16 September 2021

Ida Chose Newburgh

On the first day of the month, travelling alone, I flew into Newark NJ, with ultimate destination Vermont. The Boeing 787, at no more than 25% passenger capacity, arrived a few minutes before noon. Deplaning proceeded quickly, the passport control area was nearly empty (no one asked for my carefully prepared covid documents), the baggage arrived about 30 minutes after landing, and I took the AirTrain shuttle to pick up my rental car.

After going through the formalities at the rental car office, I located my vehicle (Texas license plates), texted my wife back home that I was in the car on my way to VT, and drove off on the first leg of the five hour trip. The air was moist, like a light fog without the foggy atmosphere. Thirty minutes later the rain started, lightly at first, then heavier and heavier.

I arrived at New York State and took I-87 North, the New York Thruway. Both northbound lanes were clogged with traffic driving 50 MPH (80 KPH), windshield wipers at near maximum. At the last exit before the initial, ticket-distributing toll booths, I decided that I didn't want to drive four more hours in a heavy rain and didn't want to exit I-87 in the middle of nowhere to look for a hotel in the rain. I had arrived at Newark from Brussels, and my internal clock was six hours ahead of local time. At the last possible minute, I took that last exit before the toll and arrived in Newburgh NY. It was my first time there.

Most serious American chess players older than a certain age know that Newburgh was once the home of the U.S. Chess Federation, the 'USCF' as it was known at the time. I stopped at the first hotel I found, a well known chain that has seen better days. Fortunately, there were still rooms available.

I settled into the assigned room and switched on the TV to get news about the weather. My cell phone had no network, so I needed a conventional news source. Unfortunately, the TV was dark with no power and after checking that it wasn't a problem with cables, I headed back to the hotel reception with the TV remote control in hand.

The receptionist told me that it was undoubtedly a problem with the remote, maybe batteries, and promised to meet me at the room in a few minutes with a new remote. When she arrived, the second remote worked no better that the first. She looked at the TV and said, 'All of our TVs are Samsung, but that's not a Samsung. It must be one of the new models that were just installed. Let's go back to reception and I'll give you the right remote.' Back at reception she rummaged around in a drawer, then said, 'I'm sorry. I can't find the remote for that model TV. I'll have to give you a different room.' Fortunately, the second room was next to the first, so baggage transfer was easy.

Since it was around 10 PM on my internal clock, I left the hotel to have dinner, American fast food style. When I returned I noticed that the room key card, shown on the left, had a chess motif. That was the second reminder about chess, which gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. Caissa was whispering in my ear.

I switched on the TV and cycled through the 30 or so stations. Many of them carried the message 'No Signal', but I finally determined that the rain had arrived with Ida, the hurricane that had ripped through Louisiana a few days earlier, then headed north. Although much weaker, it was still a force to be feared. Here's a sample headline from the next day: Ida flooding leads to 400 Newark flight cancellations (cnbc.com).

I woke up in the early hours the next day, switched on the TV again, and learned that Ida had been responsible for many deaths in the Newark / NYC area. The two cities are side-by-side and on the Newark AirTrain, you have an impressive view of the Manhattan skyline.

Many of the dead were trapped by flooding in basement apartments. Apparently no one had anticipated that the rain would arrive in such force.

At the break of dawn I continued my trip, taking a different travel route. Instead of continuing north on I-87, I headed east on I-84, which also passes next to Newburgh. I got off I-84 onto the Taconic State Parkway, a four lane divided highway heading north. After a few miles on the TSP, the road was blocked by a car marked 'New York State Police'. It forced all traffic onto an exit leading to a two lane highway. A few miles later, that road was also blocked, leading to a two lane country road somewhere in Dutchess County NY.

It was a detour on top of a detour, both caused by flooding from Ida. I still had no cell phone network and had opted out of GPS for the rental car. I knew all the routes I was going to take and at around $20 a day, who needs GPS? The authorities had no time to install detour signs and I was pretty much lost. One thing I hate more than losing is getting lost. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, and I had had the foresight to pack a map of NY state. I was able to determine my compass bearings from shadows & such. Every time I had a choice, I chose north to VT.

At one point I ran into a highway that was marked East/West although it appeared to be running North/South at that point. Which direction was heading true North -- East or West? Fortunately (that's two in a row!), there was a convenience store at the intersection of the two highways. I cautiously approached a fellow sitting in his car (you have to be cautious when approaching strangers in the U.S.; they might be armed), was happy to learn that he was a local resident, and determined that the easterly direction would take me to Route 22. That's a two lane highway that runs North / South on the NY state border and was guaranteed to take me to VT.

I enjoyed the rest of the trip with beautiful weather, travelling through isolated country villages. A few hours later I reached Hoosick NY, where I crossed the border into VT. I arrived at my destination well before my noon deadline.

I don't know why I felt compelled to write this post, but so I did. If you stopped reading somewhere along the way, I won't take it personally. On my next trip to VT, I'll try to spend more time in Newburgh.

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