Threading through the Holland Tunnel can stretch the strongest family fabric Tunnel vision ... Holland Tunnel is hard on harmony

March 24, 2001|By Rob Kasper

ORDINARILY this column does not offer marital advice. Today is an exception. If you want to test your marriage, try driving into New York City through the Holland Tunnel with your mate as navigator.

This has been a rite of spring my wife and I have attempted for the past four or five years. The experience has been well ... dramatic. We get lost, end up surrounded by kamikaze cabs, killer trucks and hordes of aggressive pedestrians. There is shouting in the front seat and, in the back seat, the kids get quiet.

We tried the Holland Tunnel again last week and almost pulled it off. We ended up going in the right direction but on the wrong street. We landed on a thoroughfare called Hudson Street, which, like many streets in the southern end of Manhattan, appears to have once been a footpath used by the original Dutch settlers of the island.

The good thing about Hudson Street is that it keeps its name for several blocks. This cannot be said for Ericcson Place, which is also known as Beach Street, and 6th Avenue, which travels under the name of Avenue of the Americas. More on them later.

Not that there is time to find or read the occasional street sign. When you emerge from the Holland Tunnel into a traffic circle in lower Manhattan, it is like coming through the rapids of a roaring Western Maryland river. Objects are swirling around you. By the time you figure out where you want to go, it is too late to get there. Just like shooting the rapids, you get your craft in position early and, when the excitement hits, you go with the flow.

Over the years "the flow" has plopped us in a variety of difficult spots, but we seem to have an attraction to Broome Street. This a perilous piece of pavement, because if you make a wrong move in this vicinity you can end up in the jaws of death; that is, back inside the Holland Tunnel headed back to New Jersey.

Do I exaggerate? Perhaps a bit. But that is because in order to get to the Holland Tunnel from Baltimore I have spent hours on the New Jersey Turnpike, an experience that distorts my view of the real world. For instance, as the Jersey Turnpike nears New York, it fans out to five lanes. Theoretically all these extra lanes are a good thing, because they help move traffic along. The trouble is that when you leave the turnpike and head for the Holland Tunnel, the road narrows to two lanes, but the natives continue to drive as if there are still five lanes.

The two legal lanes are treated as three lanes and the shoulders become the lands of derring-do. That is one reason I get so angry when, after being spit out of the Holland Tunnel, I appear to be headed back to Jersey. There are other reasons, too. There is the whole man-woman, husband-wife, pilot-navigator dynamic, a scenario that lends itself to a lot of "spirited discussion."

A few days before we left Baltimore I tried a tactic to cut down on our spirited discussions - and keep us from getting lost. I looked at maps. First I looked at a couple of foldout maps of Manhattan. These would be quite helpful if I were walking, or riding a subway into the city. But since I was foolhardy enough to be driving my family four-door into Gotham, these maps weren't for me. For instance, these maps tend to get fuzzy on which streets someone would take to free himself from the chaotic traffic circle outside the Holland Tunnel and venture to Washington Square Park, the nearby neighborhood where our friends reside.

So in search of better information I fired up the computer. I went on the Web and called up a map of the Holland Tunnel exit, looked at a map of Southwestern Manhattan and got a trip planner from Both maps showed a detailed grid of the streets. But the set of instructions with one map advised taking a "slight left" from the circle onto Ericsson Place, while both maps showed that the turn should be a right.

As it worked out, we never made it to Ericcson Place. My navigator, for reasons that remain her closely held secret, disregarded our plan and the printed directions, and had me turn at another traffic circle exit.

We ended up sandwiched between some big trucks with rusty wheels. Luckily all of us were headed north on Hudson Street. We avoided heading back to New Jersey. We avoided hitting any other cars or pedestrians. We wended our way toward our friends' home and I put the car in a parking garage, an action that relieved me of a large wad of cash.

Unlike previous years, my wife and I were on speaking terms this year when we arrived in New York. But just once I would like to get there by following directions.

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