Saturday, June 6, 2009

A long note about Newark

This is so much fun. You arrive in Newark in the morning after a 10 hours flight from Honolulu, you have no shoes except flip-flops, your feet are covered with blisters from volcano hiking, you are deadly jetlagged and you are looking forward to another long flight to Europe. And it's piss weather outside. But still you feel the need to go trying to find a way to get to the Marriot without offending an army of security forces. This could be a great metaphor for the humane condition, but it's probably just a lack of sanity.

Newark (EWR) is just big enough to spend a couple of hours with interesting explorative work. I wrote earlier that the three terminals are aligned following the shape of a banana. More accurately, they are located along the perimeter of an ellipse - A and C opposite each other at the two most distant points of the ellipse, and B at the,whatever you call the spot right between A and C. I'm sure these points have totally sophisticated names, so if someone is more advanced in geometry, no offense intended. The airport actually looks kind of cute, like the fetus of an alien nestled in its terrestrial womb, that is New Jersey.

An airtrain like at JFK is the easy way to get from one terminal to another and to shortcut complicated walks. Interestingly, the airtrain is located on the outside of the ellipse, that means between the ground- and air-sides of the terminals. The entrances are placed right next to the security check. That's totally inadequate. People using the airtrain usually leave the airport, but to do that, they now have to go towards the airport. As said earlier, airports are not logical.

I already pointed out that EWR features a nice, well-marked footwalk connecting all three terminals. This makes for a pleasant 15 minute walk, most of the way under a roof. All three terminals have designated parking areas inside the ellipse. It is particularly recommended to check out the parking of terminal B. Two reasons: It is close to the center of the ellipse - it's always nice to be in the center. And it has a parking garage with, I don't remember, more than three levels and a rooftop. Now you are in the center and on top of EWR. How cool is that.

Right next to the parking area B, on the other side of the ellipse's center, is the Marriot and directly behind, the biggest tower of the airport. There is no footwalk, but you can probably get there by crossing a couple of multi-lane access roads, a mild violation of traffic laws. I didn't try because my feet started to hurt from walking through all these puddles on the way.

Instead, I took the airtrain to another parking garage just next to terminal C and outside the ellipse. Think outside the ellipse, should be the mantra of the EWR airport hiker. A note about security here: Always have an excuse. Security people occasionally ask where you are going. So, even if you don't know, which should be your typical state of mind, pretend that you do know. Pretend to have a car. Important: On the way back to the terminal stop lying and say the truth – you want to catch your flight. I call that lying on the fly.

This new parking garage turned out to be the real deal: The roof gives a perfect view about the hallmarks of Jersey City – a mass assembly of rusty cranes, two giant metal bridges, and the voluminous brick buildings of the Anheuser-Busch plant, a ten-story skyscraper for the days when the sky is low. Unfortunately, the plant is separated from the airport by the Pulaski skyway, a formidable obstacle for any walker, let alone in flip-flops. I still would like to do an expedition someday, maybe at night time.

Furthermore, the garage allows me to appreciate the fact that the airport has its own river. Seriously. It flows right under the building, as can be seen in this snowy aerial view - the garage is in the lower right corner. The river is protected by high fences and looks viscous as well as ugly. Google Maps shows that it somehow originates a few hundred meters north of this garage, leads to the south and all around the airport, before it flows in the Newark Bay at the eastern side of EWR. The garage is also located next to the gates of terminal C. You can watch flowing brown water, a skyway full with cars, and airplanes, from one single spot. And it's just a 10 minute excursion, significantly shorter than US immigration procedures.

As a sidenote: While terminals A and B have the famous cauliflower shape (a series of circular subterminals, each with gates around the periphery), terminal C has a fractal asparragus shape – the subterminals are sticks, from which more sticks are protruding. My question: Why? Is terminal topology an unsolved issue? Are there airport theoreticians doing actual calculations on this? Do these people go to conferences to argue about the particular advantages of cauliflower vs. asparragus? I really want to know.

What a wonderful airport.