My best friend from grade school, the wonderful children’s author Debbie Kovacs, gave me some great parenting advice when I first had kids.

She told me, “If your children ever take up sports, you’ve got to hope that it won’t be swimming, because you’ll find yourself driving three hours to New Hampshire and sitting around a hot, chlorinated, steamy pool for hours while your child races for fifteen seconds in the water.”

I heeded her advice, and all went well:  ever since my two oldest kids turned four years old, which is the official age when children start playing soccer here in Massachusetts, I spent many happy Saturday mornings standing beside soccer fields in the crisp New England fall air watching the little ones adorably fumble the ball around the field as I drank coffee and caught up with the other parents from their school.

And then both of my kids became good at soccer, and joined “travel teams,” which meant they played other teams within a 50-mile radius. The quality of play was so much better than before, that watching them play for an hour and a half was extremely exciting.  I had to do more driving and I no longer knew the other parents, but it was still immense fun.

And then my older daughter went out for track.  And not just running, but sprinting. So there I was, in the position that Debbie had warned me about ten years earlier.  I was now driving all over New England to watch her do her thing in 10 seconds or less.

This is a long lead-up to what happened last weekend, when I went to New York City to watch her run for less than 10 seconds in an East Coast college track and field championship.

It was a disaster.

To explain:

The website for the meet in which my daughter was running listed the location as “New York Armory.”

From living in Manhattan for 15 years before moving to Boston, I knew the location of the New York Armory:  66th and Park, on the East Side. I knew exactly where I needed to be, and could calibrate my trip from Boston to New York down to the minute so I wouldn’t miss her 10 seconds of glory.

I built in extra time in case the Boston subway or the Amtrak train to New York were delayed in the snow and ice that has blanketed New England, Boston in particular. As it happened, the Amtrak train was indeed delayed by 40 minutes by a frozen switch, but I still had two entire hours in which to take the #1 train from Penn Station to my hotel;  drop off my bags, get food, and cross over to the East Side by taxi to the Armory. Easy peasy.

Seventh Regiment Armory, New York

Armory, 66th and Park Avenue, Manhatan

So there I was at the Armory at 66th and Park, 45 minutes early, very pleased with everything and looking forward to watching my daughter sprint.  I went into the Armory and asked an official-looking guy for directions to the track. He looked at me and said, “Oh, no, it’s not this Armory!  You must mean the Armory at Chelsea Piers!”

This was all the way across town, about two miles south and a mile-and-a-half west.  I’d never heard of an Armory being at Chelsea Piers, but the guy was so insistent that he had to be right.

I internally said a bad word, but I still had 45 minutes to get there to witness my daughter’s 10-second run, so I talked a Japanese tourist into giving me her cab (I was desperate, what can I say?) and I sped across town at 2:45 on Friday afternoon to 23rd and the West Side Highway.

I got there with twenty minutes to spare, and ran to the track and field area where I saw none of the usual college athletes milling about.

The track and field arena at Chelsea Piers

The track and field arena at Chelsea Piers

I asked a guy there where the Armory was, and he said, “There’s no Armory here, you must mean the Armory at 26th and Lexington.”  I internally said some more choice phrases.  I was frantic, but I still had small amount of time before the event, so I grabbed another cab and raced across town, another mile-and-a-half east in Friday rush-hour traffic.

The Armory at 26th and Lex, which I'd never heard of.

The Armory at 26th and Lex.

At this second Armory, which I had never, ever, heard of in the 15 years I lived here, I dashed out and asked a guy where the track championship was.  This third guy said, “You must mean the Armory at 66th and Park.”  The first place I’d been to.

At this point I was fuming.  The first guy had sent me on this wild, long, and very expensive goose chase, and it was already 3:30 so I’d probably already missed my daughter running, but I figured that if the event was late I might still be able to see her race, or at least see her afterwards, so I grabbed a fourth cab and shot up Park Avenue back to the first Armory on 66th.

On the way up there, I called TORAITH (The Other Responsible Adult In The House) up in Boston to explain my very frustrating experience, and when I’d hung up, the cabbie said in a heavily accented voice, “I’m sorry to overhear, but I think you mean the Armory at Fort Tryon.”

There’s ANOTHER Armory???  Weren’t two New York Armories, one of which I’d never heard of, enough???

“Fort Tryon in Washington Heights????” I asked, my voice tight.  Fort Tryon is at the very uppermost of Manhattan, next to the Bronx and a good half-hour drive away at the best of times, at least forty-five minutes to an hour in this Friday rush-hour traffic.

“Yes.  They have a track and field armory.”

F*&^%**#!!!

I Googled it on my phone, and yes, there is indeed a track and field facility there.  But it is not called “New York Armory,” as listed on the website for the East Coast college track and field championship.  It is called  “Armory Track and Field Center.”

So the website was wrong.  Or at least utterly, utterly inadequate.  At that point I had been traveling nonstop for over eight hours, since 7:30 this morning, first by T to South Station, then by train to Penn Station, subway up the West Side of Manhattan, taxi #1 to 66th and Park, taxi #2 to 23rd and the West Side Highway, taxi #3 to 26th and Lex, then taxi #4 to 66th and Park, paying over $100 in cabfare and $200 in train costs, AND DESPITE ALL OF MY EFFORTS I STILL MISSED MY DAUGHTER’S 10 SECONDS OF GLORY.

Half an hour later, I heard from my daughter.  She was on the George Washington Bridge, heading back to her college from the bleeping, unknown Armory in Fort Tryon.

The moral of the story?  Debbie Kovacs was right–and you should hope that when your children want to play a sport, they decide to play soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, baseball, softball, whatever–anything other than swimming or track!

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