The route from DC to Litchfield county has a number of variations, most of them involving whether to cross into NY via Manhattan or Yonkers. Strangely, it is frequently faster to go through Midtown, but I knew I wanted to avoid all of that in the monstrous Penske truck. I also knew that the scenic Merritt Parkway, the most direct route to Roxbury, had its entrance off of Henry Hudson—a stretch of old road hugging the western edge of the peninsula that features multiple low bridges. P and I remarked upon this as we made our way back to DC: “We’ll have to plan our route to avoid these things with the moving truck.”
I studied maps for a week in advance of our move with just this purpose in mind, learning that many of these low underpasses were designed by white urban planners to keep so-called undesirables out of the city. Black and Puerto Rican folks overwhelmingly relied on buses, so they were made to be impassable, frequently shunting over-height vehicles onto narrow one-way streets that took them back out of the borough. On the morning of August 21, 2021, I punched the specific route into Waze, double checking it and even going so far as to screenshot the steps, should cellular data fail. I made excellent time through Delaware and New Jersey, and my heart started to swell as I saw the New York skyline faintly appear on the horizon. NYC will forever hold magic for me, a place I visited first when I was about four years old, before all of the grit had been swept north and west by the gentrifying influence of terrified politicians.
Waze began recalculating when a lane of the GW bridge was closed without warning. “Delay detected: updating route, no time added.” No, no, Waze. I fumbled with the phone to get to the page of screenshots, a pit opening in my stomach when I saw the orange cones and flashing lights forcing us to exit at an unfamiliar ramp. I went back to Waze, which cheerfully alerted me that a “better route had been detected, arriving 20 minutes early!”
I had just been dumped onto the Henry Hudson parkway in a 12 foot tall truck at rush hour, passing through Riverdale, north, towards Yonkers. The warning signs began immediately. CAUTION, LOW BRIDGE. 1/10 mile later, BRIDGE 12’6. Okay, I could get under that one, but then…CAUTION, LOW BRIDGE 9. something. I had just passed an exit, and I slowed to a stop on the side of the road and put the blinkers on. I was officially fucked. I called P and was battling hysteria as cars came swooping around the bend and had to swerve to miss the truck. I phoned the non emergency police number and sheepishly described my predicament, stewing in an acid stomach for the brief 15 minutes it took for them to show up. The officer was curt but helpful, offering the slight reassurance that it was better to stop traffic now for a few moments than to clog the parkway with truck debris and squad cars had I tried my luck with the bridge. He stopped the flow of traffic, and directed me in reverse for what felt like forever, before I was able to climb up the exit I’d missed. I asked him how to get out of this area—it was decidedly residential and Waze only offered getting back on 9A as my solution—and he said “Have a nice day” as he pulled away. His siren did that “pip-pip” thing as he got smaller in my wing mirror. I opened Google Maps and saw, to my horror, that the only way out that didn’t require me to re-enter the parkway was through a street that was closed to all through traffic.
I put out a call on Twitter, texted friends in Astoria and the Bronx, joined a trucker’s group chat, purchased an app meant for RVs to avoid instances like these. Nobody could figure a route that didn’t take me through the street that was closed off and monitored by security guards. I got out of the truck and wailed. P was on his way. We would swap modes of transportation: I would get into my car, full of howling cats who invariably peed and pooped during the final phase of any rip, no matter the duration, and he would take my place in the stranded Penske truck of Doom and try to figure things out.
One of the security guards, a man named Solomon, pulled up next to me and asked what on earth I was doing. I abjectly explained the situation, and I could see him mulling things in his head. He took a long drag from his cigarette and said “When your man arrives, honk your horn three times and I’ll get you through.” About 45 minutes later, P, who had to backtrack to reach me, arrived, and we switched cars. Three beeps and Solomon arrived as promised. We wound through an incredibly affluent neighborhood and past a giant campus, orange and white mechanized arms rising as we passed, Solomon waving at guards in shacks, occasionally having to stop and explain our motley procession to the protectors of the realm. He knew where we were headed, and went so far as to escort us well past the end of the street, dropping us at the entrance to 87, which took us more or less directly to our destination. 87 to 684 to 84. The most wonderful and holy numbers in the world at that moment.
The late summer sky was turning green and black and red, and I was so exhilarated from the narrow escape that I saw these things as beautiful. I mused about the story of Solomon from the Bible. God delivering just what we when we need it most. My life felt charmed.
I exited 84 at New Britain, seeing the now familiar offramp for the first time. Pointy old churches and historical districts with wooden shingles announcing years of establishment greeted me. Bella took this as her cue and absolutely destroyed the car with a giant crap in her carrier, followed by a feline chorus of O Fortuna because she was pretty upset that there was now a crap in her carrier. I raced down the twisting hilly roads and finally turned into the driveway as the first heavy drops began to fall. The house sat perched on a rock outcropping, at the top of 37 zig zagging steps. I hastily found the key, unlocked the door, ran back down to fetch the cats and their gear and closed the door behind me. I flipped on the lights, and for perhaps three seconds, the space was illuminated. Then, just like in the movies, lightning struck nearby, and the house was plunged into darkness.
Hurricane Henri had arrived in Roxbury.
To be continued.