Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Wo is die Brooklyn Bridge?



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?"


"Ja, bitte."


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 (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" 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 train.(pink arrow)




 At this point my grammar had made one of the ladies quite bilious.  Sie ist grün.




Enlightenment dawns.


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.

We insert.


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?


Steve Forti said...

Fun story. Great of you to help. And nice to pick up the fun fact that you know a bit of German.
Also: the future is now. Where I work, the focus of everything is AI. The tech is there for real time speech translation in active conversation just holding out your phone. And getting better every day.

Brenda Buchanan said...

What a marvelous story - made my day! Thanks, Janet!

Craig F said...

Be still my heart, a caring shark. What a fun story, because I too once got lost in Frankfort, but my luck ran differently.

Mine had me pay for a few beers and got a ride to where I needed to get to. The beers were for the wait for an English speaker to show up. Luckily I wasn't rushed.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I've helped the lost before. Most of the time I spoke some of the language they knew. Two times I didn't.

The second time, I used Google Translate. Slightly clumsier than the app of which you're dreaming.

The first time there was no such thing as Google Translate. Instead, we had to find a common language we knew sufficient to manage (and which we both happened to be carrying the dictionaries for). We ended up speaking--I kid you not--Klingon. (Granted, we were going to an international fan convention, so that made things easier.)

Dimitrius Harmata said...

Deutsche Sprache ist wirklich die beste :)
Thank you for the beautiful story that wove one of my beloved languages and cities into one.
My own remembrance of an unforgettable experience with German language involved being a "fly on the wall," while Austrians and Germans had at it discussing the true national belonging of a certain XX century historical figure, after a few beers at a conference in Prague. They knew I understood some German, but didn't care (I am not going to put a number to what "a few beers" means in this context).
It was totally precious.

BJ Muntain said...

I hope, if I ever get lost in an unfamiliar city, I meet someone like Janet.

I tend to avoid getting lost by taking taxis. Taxis are easier - they usually know where they're going. Of course, hailing taxis in NYC is an adventure on its own for this shy Canadian!

french sojourn said...

Back in the mid 80's... the 1980's that is I was in Prague and I found myself in a pub.

A few Pilsners later I realised I had no idea how to get back to my hotel.
I had two years of German in high school. 9 maybe 6 years before.

I asked the young waitress how to get to ( name of hotel here) my hotel.
She looks at me tilts her head slightly and walks off.
Five minutes later she returns with a slightly pissed off large bartender.

A fellow patron walked over and sorted out the fact I was lost and wasn't inviting the waitress back to my hotel.

In three weeks I'm also heading to Berlin to meet one of my five sisters, our mother lived there in 1937-39 as my Grandfather was a Naval Attaché for the U.S. in Berlin.

Hopefully I won't need my Pilsner induced German language skills too much.

Cheers! ( prosit, prosit gemultlekiet!) sp.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Your German is so much better than mine. What a great tale. I hope the ladies enjoyed the Brooklyn Bridge. I have done that walk many times with my daughter. I really love it. I think she might be sick of it but is too kind to tell me.

Katja said...

Haha, Janet speaking German, that's new! Of course I understood everything you said and everything the ladies said.

Keep trying, Janet, keep trying. My British husband and I now live in beautiful Switzerland. I work in Zurich and we live up Lake Zurich towards the Alps in a smallish, super nice place. Cowbells ring nearby, a fragrance of hay lingers in the air in summer, and hopefully it'll be snowing in winter.

My British hubby tries to speak and understand Swiss German. He knows the local supermarket's cashier and understands by context what she says.

He can count Swiss francs 🤣, and is the perfect househusband. But heck is he disappointed when he greets the locals in Swiss German "Grüezi mitenand" and they do not respond.

He is so damned proud of this greeting and seems to enjoy pronouncing it, but I needed to tell him when the market was on, "Look, you don't need to greet EVERYONE!"

Craig, I wanted to tell you that a blog does help you to be seen. I have one attached to my website and now Google finds it more than 20 times per month, increasing continuously.

Beth Carpenter said...

You earned your wings today, Janet! I've had similar angels help me when I was hopelessly lost. Bless you!

John Davis Frain said...

Fun story, that was wonderful.

Reminds me of a story when I was lost in France, poring over a map on the hood of my rental car. (Because of course I got a rental car.) A friendly guy saw me and offered to help. After poring over the map for several seconds himself, he chuckled. Then he put the map on my car's hood.

"Map, here," he said. He walked ten paces down the road, turned around and shouted, "You here."

He was terrific, told us to follow him in his car, and then waved out the window when he zoomed past our destination. In a novel, we'd run into him once more on page 286. Unfortunately, in real life, I'll never get to see him again. So I get to pay it forward.

Thank you, Janet, for reminding me of a wonderful guy I never got to know.

AJ Blythe said...

Wonderful story on a day when I needed one.

I'm using the Duolingo app to study French. Hopefully one day I will be able to help others in this way, but at the moment all I could do is tell them the school is large and the car is green!

Julie Weathers said...

Good grief. You done used up all your goodwill with one act. It's a good thing it's the end of the year.

My grandson has been taking German for three years now. I have no idea what he'll do with it, but you never know. Maybe someday he'll go to NY.