottom button was the UP button! The button I was pressing? That was the emergency button. Which didn’t work. But who puts the UP button on the bottom and the emergency button on the TOP of the only operational button available? When did that start making sense?
The reason I couldn’t tell the difference between the two buttons was that both metal buttons has been polished smooth from use, and the “plus” and “up” were polished to almost nothing. Only a shadow remained of their former existence. I thought they were two smooth metal buttons, and I had starting pressing the emergency button without knowing it. Which made the malfunctioning emergency button a lucky thing? I guess?
Honestly, how does anything in NYC work? Invisible buttons, Up is down, emergency is meaningless, and I’m utterly lost.
American Museum of Natural History
Second Bucket List item – Checked and Done. ✔ Visit AMNH museum and see the Hayden Planetarium
As I was walking to the museum, it started to downpour. Naturally. Because that is how my day is going.
It rained so hard that the rain drops bounced back up from the ground to personally make sure you got soaked from both directions. I should admit that I naturally got turned-around when I left the subway and walked away from the museum before my phone corrected me and had me spin around and reverse my direction – only adding to the time I spent stomping around in the downpour.
I was SO relieved to finally arrive at the museum!
Why are there commuters on the non-operational subway?
Just when I was feeling good about my day, I had a painful realization as I walked past the subway doors.
Remember what I mentioned about ignoring signs? I found the non-operational subway operating just fine. The subway line that takes you directly to the museum and you get to avoid the rain? Yeah, THAT subway train was actually running just fine and was happily dispensing dry commuters I was naive to trust those signs back at Penn Station. I was soaked and late.
I’m trying not to take it personally, NYC.
You can imagine my relief when I finally saw friends and familiar DVPS faces. At last, after hours of struggle and stress, I could finally relax and enjoy this amazing museum at my leisure. I’ll worry about the reverse commute later.
Time to enjoy AMNH
Hi, I’m Patti. I work in the IT field and my favorite thing to do is reboot stuff. (Muahahaha!)
I love exploring the United States and luckily I enjoy driving. Which is a good thing since it would be hard to explore if I had to walk everywhere. I am usually exploring the states on a tight budget with limited vacation time. I try to make the most of my free time, and I may have a trick or two up my sleeve.
I’m a weird mix of over-planner and free-spirit wanderer. There’s no in between. I see weekends as play-time. Laundry is for Wednesday nights and dusting is never on my to-do list.
I love museums, learning new things, and just letting my curiosity take me to my next discovery.
To discover more about me, check out my About Me page.