On a recent fine autumn day I headed to the subway for my weekly jaunt up to MoMA.
I like to go early to hit the members-only hour on Sunday because it's a LOT less crowded. Less crowded on the subway, too.
As I approached the subway entrance, I couldn't help but notice a bevy of ladies-of-a-certain- age, clearly tourists, and clearly lost.
Since I spend my days chomping on tender (toothsome) writers, I look for ways to offset that when I can.
I approached the one looking back and forth between the street sign and a map on her phone.
"Do you need directions?"
Oh boy, these ladies were German tourists; my German is rudimentary at best, not to mention rusty.
"Wo gehen Sie?" I asked, hoping I wasn't asking if she needed some money.
"Brooklyn Bridge walk."
Oh triple hell. These ladies were REALLY far afield.
The bridge we could see in the distance was the Williamsburg Bridge.
And even if they wanted the Billyburg Bridge, it's a mile away from where we were standing. I know this cause it's one of my morning walks when I need to juice up to take on the world.
"Dis ist nicht die Brooklyn Bridge. Hier ist Williamsburg Bridge."
In halting English: "Can we walk there?'
"Die Brooklyn Bridge...ist (eins, zwei, drei, vier--yes I had to count on my fingers!) fünf kilometers."
Crestfallen faces all around.
What they didn't ask, but what I knew, was there's no direct subway or bus route.
"Sie mussen gehen on subway"...you must get back on the subway.
The lady holds out her phone and shows me the directions she and her friends had followed.
Sure enough, they'd gone astray at 14th Street Union Square; perhaps thinking the L-train "to Brooklyn" meant the Brooklyn Bridge, not the borough.
I once got so lost in Frankfort I ended up driving into a parking garage at the airport instead of getting on the autobahn. I could empathize with my new friends, but that wasn't going to get them where they needed to go.
"Wir mussen ...." but I didn't have the words for "look at the map" so I mimed going down the subway steps.
Trusting souls, diese Damen. They followed me like ducklings.
Each subway station has a big map of the whole system.
I pointed to the L-train stop at Montrose.
"Sie ist hier" You are here. (Red arrow)
Then I pointed out the Union Square stop (green arrow)where they could connect to the southbound 4/5/6.
"Sie gehen hier." I pointed to the Brooklyn Bridge stop on the 6
At this point my grammar had made one of the ladies quite bilious. Sie ist grün.
Now the hard part.
"Haben Sie ein Metrocard?" Do all y'all have a metrocard?
Well no, no they did not.
Now how the hell they got ON the subway was a mystery, but we'd cross that bridge (ha!) later.
Fortunately I always carry a cash refill Metro card in case my prepay one doesn't work.
I check the balance. Not enough to get four ladies to 14th Street, let alone back to where they started.
My new friend realizes some sort of transaction needs to take place. She produces a credit card from her bag.
I punch in the amount they'll need, push refill.
The machine asks for the credit card.
Then, it asks for the zip code.
She lives in Germany, thus doesn't have a zip code of any kind.
At this point, I'm not feeling too zippy myself.
But, an Angel of the Lord appears in an MTA uniform and asks if we need help.
Yes yes ja!
He punches in five fives.
Apparently that's the secret code for zip codes if you don't have a US address.
Presto, magic. The card returns to us, fat with fares.
The final challenge: getting through the turnstile.
I usher them to the entrance.
The first lady swipes the card but doesn't know she then needs to push through.
Hilarity ensues as I mime pushing the turnstile.
She gets through, but still has the card!
"Ich mussen die card use again!"
She is puzzled, but when I reach for the card, aha!
We repeat the swipe and push three more times.
I lead them to the stairs down to the platform.
There's another map.
I show them where to get off and transfer to "der grün line" the green line.
I'm praying they get on going south, but the signs will say "Brooklyn Bridge" so the chances are good.
They thank me profusely in German.
I understand not a word, but I get the gist.
We wait for the train.
Wir warten auf den Zug
As we journey to Union Square I wish I'd kept up with my French and German. The number of German tourists I've encountered on my street these past few months is a few more than zero. And all of them were lost.
And I wish I had that app that lets me type what I need to say in English, and they could read it in German. I know those apps exist because another lady who needed directions spoke Tagalog and the only thing I know about Tagalog is that it's NOT pronounced Tag A Log.
Ich liebe New York for a lot of reasons (MoMA being one of them), and I want other people to love it too. I guess I better get that app!
Wohin geht ihr heute?