The Chinese Funeral

This story takes place in New York City’s Chinatown.  The following are a few pictures for those who have never been there before.  The narrow streets and crowds are very relevant to the story.

It was October of 2006 and my aunt had just passed away.  This was my mother’s last remaining sister and she was 90 years old when she died.  The funeral home was on the outskirts of Chinatown in New York City.  It wasn’t too far from where my family that is still in New York lives.

Because it is very hard to park there, the funeral home has an arrangement where you can legally double park as long as you have a sticker on your dashboard that says “Funeral”.  And while the street in front of the place isn’t as narrow as these pictures, it is still tight enough for you to worry about your car being clipped while you double park.

We arrive at the funeral home the morning of the funeral about an hour before we are to leave for the church.  I had no choice but to double park.  I also handed my cell phone to my wife to put into her purse.  It was 2006 before there were iPhones and even flip phones were rare.  I had a Palm Treo which was a bit bulky and whenever I knew I would be turning my phone off for awhile I hand it to her rather than have it hanging on my belt.  And of course, I had no intention of taking calls during a funeral so this made perfect sense.

After we were there about fifteen minutes, the funeral director told me a parking spot opened up if I wanted to move my car.  Since we were going in the limo and the car would be there for most of the day I thought this was a good idea.  I told everyone I would be right back that I was just going to move my car.  I get outside and the spot is about three car lengths behind where I was double parked.  I grew up in New York and can drive in New York with the best of them but backing up three car lengths into traffic on a narrow street didn’t seem like a good idea.  I decided to just drive around the block.  And that is where all hell broke loose…….

It was a weekday morning in downtown New York so there was already bumper to bumper traffic to deal with.  I make a right turn at the corner with every intention of making the next right, then another and then I’d be back where I started.  It took me forever to even get past the first right.  Then as I approached the next right I see the block is closed with a police barricade.  Now my only choice is to go straight (still in bumper to bumper traffic).  I go straight and can now only go left as I come to a square with monuments etc. in the middle of the street.  (I’m now entering Chinatown.)  I go up another block and realize if I go right, that is taking me to my old neighborhood which I know is out of the way.  So I go straight and veer slightly to the left with the intention of making the first right and turning around.  By now about 10 -15 minutes has passed and I’m about two blocks away from where I started.

I get through the intersection and make the right turn and get in about one car length on a very narrow street and traffic is at a dead stop.  And I can’t back up because another car turned behind me.  There are two cars ahead of me and I’m trying to look through those cars to see why we stopped.  I am now in full panic mode.  We’re at about 20 minutes elapsed at this point.  I reach for my phone to call and tell them what is happening and I remember I gave it to my wife!  Even at age 48 (at the time) all I kept thinking was, “my mother is going to kill me if I miss or hold up her sister’s funeral!”

I’m sitting there for what seemed like a lifetime and all of a sudden I see a four piece band in the street!?!  Next thing I know there is a funeral procession from a Chinese funeral home complete with the coffin being paraded on the shoulders of the pall bearers, the band and a steady stream of mourners.  I see that the hearse is about a block away and all I can think is that this will take about an hour at this rate!  It was like something out of a movie.

They finally get the coffin in the hearse and now a stream of cars from the side street up ahead proceed to follow the hearse.  When they are done all of the cars parked on the street start to follow as well.  At this point I realize I still have the “Funeral” sticker on my dashboard so I joined the procession!  It was my only hope of getting out of there.

I go about a block and make a quick right as soon as I can.  I can only imagine what thoughts went on from the people who were legitimately at that funeral.  I go about two blocks and a guy runs out in the street with his hand up stopping traffic so that a truck can back up and make a delivery.  I’m trying to reason with him out the window but I don’t think he spoke English.  And it was one of those slow trucks with the BEEP, BEEP, BEEP as it backs up.  I’m now a good 30 minutes into this and probably no more than 5 blocks from where I started.

Finally, I get past the truck and come back around heading in the right direction.  Now I’m approaching the monuments from the other direction so I feel better until I see the “No Left Turn” sign.  I had no choice.  Actually, I was worried less about getting a ticket and more so about the fact that the reason there was no left turn was because traffic was coming from three directions.  I waited until I thought (hoped) it was clear and gunned it.  I pulled back in front of the funeral home approximately 40 minutes later (with about 5 minutes to spare).

Of course now I got from everyone from the funeral director to family members, “where have you been?” and “why didn’t you call?” and “you knew what time we were leaving”.  I attempted to tell them in 2 minutes what you just spent 10 minutes reading.  And they all just looked at me and stared open mouthed and said “no way”.  To which I said, “Do you really think I could have made that all up?”

If you start in the upper right corner, the funeral home would have been off the page to the right.  The street that was closed was right before the red building.  The traffic veers towards the center of the picture and I went past the white van down to what would have been off the picture in the bottom middle.  The “other” funeral I attended that day would have been off the picture to the left and then I finally re-emerged for the illegal left right before the cab that is about midway on the left of the picture (and then circled back from there).

The real kick came when we pulled out to go to the church.  The hearse and limo went around the corner and then someone from the funeral home got out and moved the barricade so that we could just go around the block!