Movement of the press corps from the media center at the Sheraton Hotel on 7th Avenue at 53rd Street has been a mind-boggling exercise in the art of well-supervised hurry-up-and-wait. Few would quibble with the need for security with the pope in town. Many would be impressed with the NYPD escort given to each group of buses after the media reps are “swept” (security-cleared) by Secret Service agents and police dogs. Most would question the wisdom of taking a convoy of very tall coaches up the Henry Hudson Parkway in New York, a road well-known for its low, arched stone bridges.
Truth! It happened Saturday. The press people assembled before 7 a.m. for the first of two bus caravans to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers for the youth rally and blessing of disabled youth. The 7:30 a.m. fleet of three buses, accompanied by a pair of Secret Service agents in a black FX4 off-road truck, pulled away from the curb at 9:15 and followed the NYPD lead vehicle up Manhattan’s West Side. The very local gang of mostly TV people on my bus started to wonk when it became clear that the police were leading us under increasingly lower bridges, despite clearance warnings.
The betting was on the leader’s unquestioning use of GPS. The remarks were humorous and largely unprintable. Our driver said that our clearance was 11′ 10″ — yet the lead vehicle did not turn off at the sign marking the last exit before before the 9’2″ bridge. From my front-row seat, it was a little unnerving to see the bus driver throw up both of his hands simultaneously -and hear him announce that he needed a drink.
So, the buses stopped (no, they did not pull over) and the Secret Service guys, literally men in black, hopped out of the chase vehicle and spoke with the cops. (Meanwhile, of course, other motorists whipped by. ) The buses backed up on the parkway and followed the police onto surface roads.
The locals on the bus knew the best route and so were more than annoyed when the police team stopped at an intersection in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx and asked directions of a man who came out of a nearby house. One rider jumped off the bus and went to offer guidance to the police.
When we got within range of the seminary, a local traffic cop determined that we were not cleared to proceed. That did not stop her from letting a dozen buses filled with teens pass. When we arrived outside the seminary at 10:45, another local office tried to divert us again!
But hey, we were lucky. The 10 a.m. buses were delayed, canceled, reinstated and arrived after 2 p.m.