The annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Pathology was set to get underway in Boston at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Dr. Sujatha Balija, a pathologist in London, had made the trip across the pond earlier in the week, stopping in a Philadelphia suburb to visit her daughter, and planned to take a train to Boston in time for the meeting.
But then, Hurricane Sandy walloped the Northeast, starting Monday. Train service was halted. Ditto planes. And buses.
“I had no other options,” she said, “so I booked a taxi.”
Thus began an eight-hour-plus journey Tuesday with a driver named Zohar Arzi, who works for Rosemont Taxicab Co., out of the Philadelphia suburbs. The two talked philosophy and religion along Interstate 476 and later Interstate 84, a route that avoided water-logged New York. Shortly after midnight, Arzi delivered her to the Sheraton in the Back Bay.
The tab: $750.
For travelers, Sandy posed the ultimate in challenges. Cars were just about the only option for those looking to get out of New York or Philadelphia and into Boston (or those wanting to make the reverse trip). Taxi and car services in the tristate area reported upticks in the number of out-of-town trips, including many to Boston.
At Tri-State Transportation Hub, based in New York, two dozen calls came in Tuesday from people stranded at New York airports and Penn Station, all looking for rides to Boston, said Juan Martinez, the owner.
“We had a significant number of people going up to Boston,” Martinez said.
Bill Scalzi, owner of Metro Taxi Connecticut, said his company delivered four people to Boston from New Haven, a $225 one-way fare. Some were coming for business, others to escape from storm damage.
“We actually have been getting lots of calls from those who were displaced by the storm and may not have electricity in New York and New Jersey,” Barbara Lootz, director of sales and marketing for the The Ritz-Carlton, Boston Common, said in an e-mail. “Given what they’ve endured for the last couple of days, these guests are wanting to come north to seek the comforts of home while they are without power.”
Avi Karsenty, the owner of Rosemont Taxicab, said his company occasionally makes trips to Boston. In fact, Rosemont transported an MIT professor who had an aversion to trains to Cambridge every two weeks for years. But Philly to Boston with short notice?
“My dispatcher just about fell out of his chair,” he said. “It’s very rare that someone calls and says, ‘I need you here in 20 minutes to go to Boston.’ ”
Karsenty said the normal rate for such a trip is $1,000. But because Balija is a doctor and had a professional obligation in Boston, Rosemont Taxi cut the rate. Half-an-hour after her call at 3:30 p.m., Arzi picked her up.
The trip was slow on the rain-slicked highways, and soon the two struck up conversation. “We talked a lot about culture and religion,” Arzi, a native of Israel, said. “We agreed there is too much violence in the world.” “She’s a very interesting person,” he said of his Indian-born passenger.
“We had a nice conversation,” Balija agreed.
Shortly after midnight, he dropped her off at the Sheraton. He would have liked to stay for sightseeing but there was no time. He had to be at work the next day, and so he turned around and drove back, arriving home shortly after 7 a.m.
In Boston, about 500 of the 1,500 people expected at the conference at the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center were delayed or canceled, an association official said. Balija made it, on time.