Skip to main content

New York Travel Tip: JFK Shuttle Blues - or how I learned to embrace uncertainty and love the Big Blue Van


New York Travel Tip:
JFK Airport Shuttle Blues
Or how I learned to embrace uncertainty and love the Big Blue Van

To truly travel on the cheap, you need to cut costs at every turn.

I'm a longtime freelance writer based near Toronto and a frequent visitor to New York City. If you've ever tried to live on the earnings of the former and are familiar with the costs of staying in the latter, you'll know these assertions border on the mutually exclusive. But, poverty is the mother of many an invention and I've figured out how to save on exorbitant hotel bills by staying in apartments, which also cuts down on eating out.

Airport transfers are another matter - and one that annoyingly adds $100-200 to the cost of any trip. The hike to and from JFK to Manhattan (LaGuardia - please!) can be pricey by taxi and even more so by limo and a train plus long subway ride to my eventual destination in upper Harlem with luggage and laptop in tow is just too daunting a prospect.

Luckily, one of those friendly people at the ground transportation information counter turned me on to the Big Blue Van method instead.

What is the Big Blue Van?
Ah... this is something of an existential question. On the face of it, it is just that - a full sized blue van that roams the airport terminals picking up passengers until full - or up to 10 to 12 people including the driver - then to proceed on to The City. It's about half the price of fixed rate cab fare. It is also - depending on your frame of mind and agenda for the day:

  • a hellish and endless journey through the nine circles of NYC traffic hell or;
  • a zen-like odyssey through the nooks and crannies of Manhattan. All of them.

Surviving the Big Blue Van Experience
I'm cheap, so I've been using it regularly for some time and have become something of an expert in how to navigate the mysterious vagaries of the van system of ferrying passengers between the city and the airports. Having witnessed confusion and consternation on the part of both native New Yorkers and visitors to town alike on using the system for the first time, I'd like to offer a few practical tips.

  1. Dress warmly, even if it's hot outside. The drivers like it cold in The Van.
  2. When you book, they will allow a 20 minute window for pick-up. In reality, be ready at least 10 minutes before... and prepared to wait up to ten minutes after.
  3. Do not ask the driver how long it will be. He will always say 45 minutes. That's roughly the time it would take to get from JFK to the Manhattan city limits if there was no traffic on the Van Wyck. Ha ha ha. In reality, he does not know. No one knows. It is an unknowable truth, An Enigma. Yet, you demand an answer... so he says "45 minutes."
  4. In truth, if you are one of the first lucky passengers on the van, you may spend the first 45 minutes driving around to all the gates of JFK before you even get to the Van Wyck (and that's before you hit the nine gates of traffic hell, mind you).
  5. Do not ask the driver if you will be next one let off. You may, for example, naïvely assume that if you're already on 49th, it's not much of a hike over to 52nd and your hotel. Your driver may mutter something about entering the city on the east side - or not. If you press him, there will be some sort of explanation that involves the east side and the west side. I believe it may actually have something to do with the phases of the moon. You will not be next. And it is another one of The Mysteries. 

On the plus side:

  • You will see parts of The City that you never knew existed.
  • You will see much of Queens, including what seems to be endless sections of narrow streets lined with small warehouses.
  • You will know what they mean when people talk about "New York drivers" first hand - and if you're in the front seat, very first hand.

At worst, I've spent close to 4 hours in The Van on a day when President Obama came to town to screw up the traffic even more than usual. Once I narrowly avoided missing a flight because the driver forgot a passenger and had to backtrack 80 blocks in town... late in the afternoon on the Friday of a long weekend.

But it's cheap.

I have heard rumours of a White Van that picks up even more passengers and is a few bucks cheaper...

But I don't know if I'm quite ready for that much zen.

All images of NYC by me.

Comments

  1. This article is hilarious! Your description of what to expect on the ride and the driver's response made me laugh right out loud...by myself! I especially liked the part where you talked about how long the journey would take and the driver would always say 45 minutes and you shouldn't ask if you would be the next one out. Your way of telling the story makes the reader feel the actual experience themselves. Loved it.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

What Else Is Hot This Week?

Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company Spring 2013 Toronto Performances

From a media release:

The new season brings
Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company
to new heights and new audiences

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
April 25-28, 2013 - Annual Toronto Season - World Premiere of Portales

TORONTO : Following on the heels of Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company's (EESDC) 30th anniversary year where its production Aguas/Waters was named one of the top five dance shows of 2012 by NOW Magazine, the early months of 2013 are full of excitement and possibility for Esmeralda and the company, which brings the finest flamenco and Spanish Classical Dance to Toronto stages.

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
Company dancers Esmeralda Enrique and Paloma Cortés perform Spanish Classical dance with the celebrated Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir for A Night in Madrid featuring the Iberian flavoured music of composer Luigi Boccherini who made his home in Spain. His work is infused with the sounds of Spanish and gypsy folk music.

March 20-24 …

Polina Semionova to Appear as Guest Artist with American Ballet Theatre

From a media release:

POLINA SEMIONOVA TO APPEAR AS GUEST ARTIST
WITH AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE
FOR 2011 SPRING SEASON AT METROPOLITAN OPERA HOUSE

New York - Polina Semionova, a principal dancer with Berlin State Opera Ballet, will debut as a Guest Artist with American Ballet Theatre for the 2011 Metropolitan Opera House season, it was announced January 14, 2011 by Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie. With ABT, Semionova will perform Kitri in Don Quixote at the matinee on Saturday, May 21, opposite David Hallberg as Basilio, and the dual role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake on Saturday evening, July 2, opposite Hallberg as Prince Siegfried.

Born in Moscow, Semionova studied at the Bolshoi Ballet School before joining the Berlin State Opera Ballet as the company’s youngest principal dancer. Her repertoire with Berlin State Opera Ballet includes Odette-Odile in Swan Lake, Nikiya in La Bayadère, Marie in The Nutcracker, Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Swanilda in Coppélia, Kitri in Don Quixo…

Harlem Stage Digital Event: A Drop Of Midnight October 13 & 15 2020

From a release:Harlem Stage Digital Event:
A Drop Of Midnight
October 13 & 15 2020A two-part conversation with Jason ‘Timbuktu’ Diakité and his creative team around the developmental process of creating his autobiographical theater project, A Drop of Midnight. In this conversation Jason will take us on his journey to becoming one of Sweden’s chart-topping hip-hop artists and a best-selling author. He’ll also share the story of how a mixtape from Brooklyn traveled across the waters to the tiny village of Lund, Sweden and altered the course of his life forever. We will examine the impact of hip hop music and culture on the globe. How has hip-hop united communities of color globally?  How do you translate a personal story into a universal truth? How do you build a creative team? How has the current climate of social justice informed your artistic practice? Jason will read excerpts from the play and share some of the music. October 13—Part IIn this conversation A Drop of Midnight author…

So You Can't Go: Six Ways To Travel Virtually

So You Can't Go:
Six Ways To Travel VirtuallyTravel is limited for most of us in the world these days. For Canadians, it depends on the province you live in, but with the border to the US still closed, and other options limited at best, virtual travel from the couch can provide at least a view with a difference at a time when you may well need it most. Google Cardboard – VR On A BudgetYou don't need a lot of cash to get into travel via virtual reality. Google Cardboard is a line of VR viewers that are, well, made of cardboard, and are priced starting at $12CAD.If you check out this link, you'll find out how to download the software to your smartphone.At this link, you can get yourself an actual Google Cardboard for a hands-free VR experience. Google Cardboard apps offer a variety of ways to experience our beautiful planet, including Google Earth itself, which can take you anywhere, along with apps to view museums and cultural artifacts, and more.Ascape VRAscape has a huge l…

Fall for Dance North Debuts 2020 Festival: Live + Digital Experiences Sept 29–Oct 18 2020

From a media release:Fall for Dance North Debuts 2020 Festival
Captivating Live + Digital Experiences on Newly Enhanced Digital PlatformToronto’s premier international dance festival launches curated collection of original content and proprietary programs on new custom-built websiteTORONTO, ON — Fall for Dance North (FFDN) proudly presents the 6th edition of its esteemed international dance festival, The Flip Side, from Sept. 29–Oct. 18, 2020
Featuring a new, Netflix-style digital platform, an enhanced line-up of free programming, and a ticketed signature livestream presentation featuring six world premieres by Canadian dancemakers, FFDN has reimagined the festival experience to offer audiences an intimate connection to the art form of dance during these extraordinary times.Starting on Sept. 29, free programs will be released at ffdnorth.com daily, including an original podcast, a quirky interview series in a bathtub, a poetry + music album, a new dance film featuring 46 Ryerson Schoo…