Journey to Ground Zero: A Chronicle of Adventure, Tears, and Joy
Library Rules: Copyright (C) 2002, 2016 by Michael T. Bailey Sr., Marietta, Georgia. All rights reserved. Reproduction, adaptation, or translation
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|A Chronicle of Adventure, Tears, and Joy by Mike Bailey
The following chronicles are just that -- a collection of thoughts and events I remember of a period
of seven wonderful spring days, April 20 to 26, 2002.
With love, I dedicate these ramblings to a trio of great troopers -- Deanna, my lifelong mate and
wife, to Barbara her sister and best friend, and to Jimmy, my brother-in-law and lifelong friend.
We covered the waterfront in style.
We had an absolutely fabulous time.
We'd go back tomorrow and do it all over again.
What else can I say?
|I want to thank Margaret Betz,
a true friend and editor,
for all of her help with this story.
Our Journey Begins!
Long before we arrived at the train station early Saturday evening, Deanna and Barbara had
planned, dreamed, and prayed for this vacation. Jimmy and I knew that the trip would happen one
day. We had just prayed that when it did come, we'd have the money!
We all had a list of things we wanted to do and things we wanted to see when we finally reached the
big city. Barbara already had the tickets for The Lion King -- the play, the event we really wanted
to see -- so we were already set as far as plays went. We figured we would see what else happened
once we got to the city -- maybe something else would turn up.
Also on our list was, of course, Ground Zero -- we wanted to see with our own eyes the site of the
former World Trade Center (WTC). We had to see for ourselves that the towers were really gone.
My son -- Michael -- drove us down to the train station in Atlanta and let us out to fend for
ourselves. After getting all of the luggage out of the car, Michael just shook his head, smiled, and
drove off. I think he rather enjoyed seeing his parents all packed up and ready to head out on
another wild and exotic adventure.
I'm sure that we probably looked liked a bunch of country yokels headed up to New York City --
the Big Apple, Sin City, Yellow Cab hell! We had enough luggage for 10 people going on a 25-day
safari. Among the four of us, we had 10 pieces -- six to check and four to carry on.
The Amtrak station in Atlanta leaves a LOT to be desired. It's not all that big, considering the
size of Atlanta. As the time for our train approached, it filled up with a whole bunch of people
who were heading up north. No one seemed to be really in charge, and the people behind the
counters came and went at random.
We had arrived there two full hours early (on their recommendation) to get our baggage checked.
What a joke! We could have shown up five minutes before the already 45-minutes-late train
arrived. They didn't even check for IDs or tickets. So much for home land security!
Anyway, it was exciting. You know, getting ready to start off on a new adventure -- zipping off to
New York City on a train no less. We had reserved coach tickets. All that guaranteed was that we
had a seat on the train -- not necessarily together.
Because both of the girls were using canes to walk with, we were the last to get down to the train
tracks and get onboard. No problems -- they did assign us seats together, but we ended up across
the aisle and back a row from Barbara and Jimmy. That was OK with me -- I figured Jimmy still
snored a lot anyway.
The only problem (as the hours went by) was that we were in the last car on the train and if we
wanted to go to the dining car or to the lounge car, it was a long trip for the girls (without the
canes). There was just no way to walk with canes and stay upright as you walked up the aisle in the
cars with the swaying and bouncing -- you had to hold onto the seat tops as you made your way.
Canes. Deanna uses her walking cane a lot these days -- bullies me with it all the time:-) Barbara
was using a cane and hobbling around because she had had knee surgery the month before and still
recovering. Jimmy and I looked like we were escorting the lame on a field trip:-)
Trains -- There's Something Magical About Trains!
We left Brookwood Station in Atlanta around 8:00 p.m. on the "Silver Crescent" -- Amtrak's New
Orleans to NYC passenger service train. We were not due to arrive in NYC until around 2:00 p.m.
the next afternoon, so we all knew we were in for a long 18-hour trip.
The train's name is reminiscent of the old days when passenger trains ran up and down the East
Coast with names like the "Southern Crescent," "Silver Meteor," and "Silver Comet."
When I was a child in Sumter, SC, passenger trains would stop there on their way to faraway
places. I can still remember the very first time I saw one being pulled by one of the huge, black
steam engines. It seemed like it was alive, like it was some sort of living, breathing machine. It was
hot and powerful sounding. Her driver wheels were taller than I was -- painted white on the outer
rim surface to look fancy and to show off. I was frightened and excited -- all at the same time.
She sat there at the terminal like a caged animal -- slowly purring, growling -- ready to spring free
the first chance she got. I can remember thinking "Was this monster, who hissed, groaned, and
bellowed steam all over me, going to get me or what?"
I fell in love with trains that day.
"Is it Time to Eat Yet?"
We picked up speed slowly and soon raced through the outskirts of Atlanta and headed for the
South Carolina border. With fleeting daylight still illuminating the countryside for us, I
recognized many of the small towns and even some of the crossings that we sped past.
All the goings on had taken their toll on us. We were starved. When they announced that the lounge
car was open, we all made our way forward. By the time we reached the lounge car, the girls had
had it so they gave Jimmy and me their orders and they headed back to their seats.
Before Jimmy and I had placed our order, some drunk had spit across the bar and on to the floor
behind it. When the bartender started taking our order, I asked him if he knew that guy (I
pointed him out) had spit on his floor?
If looks could kill -- "You've got to be kidding," he said with anger in his voice.
"No, it's a fact," I said.
With that, the bartender went over and asked the guy if he had spit on his floor. The guy just
fumbled around a bit and said loudly "No, I didn't do it!"
Just as the bartender was about to drop the whole thing, the drunk turned around and said smartly
to all of us at the bar, "OK, who told on me!" Talk about not knowing when to shut up!
The bartender then told him if he ever did that again, he'd throw him off the train. We found out
later that that was exactly what happened.
They do not put up with anything like that. They call ahead, get a county sheriff to be at a
particular crossing, stop the train, escort the offender off the train, and turn them over to the
cops. Just like that -- bing, bang, boom -- they're gone and so is the train.
We finally picked up our beers and a couple of snacks and headed back to join the girls. Walking
on a train is, well, lets just say different, especially if you're carrying something -- then watch out.
Actually, it was fun -- really -- bouncing along the tracks, the scenery whizzing by, bouncing
between seats trying to maintain your balance, and banging your way between the train cars (had
to hit a huge black button on the doors to operate them). There were other times though, that
travel through the cars was a necessity -- when we had to go to the rest rooms.
Ever tried to pee and operate a suction type toilet, all the while hanging on for dear life as you
rocked back and forth on a bouncing, swaying, jolting choo-choo train?
I tell you -- it was a hoot!
Finally, they announced that the dining car was open for business. Once again, we made our way
forward -- bouncing, swaying, and banging our way toward the dining car. The trip was worth it.
The food and service were great that night. Maybe it was just the setting.
We sat there and felt like characters in the movie "Murder on the Orient Express" -- seated in
elegant surroundings, eating our food slowly, drinking our glasses of wine, watching all the others
around us and wondering who they were, where they were going, and just what they were up to?
Settling in for the Night
We paid our bills and started our long trip back through all the cars. Some cars, like ours, were
almost full, while others were almost empty. I heard later that we would pick up more passengers in
Charlottesville, Virginia (some tour group was getting on in the middle of the night) and, of course, a
bunch would be getting on in Washington.
Before long, we had passed well into North Carolina. As night fell, I had lost track of where we
were. The countryside had long ago faded into darkness and unknown lights flashed by our
windows. Barb and Jim were on the left side of the train going up and we were on the right side.
At first, I had thought that this might be a problem, you know, not being able to see what was
happening on the other side of the train. It didn't really matter -- a constantly fascinating view
of the world flashed before our eyes.
As we sped through small towns and crossings with gates down across the roads and red warning
lights flashing, I tried to imagine what the people in all the stopped cars were thinking as they saw
us in our windows as the train flashed by right in front of them.
"Going up there to New York City," they probably thought. They also could have been dreaming
like I have a hundred times as I watched a passenger train speed past me in the dark. Dreams of
"The Orient Express," intrigue, mystery, adventure, excitement -- wishing that I could be up on
that train -- going somewhere, anywhere….
Sleep. Getting some was hard when you could only partially stretch out in a chair that reclines back
about 35 degrees. However, around 11 that night, we covered ourselves with the blankets we had
brought with us, scrunched around to get halfway comfortable, and dozed on and off until daybreak.
"Say good night, Deanna." "Good night…."
6:00 a.m. -- in the middle of nowhere, still raining. We hurt like hell and we were hungry.
All during the night, we had rumbled onward through North Carolina, the Virginia countryside, and
the approach to Washington D.C. After the rituals with the moving toilet scenario were completed,
we gathered up ourselves and headed for the dining car.
There's something about eating on a train -- clean, white-linen covered tables, shiny silverware,
cut flowers in small glass holders, and water gently swaying back and forth in perfect rhythm with
the cars as they sway back and forth on the tracks. While elegant and soothing -- it puts one to
rest -- it also hints at the same time that adventure is all around you.
Breakfast was really quite good. Afterward, we ambled back to our seats in the cattle car, sat
back, and just watched the world flash by our windows. We had picked up more passengers during
the night and had dropped off a few. In Washington, we picked up lots passengers who were also
headed for NYC.
As I said earlier, the weather was already bad -- raining, dark gray clouds -- you know, typical
Brit weather as our good friends Debs and Martyn from England would say.
As we sped by Baltimore, we saw thousands of houses -- all two stories tall, all joined together in
groups of about seven to a block, some in good shape and others falling apart. Their colors were a
rainbow -- from reds, to blacks, to greens -- you name it, they had a color for everyone. Some
looked as if their owners had found a can of paint that matched their life's dream of living in an
orange and purple and yellow house, with blue-trimmed windows! Only in America!
I found out after I got back home (looked it up on the Internet), that these houses are commonly
called Baltimore Row Houses. They might be common, but none of us had ever heard of them.
We really started to speed up after we left Washington. We were on the high speed rails that ran
between Washington and Boston. I figured we probably were doing about 100 mph (compared to
about 75 mph the night before).
It doesn't matter -- it you hit something, things are going to get messed up!
Sometimes, we'd pass an oncoming train -- pounding by not more that a foot away from us on the
opposite track. The suddenness of the event would scare the devil out of us every time. In those
split seconds, we realized just how fast we really were traveling and would say a little prayer for
all the wheels to remain tight against the rails!
On past the shipyards in Wilmington, Delaware, on through Philadelphia, Trenton, and Newark --
we rushed toward NYC. We started seeing lots of commuter stations -- people lined up waiting for
their train to carry some of them as far away as NYC or maybe even farther.
We could see them watching us -- just like the eyes on us in the dark last night. They knew we were
on a passenger train. We were going somewhere. They were just going to work.
New York City -- The Big Apple!
We got to the Big Apple around 2:00 p.m. As we left the Newark Station in New Jersey, we knew
the next stop was the big one for us -- the end of an 18-hour trip (ordeal maybe). All the pains
from the night before seemed to vanish as the skyline of New York City started teasing us as we
caught glimpses of it through the buildings as we passed.
In no time, we had left the brightness of day and entered the tunnel under the Hudson River. Next
stop was Pennsylvania Station, NYC! Penn Station -- no one uses the long name -- is actually under
Madison Square Garden, down around 34th St. in Manhattan.
As soon as we got up into the station from the tracks down below, we found a place for the girls to
sit down and rest. We knew it would take at least an hour to get our luggage. While Jimmy went
after the checked baggage, I headed for the Amtrak ticket windows. Deanna and Barbara had made
it quite clear that "given the choice," they had rather go back home in a private compartment than
on one of the sleeper cars. That meant going first class -- probably about double the cost of a
reserved coach seat.
Traveling like tourists in the cattle cars was something they had once and for all checked off of
their "list of things I'd like to do before I die!"
After an hour in line, "Sorry, no rooms available," was Amtrak's answer to my bended-knee plea for
mercy. "Try later -- someone might cancel." Deanna and Barbara were not pleased with that answer.
We finally gathered up all of our luggage (or is it baggage? -- I wish someone would tell me the
difference), found a Red Cap who loaded up all our stuff on one cart and led us out of the station
via labyrinths of steps and escalators, and finally topside on the street.
Penn Station is pretty. It is big, it is busy, it is noisy -- did I mention big, busy…?
Catching a cab at Penn Station was easy -- we just took the next one in the taxi queue. When our
driver jumped out to help us, he just about died when he saw all of the baggage he had to stuff into
When we were certain that all of our baggage was safely stored in the trunk, we started getting
into the cab. Deanna and Barbara were, of course, just a tad bit slower because of their hurting
legs, the very cramped backseat space, and in general, what the hell, we were on the flip side
The cabbie started to make some smart remark about their "taking to much time" when Deanna
caught his eye (and attention) and showed him the business end of her cane and set him straight
When he saw that Barbara was also carrying a cane and was not too happy about his rudeness
either, he quickly realized that "he had just stepped over the line" as my lifelong friend Pat would
Loaded up, we headed uptown to our hotel. I think this was Barbara and Jimmy's first encounter
with a real, live NYC cab driver. It can, on occasion I'm told, be a life-altering event. Thankfully,
ours wasn't -- it was just a typical scare-the-hell-out-of you, NYC cab ride.
We were staying at the Milford Plaza Hotel right in the middle of the Theater District. Built in
1928 and completely renovated in 1995, it now has 1,300 rooms. Situated on 8th Ave., between
44th and 45th Streets, the hotel is just one block over from Times Square and within walking
distance of about 35 theaters. We had stayed here at this same hotel back in 1999 when the four
of us came to NYC on the Christian Tour called "New Year's Eve Celebration in NYC!"
Our rooms in the hotel were great. Hotel rooms in NYC can be a bit disarming at first -- as
compared to, say, a traditional-sized, nice motel room back down in Orlando or Atlanta. If you're
expecting to see the same sized room when you open a door to a typical hotel room in NYC, then
you're in for a surprise. If the room is half as big, you're doing well. I found out a long time ago,
that the size of room in NYC does not automatically equate to the high dollar amount you pay for
We ended up with two rooms, side by side, on the 15th floor and looking west toward the Hudson
River and New Jersey beyond that. Neat view -- we could see the WWII aircraft carrier
Intrepid moored over at the docks, hundreds of water tanks on top of buildings, and life in general
in the big city below us (which, by the way, as everyone well knows, goes on 24 and 7 -- it
I had always noticed the water tanks on building tops in Manhattan but never really asked about
them. We found out this trip that because of the volume of water used in NYC, that their water
system can not raise water higher than five stories. Therefore, all buildings six stories and higher
must have a water tank on top. Water is pumped up to the tank by equipment within each building,
and gravity takes over from there.
What is neat are all the various ways these tanks are disguised. Oh, you see plenty of the standard
oak barrel constructed types -- complete with metal rings around them to bind it all together, and
then topped off with the typical cone-shaped top. Since you know that all buildings over six stories
have to have a tank, you start to see all the ways people have hidden them.
Some are surrounded by plain square, box-type structures -- rather boring. Others, however, use
things like Greco-Roman columns and styled structures that look like at first glance, rather
imposing architectural components at the top of a building. Some are VERY fancy. Alas, we now
know they are nothing but spiffed-up water tanks!
Heading for Times Square
After settling in, we headed for Times Square. I have to admit that this was a hard decision to
make. That is, we consciously decided to walk away from a perfectly good bed after spending the
night on a rocking, shaking, rattling, noisy train -- all the while scrunched up in a contorted
posture trying to pretend like we were sleeping like babies!
We left the hotel and walked south on 8th Ave. to 44th St. (just half a block away -- remember
that the hotel is a full block wide -- stretches from 44th to 45th streets).
At the corner, we were torn between turning left and heading straight for Times Square, and
walking across the street to a restaurant called "Robert Emmett's" for a few drinks to celebrate
our arrival in the "Big Apple."
Drinks won out. We asked the hostess if we could sit upstairs along the windows and, if that were
possible, we would need an elevator. "No problem, follow me," exclaimed a young girl with a heavy
Irish accent. Next thing we know, we were headed back out the door and up 44th St.
We must have looked funny to others around us because we all had this strange look on our faces --
like what's happening, we're back out on the street! We were all making jokes about this when the
girl turned and opened a door with a key in her hand and ushered us off the street once more.
This was their only access to their elevators. In a few moments, we popped out next to their
kitchen and were escorted out to our seats along the windows.
Let's just say that the first round of drinks were wonderful. Maybe because we were very tired,
maybe because they really were that good. It didn't matter -- they were good! We tipped our
glasses in a toast to ourselves, sat back, and had an enjoyable hour just sitting there snacking on
food, sipping a few drinks, and watching all the people scurrying about down on 44th St.
I found out later that Robert Emmett, the namesake of the restaurant, was an Irish patriot that
tried to lead an armed rebellion against Dublin, Ireland, in 1803, but before reaching the castle,
his small band of men was dispersed by British troops. Emmett was captured, convicted of treason,
Emmett became a hero of Irish nationalists, largely on the basis of his stirring speech from
"Let no man write my epitaph…When my country takes her place among the nations
of the earth, then, and not till then let my epitaph be written."
Now I know why so many people that worked at Emmett's had Irish accents so thick you could have
cut them with a broad ax.
Refreshed and recharged, we were escorted back on to the elevator and presto, we were back down
and out on 44th St. Turning right, we headed for Times Square.
44th Street, like most of the other streets in the Theater District, is covered on both sides with
theaters -- large and small. There are also a few hotels (some large but with a very small entrance
to the street) tucked away here and there. Sprinkled in amongst all these are numerous other small,
Timing is Everything
There were huge signs and flashy marquees everywhere we walked -- everything beckoning people
to "come see my play!"
One of the plays we all had wanted to see was The Producers by Mel Brooks. I had tried before
the trip to get good tickets on the Internet. You would have had to pay a fortune for these tickets
through resellers (anyone other than the originating box office). All these tickets and the original
box office prices were long gone.
The best I had found (meaning less than $200 per ticket) on the Internet was four tickets at the
back of the orchestra level. It was very easy to find $300 dollars for a good ticket via a reseller.
"Sorry, but no thanks."
As we made our way along 44th St., Deanna looked up the street where The Producers was playing
and saw someone in the box office window talking on the phone.
"I'm going over there and get us some tickets," she determinedly stated. With that and with her
cane in hand, she made a beeline for the box office windows.
"Excuse me, but would you happen to have four tickets for tonight's or tomorrow night's show?
Good seats?" she gently asked the lady behind the bars who was putting the phone down.
"My dear, timing is everything!" she exclaimed and then proceeded to tell Deanna that yes she had
and because of the just completed cancellation by phone, "I have four at $90 each, orchestra level,
7th row center, for tomorrow night -- would those be OK?"
Deanna just about dropped onto the sidewalk out of sheer shock and exhilaration. I've seen her go
for her credit cards before, but this was almost magical because in the twinkle of the eye, she had
her card out and through the bars of the window in under one second as she politely asked with a
huge smile, "You do take American Express, don't you?"
Describing us as ecstatic at that moment would have been a mild description. Deanna had just
bought four of the most sought after tickets in NYC and at an absolute steal! We could not believe
our good luck.
We did our impression of "Singing in the Rain" as we skipped our way down 44th St. toward Times
Square. Of course anyone who knows Deanna understands her luck. I can give her a roll of quarters
in Las Vegas and she wins enough right off the bat to fund both of us for the next three days on
her "little ole winnings," as she likes to say.
Some things never change. Fortunately for us, and for NYC as well, I suspect, Times Square
Gone were all the dirt and filth that used to permeate the area. The former mayor, the Honorable
Rudolph Giuliani, had cleaned it up. Now, big business was there -- Disney, Toys-R-Us, etc.
Security police were everywhere and bums, panhandlers, and the like, were gone.
The air was filled with excitement and noise. Huge flashing signs, lights, digital image screens the
size of billboards -- all commanded our attention. People were flocking about in droves. The lines
were blocks long and three abreast over at the TKTS booth in the middle of the street -- people
trying to get cheap tickets to Broadway plays for that day.
Times Square was once called Longacre Square. When the New York Times built their new building
at the head of the square around 1904, they were the first to use the new moving electric light
message board on their building. Because of this and all of the other illumination of the Square and
streets (white bulbs were used to light up the marquees with the name of the play and the stars),
Broadway was christened the "Great White Way." Soon afterward, the square was renamed to
Today, there are only four Broadway Theaters actually on Broadway. The other 34 or so theaters
in the District are on the streets (41st St. up to 54th St.) that cross Broadway. Most of the
theaters on these cross streets are located between 6th and 9th Ave., with Broadway herself
about halfway between the two avenues.
A common misnomer is thinking that the term "Off-Broadway Theater" means the theater is
physically "off" Broadway. It does not. What it really means is that the theater has less than
299 seats. There are other features of Off-Broadway Theaters like there may be no orchestra
pit, have poorly defined stages, etc. A lot of big-name Broadway plays got their original start
Off-Broadway such as the current hit, Urinetown: The Musical.
All of it was amazing, it was exciting, it was almost overwhelming. We could see where the famous
Times Square ball fell on each New Year's Eve. We could see mounted policemen gently patrolling
the area on beautiful, calm horses. We saw kids beaming with joy at all the excitement around them
-- their smiles matched by the smiles on their parents' faces.
While all this was going on all around us, New York herself was interwoven into the mix all around
us -- her people moving about in their daily lives, walking to or from work, hurrying along to catch
a subway, the construction workers wielding new steel on brand new buildings, trucks sounding
alarms as they backed up to discharge another load of concrete, the wail of sirens as a fire/rescue
truck sped by -- all alive, all pounding out another beat in the heart of the Big Apple.
We were tired -- it had been a very long, LONG day. We looked like we had had enough fun for one
day so we said good-bye to Times Square and headed back to the Milford. We knew it was
definitely going to be an early-to-bed night that night and on a real, honest-to-God bed.
"Say good night, Deanna." "Good night--."
Ground Zero -- Site of the WTC Disaster on September 11, 2001
Other than to see the play The Lion King, Ground Zero was the only other thing that was a must-see
thing while we were here. Coming in on the train the day before, we could see from New Jersey
that the NYC skyline was forever altered.
It seemed wrong, like a trick being played on us, an optical illusion. Here we saw with our own eyes
(not looking at a TV set) -- through the windows of the speeding train, the lower part of Manhattan
with the Twin Towers gone. It seemed physically impossible that we were not seeing them -- maybe
the tears in our eyes hindered us from seeing them. Yeah, that's it--.
After a quick breakfast at a local, nationally known restaurant (value meal at McDonald's on 8th
Ave. down past 44th St.), we piled into a cab and headed for lower Manhattan. We went down to an
area called South Street Seaport -- big tourist area on the waterfront across the street from
another famous place known as the Fulton Street Fish Markets.
We went to the Seaport area to get tickets for the viewing platform at the WTC site. The city
realized that people wanted (and still needed) to come to see Ground Zero. For a long time, the
whole area was sealed off from public access or viewing. The efforts to stop people from trying
to see all the destruction was a 24 hour-a-day job for the police.
The city finally built a viewing platform in early 2002 to allow people to see (safely) the Ground
Zero site. At first, it was just show up and get in line. This turned out to be a disaster -- you
might have to stay in a line, eight abreast for 5 to 7 hours, just to get a glimpse of the site.
The city then stopped that and started issuing tickets (free) out of a tourist ticket booth
belonging to one of the sightseeing companies stationed on the waterfront at Seaport. The tickets
have a viewing time stamped on them. You can go to the platform area no earlier than 15 minutes
before your time. Once there, the police allow only those with times on their tickets that fall
within the current 15 minute window to proceed towards the viewing platform area. You show up
late -- tough luck -- get another ticket!
When we got out of the cab at Seaport, the ticket booth was empty -- good -- we were initially
worried that there might not be a long line at the platform but a LONG line at the ticket booth.
Since it looked like we had time to kill, we decided to tour the multi-storied complex that is
Seaport (full of shops and restaurants) and watch the ticket booth over on the pier.
Brit weather continued for another day down on the waterfront. Finally, Jimmy and I left the
Seaport complex, popped open our umbrellas, and went on down to the ticket booth. Lines were
starting to queue up. After about 10 minutes in line -- bing, bang, boom -- we had our tickets. The
lines moved very fast because there were no discussions at the ticket window other than to tell the
person "how many." You could not request times. Only take your tickets and move on!
Anyway, good news -- we had our tickets! Bad news -- they were for 11:00 a.m. It was already
10:40 a.m., and we were seven blocks away from the site with no idea where the girls were in the
Seaport shopping complex.
Jimmy started looking for a cab, and I raced back inside to find the shoppers. Remembering a
Christmas ornament store we had all looked at earlier that morning, I raced there first and sure
enough, the girls were there. I can only imagine what it looked like as we left the building and
headed for the curb area where Jimmy was hailing cabs -- two old women hobbling along on canes,
one old man with one umbrella -- all headed out in rapid motion on a mission from God!
"Take us to the WTC viewing platform -- we have to get there before 11:00 a.m.," I exclaimed as
we all stuffed ourselves into the waiting cab.
While I'm thinking about it, cabs, at least those in NYC, seemed to be getting a heck of a lot
smaller. They only hold three in the back seat and usually I sat up front to gain a few more inches
of leg room. And no, I do not want to even hear about the other possibility -- that our collective
rear ends had expanded in proportions wider than the rear seats of new cars.
Anyway, we tore away from the fish markets. The markets were really nothing more than one
roll-up door after another with seafood-sounding company names painted on the doors. There were
a few places where you could see into the warehouse area behind the doors, and, in all cases, people
were all over the place handling fish.
Fork-lift trucks were everywhere, scurrying about moving fish from here to there. Ice was all over
the streets -- fallen from containers holding the fish. Paper was scattered about, and in general,
the area was a mess. Did I forget to mention the smell? It smelled fishy, REALLY fishy!
As soon as we had traveled only a few blocks, I realized that we were not headed for the viewing
platform. Turned out, the cab driver had no idea where one of the most popular places was in NYC
today. I tried several approaches with him and was about to say stop and let us out when I
happened to mentioned that I could not believe he did not know about the viewing platform at the
intersection of Broadway and Fulton Streets.
"Broad-a-way and ah FUL-a-ton-a streets -- I know where ah dis is," mumbled the cab driver as he
turned the cab in the correct direction. We got to within one block of the platform entrance and
came to a grinding halt. We were on Fulton Street and just ahead on Broadway, traffic was
stopped with police cars, fire trucks, rescue trucks, the works. We found out later that a
pedestrian had been hit by a cab, no less!
We waited a minute or two and realized that the only thing moving was the meter in the cab. We
piled out and headed up the street on foot to the platform area. It was 11:00 a.m. We made it.
The area all around the entrance to the viewing platform was just like we had seen on TV all these
months. Pictures and messages by the thousands were hung on fences, posted on walls, and on
buildings, and tacked to light poles. They were everywhere.
The viewing platform was actually at the end of another short block (extension of Fulton Street
past Broadway). That short block was divided down the middle with a wall. You approached the
platform on the right side and about half way down the street, you came upon the ramp that took
you up to the platform itself. The platform at the end of the ramp spanned the full width of the
street, and you returned back to Broadway on the left side of the wall running down the middle of
Approaching Our Past…
We showed our tickets to the police on Broadway and approached the ramp and platform.
Immediately, all the pain, anger, tears, fears, and frustration over 9/11 overwhelmed me -- it all
came thundering back. I felt shaky -- the tears welled up in my eyes as I slowly walked that path.
The wall and the fences on the sides were covered with thousands of messages, prayers, and pleas
for love ones to come home.
Fireman's helmets, some charred and smashed, hung there on the fence between the walkway and
the small church yard and cemetery to the right of the platform -- a silent memorial for of all
those who perished that day. The sight of the empty helmets tears at your heart, your psyche, your
soul -- they are tangible proof that what we saw on TV was -- is -- very real.
Message after message, picture after picture -- the walk to the platform seemed like it lasted
forever. It was so quiet around us. Everyone spoke in soft, hushed voices. At the top of the ramp,
we walked out on the platform and viewed for all practical purposes, what looked like one very
large construction site.
Gone were all the twisted metal scenes we witnessed for months on TV -- fire hoses spraying
gallons of water on a continually smoldering pile of rubble. They were working mostly below
ground level -- inside the concrete structure called the "bath tub." This structure was built to
keep out the water from the Hudson River -- just a few blocks west of the WTC site. The walls go
down about 50 feet into the ground, so we could see very little of what was happening down there.
Standing there on the platform, we sensed anew the enormity of the disaster -- simply by knowing
how tall the towers once were plus by looking at the huge hole in the surrounding area -- a gigantic
area of many acres in size once covered with tall buildings, now gone. Several of the buildings all
around the site were still draped in some type of protective netting or plastic covering.
One building, about 60 stories tall on the south side of the site, was draped in solid black -- from
the very top, to the ground. Hanging on the side of this building, near the top, was an American flag
-- one of the largest I've ever seen. It seemed so appropriate -- as if the buildings themselves
were in mourning for those who died at their feet.
I stood there for only a short time -- it got to me after a while. Even though you could stay for the
full 15 minutes, most people seem to stay for just about five minutes. They look, they cry, they say
a prayer, and they leave.
On the way back out toward Broadway, the ramp passed by a statue they are exhibiting to honor all
the hard-hats who worked tirelessly and around the clock with the fire and rescue units in the days
following the disaster. They were the ones who climbed the steel wreckage, cut the steel beams,
and allowed for the rescue workers to safely reach those who might be still alive in all the carnage.
I'm glad I went. I'm glad I saw. I pray that I never forget.
I was glad to just stand there as a free American and cry for my fellow citizens who had so
tragically lost their lives in the twinkling of an eye. Yes, they were gone, I thought, but by God the
rest of us -- America, me -- we're still here…. We will never, ever forget them.
Deanna and I held hands through all of it -- reassurance I guess, that our world was still intact.
We left the WTC site and this time, just ambled on back down Fulton Street toward the Seaport
area. I think we all needed this walk to let our minds regain a sense of acceptance. I had this huge
hurt inside of me -- like some sort of huge hole had gobbled up all my strength and my sense of
security and purpose. Holding Deanna's hand as we walked helped reassure me that it would be OK,
that we would go on, and that we would get past this day, and all the moments of fears in
Fancy Doings in Central Park!
We really were not sure what to do or where to go. This is typical, I guess, considering the age of
all in tow! Anyway, by the time we got back to South Street, we were hungry.
Barbara and Deanna had been told to eat at "Tavern on the Green" if we ever made it to New York
City. Hailing a cab, we crunched in again, and headed uptown for Central Park -- home to Tavern on
The trip up was great. In no time we were there. This driver confirmed (at least to me) that
basically all cab drivers in NYC are schooled in the art of scare-the-hell-out-of-the-tourist and
they will tip you big time for not getting them killed!
As soon as we pulled up in front of Tavern on the Green, Jimmy and I knew we were in trouble --
covered entrance, people dressed to the nines, car attendants, drop-dead, gorgeous surroundings
inside Central Park, and invisible dollar signs hanging everywhere! We were in trouble!
Nice -- very nice! We got in (no reservations -- Deanna and Barbara said "something" to the
hostess at the desk and she slipped us straight in) and had a wonderful meal. This place has a lot of
history, going back over a hundred years. I'll let others go into more detail about the history of all
this but I think the gist of it was that this place was at one time the structure that housed the
sheep when they were raised here in this area of Central Park. Like I said, nice -- very nice.
After lunch, we wandered outside a bit and looked around in the garden. Lights were hung in the
trees, beautiful flowers bloomed everywhere, and lots of topiary plants shaped like animals graced
the terrace. One was cut to look like a 15-foot high "King Kong." From pictures I've seen, this
place (outside) must be spectacular at night time. Don't get me wrong, the insides of the restaurant
were quite elegant -- you know, the money-lives-here type of look.
When our tour of the gardens was completed, we headed out of the restaurant to hail a cab. I
stood there and looked all around and thought about Central Park and all that she encompassed and
meant to the citizens of NYC and to visitors such as wandering tourist.
At 843 acres, she was big enough to practically get lost in. It was truly amazing that so much land
was still in its natural state.
When you think about how all of the natural land around us seems to be disappearing right before
our eyes, it was refreshing to stand there in a huge forest -- smack dab in the middle of one of the
largest cities in the world.
Greenwich Here We Come
An amazing volume of traffic was coming and going all around us. Lots of people, some dressed to
the nines, were getting out of cabs, private cars, and limos. We just stood there in our tennis shoes
and smiled at them while we waited on our cab.
Finally, our cab pulled up and before we knew it, we were crammed back into another one of those
ever-shrinking yellow cabs and speeding out of Central Park. We headed for "the village" --
The trip downtown to the village didn't take too long -- thank God. Abdulla the Hun, late of the
defunct Afghanistan Foreign Legion was practicing his tank maneuvers in case he was ever called
back up, was at the wheel with a death grip! Only in NYC!
First, he had tried moving down 7th Ave., but things we not moving fast enough for our driver.
Then, in the middle of the intersection down at 50th St., he faked out several cars and a bus using
one of his old tank driving tricks. First, he swerved hard to the left like he was going to turn, then
quickly whipped it back to the right, and when they all blinked, he shot back through the hole he
had just opened up on his left and we raced over to 5th Ave.
Making a hard turn to the right on 5th, he blazingly nudged his way through the pedestrians
crossing the street as if they were mere obstacles put in his way to test his courage. Breaking
free, he sped on down 5th Ave. as if maneuvers paid a bounty for the most near-hits in a
As we sped down 5th Ave., the wild ride and the memories of Central Park made me think of my
beautiful sister, Sabra.
I think about Central Park every time I look at a painting I have hanging in my home. It shows
three people in turn-of-the-century outfits paddling idly about on a lake. The scene looks like
dozens of old photos and paintings I have seen that depicted similar boating activities on the huge
lake in Central Park. I had originally bought the painting because in my mind the three characters
in the painting were my brother, my sister, and me -- out bumming around together on a beautiful
While hanging on to the arm rest in the swerving cab and with thoughts of Central Park fresh on my
mind, I made a silent promise to my sister. "Sabe, I will bring you to NYC -- on a train -- and I will
show you this beautiful city, including taking you to a real, live Broadway Play."
Besides, I thought, she would feel right at home with all these cab drivers -- she would be able to
swap war stories about all of their similar wild and crazy rides, including comparing notes on all of
the dents, dings, paint smears, scratches, and dangling chrome doodads that their cars have
In very quick order, our cab -- on what by then seemed like a mission from God -- zoomed past the
Empire State Building on 34th St. Years ago, after I had first visited this magnificent structure, I
became aware of how differently everyone experiences the same thing.
You'd get 100 different answers if you asked 100 people "What did you see when you were high up
on the observation deck?"
"I could see my house all the way over there in Jersey." "I could see all the way to the end of the
world." "I could see a million yellow cabs down below." "I could see…" -- the list would be endless.
What did I see the first time I stood on top of the Empire State Building? I saw thousands of
water tanks -- all different sizes and shapes -- sitting on top of all the buildings below me.
Continuing down 5th Ave., the green trees in Washington Park at the edge of the village grew
larger and larger as we raced toward Washington's monument in the center of the park. We sped
around the square and went on down to Bleeker St. -- one of the main drags through the village.
We had no hesitations about getting out of this cab. When he came to a complete halt, we were out
and ambling along Bleeker St. in a New York minute!"
The area around Thompson St. is covered with dozens of small, great restaurants of all sorts and a
few blues clubs. I showed the gang several places like Fence that I had visited before when I had
been in the area with friends while in NYC on business last year. Interesting seeing these places in
the daylight -- they look totally different at night. Seeing Fence in the daylight was, well, let's just
say interesting (frightening?).
We popped into the Red Lion for a cool one and to just relax a bit. It was strange sitting there in a
dimly lit pub, everything quiet, and few people around you. By 10:00 p.m., you wouldn't be able to
hear yourself think (we were sitting right next to the live band stage). After a while, we went back
out onto the street and continued walking.
The village is old. By that I mean, most of the buildings were built a long time ago. Most were
probably under six or seven stories and showed an architectural style of the late 1880s through the
1930s. Character -- each building showed character and its appearance told a hundred different
stories. I loved this part of NYC.
When we got to the next intersection and were waiting on the light to change, I remembered the
night I was here last year. The other guys wanted to see a band in a club right across the street
from where we were now standing. On that night, we went over, paid our cover charge and went in.
BOOM -- the music was so loud in the club. The walls literally shook with each beat of the
electrified drums. I couldn't take it for long and went back outside to stand there in the shadows
against the building and watch Bleeker St. in motion."
At first, everything seemed disorganized, no apparent pattern to anything -- you know, organized
chaos. However, the longer I stood there, the more I realized that there was order, there was a
pattern to all this madness. I started recognizing the same people walking by, riding by in cars or
on bicycles. I noticed the same police that cruised the area. I saw lots of people who moved about
on foot -- talking to dozens of people as they made their way up and down, back and forth, across
Then it hit me -- they all (within reason) knew each other or recognized their cars, whatever. This
was their community, their neighborhood. Me, us, we were the strangers. I saw clearly how tourists
like us stood out like blinking neon lights saying "Look at me -- I'm not from around here, am I?"
Back home, we grew up in neighborhoods that had houses separated by yards, trees, etc. We knew
everybody who came and went. The same thing here, except that they don't have houses separated
by trees and yards -- they have buildings jammed next to each other and the restaurant is on the
first floor and the bedroom in on the third floor!
The same thing here -- they knew everybody who came and went!
We toured the village a while longer, enjoying the sights and sounds of an active neighborhood. We
looked at the flower shops on the corners, the local deli where food stuffs for tonight's meal was
probably just purchased, and watched people going about their daily lives as if we were not even
Our feet told us it was time to head home. We made our way back to Bleeker St. so as to have the
best chance to flag down a cab. In no time, we were holding on again for dear life as we sped uptown
toward the Milford.
The Milford Plaza Hotel
Pulling up to the Milford, we once again bailed out of another adventurous trip in an NYC Yellow
Cab. We must have all been bone tired because frankly I don't remember much about the trip. I
probably just closed my eyes and prayed all the way.
It is funny how some places can take on the feeling of home so quickly. We had stayed here at the
Milford before on our Christian Tour several years ago and were very pleased with the hotel. The
airline pilots stay here by the dozens. Big vans pull up at all hours of the day to the hotel entrance
and pick up or drop off pilots and flight attendants. We figured then that if it was good enough for
them, it was good enough for us.
We also noticed, during our first stay and again on this trip, that the Milford is some sort of home
to the police in the area because we saw them there a lot (inside) going up to rooms to change, or
whatever. All the staff knew them, kidded with them, called them by name. Anyway, we enjoyed
having them around and NO, they weren't there because to raid the joint!
Already, we felt like the Milford was home -- our refuge from the excitement and stress of the
city. Here we were safe, secure, and warm. We recognized familiar faces: the doormen, the bell
captains, the security officers at the desks, the concierges behind their desks. Our rooms were
just as we had left them, well, not exactly -- they were cleaned up now and the beds were made.
Anyway, the rooms -- the Milford -- was home for now.
More Tickets the "Johnson Way"
Knowing that we had tickets for The Lion King on Wednesday, and The Producers on Tuesday,
Deanna and Barbara stopped by the Concierge desk to see what plays might be available (translate
-- cheap tickets) for that evening. We knew that Oklahoma! was playing right up the street (8th
Ave.) on 51st Street in the Gershwin Theater so they asked about it.
Long story short, he suggested that we go back to our rooms and call the number he gave the girls
-- he said that "If he does it, he's got to add about $45 to EACH ticket for handling." Bing, bang,
boom, the girls were on the phone in our room and within a few minutes, Deanna had wrangled four
great seats -- second row, center mezzanine for Oklahoma!
How did the girls do it? Anybody else hunting for tickets for that evening's performance would
have ended up with tickets for Row Z, far left seats against the wall behind the balcony pillars!
Since we had about six blocks to walk that night, we left early for the play so we could take our
time and also find a place to eat before show time. We found this great Italian restaurant called
Federico's on 50th Street, close to where Oklahoma! was playing.
Again, with no reservations, the girls got us in and seated in about two minutes. One of these days,
I've got to ask those "Johnson girls" just how they do that -- who do they REALLY know! Anyway,
within about five minutes, the place was packed and if you had not had reservations at least a
month in advance -- GOOD Luck! We found out later that this was one of the newest, hottest
places to eat before curtain call in the Theater District.
The food was excellent. We ended up ordering pizzas. We were seated directly next to the pizza
making station that was prominently stationed in the center of the restaurant. A young man made
each pizza by hand -- rolling out the dough, kneading it, stretching it -- the whole nine yards. He
could make the exact same size of dough (about 15-inches across) every time… every time.
He'd look over at us to make sure we were watching him make our pizzas. Later, when they had
been delivered to our table, he continually checked on us to see if we liked his pizza. We gave him
the thumbs up sign and he grinned from ear to ear.
Oklahoma! -- The Play
All of us had seen the original play, seen the movie -- knew ALL the songs. Seeing it again was just
as exciting as the first time. The theater does that to you, I guess -- there's something magical
about all the creativity coming alive right before your eyes.
It amazes me how someone interprets the words of a time and makes a song about them. Or, with
just a few pieces of canvas and wood, builds a set that makes you feel like you're there. Just as
important as the sets, are the lights. The lighting all on its own, can make people and things look
happy, sad, or even sinister. It can make the same object look like ten different things -- done
simply just by changing the color or intensity of the light that paints the objects on the stage.
The actors stand there among the sets and lighting and deliver the words of the play with
conviction and belief. You smile at the funny parts and hold your hands tight when the action is
dangerous or frightening.
Then, add the dances that portray the movements of life, coupled with the words of songs. Wow!
Your heart races, your ears ring with music, and your mind transports you wherever the play is
Did we enjoy it? You bet! The walk back to the Milford was wonderful. "Oh what a beautiful
morning, --" rang in our ears with each step we took. Good day that day, good day.
"Say good night, Deanna." "Good night--."
At 6:00 a.m., the city beneath my window was already alive with activity. I could tell that this was
going to be a beautiful day. The sky was clear as a bell -- the deep blue already highlighting the
horizon across the river.
The area of NYC that I gazed over was the neighborhood of Clinton. The name sounds tame
compared to its former namesake -- Hell's Kitchen -- so named, I understand, either after a local
gang or because of remarks made by police in the 1870s. The origin of the name is still in dispute.
Covering an area roughly west of 8th Ave. and between 34th St. and 59th St., Hell's Kitchen was
once a notorious area of NYC with huge slums, high crime, and gang warfare. After the unfortunate
gang-war killing of two children in 1959, the citizens of the area changed their neighborhood name
to Clinton in hopes of improving its image. They chose the name from a local park that was named
after DeWitt Clinton, a 19th-century governor of New York.
I've have since learned that the older generation still refers to this area as Hell's Kitchen and are
deeply proud of the name and would not change it or leave the area for any reason. I can
understand how they feel. Home is home -- no mater what newcomers call it.
Today, the area streets are a haven to a multitude of ethnic groups who call Clinton their home,
their neighborhood. Just one block west of our hotel is 9th Avenue -- known as the ethnic foods
capital of the city.
The next time we come to NYC, we will definitely have to try out all the great places to eat.
Deanna was still sleeping soundly. Yesterday was a full day for all of us -- emotionally and
physically. I continued to look out my window. I reflected on all that we had seen and what was to
come. Watching the people down on 8th Ave. hurrying to work, I was reminded of a game Michael
and I used to play on the computer -- SimCity™ 2000 (short for simulated city).
This game was eerie -- it acted like it was actually alive.
When viewing and playing the game, it was as if you were looking "down" on the city from above.
Same here. I felt like I was watching a "SimCity" grow right before my eyes. All the buildings, the
cars, people, houses, boats, the river on the horizon, the trucks -- all of it -- game pieces in a real
life struggle to coexist and survive.
The computer game teaches you (shows you) that everything you do (as the architect of the city)
has an action and a corresponding reaction. No water, people leave. No transportation, people seek
jobs elsewhere. No schools, people move to places where their children can learn. No buildings,
business, or an infrastructure mean no economy. No churches or theaters mean no peace of mind
and any fun -- hence the people leave to seek fulfillment.
The city I viewed from above had all those things. No, NYC was not a simulated city -- she was a
She seemed to actually live, breathe, cry, hurt, and yell with joy like a rambunctious child. On
beautiful sunlit mornings like this day, with her brood of players all bathed with the warm glow of
early sunlight, she patiently watched her players to see what adventures and calamities might ensue
with their next moves.
Cruising and Looking
One of the last things we did yesterday was to book a tour on a sightseeing boat that circles the
entire island of Manhattan. With the rain (Brit weather) finally leaving us late yesterday, the blue
sky out my window confirmed that was a good day to go cruising.
Not wanting to miss out on all the local goings on at the local McDonald's, we headed there for
breakfast again. Super-sized pancake breakfast with two potato things thrown in for just $2.99 --
you can't beat it. Besides, we were motivated by possible celebrity sightings (celebrities in disguise,
After breakfast, we hopped into another cab and made our way over to the docks where 42nd St.
ends at the Hudson River. Circle Line Tours was to be our partner in today's great adventure. Even
though the sky was clear and blue as can be, the cold front that had moved through the area last
night not only took away all the gray clouds and rain, it also took away all the HEAT -- it was
COLD down on the docks and the wind whipped and swirled fiercely.
We had about an hour to kill. The girls found a place to sit out of the wind. Jimmy and I walked up
the dock area so we could look at the U.S.S. Intrepid tied up a few blocks north. She might be
small, as compared to the aircraft carriers in today's fleet, but the Intrepid still loomed large on
the horizon. I felt glad that we kept ships like her around us as a constant reminder of what was
and who we were in a time when WWII threatened our very existence and way of life.
Finally, it was time to board our cruise boat -- a welcomed relief from the nippy air surrounding
the docks. The cruise boat was very nice -- double decked with open viewing areas and glassed-in
areas for those not wanting to brave the cold and wind. We found seats in the enclosed area, up
front and close to the tour host who sat facing backwards so he could look you in the eye as he
talked. Fortunately for us, our tour guide was very knowledgeable about all that we would see that
day -- no boring monologues broadcast over loud speakers.
Within minutes, we had backed away from the docks and were out in the middle of the Hudson River
-- our seafaring adventure had begun. We approached the WTC site on our left as we cruised down
river toward the harbor surrounding the lower tip of Manhattan Island. Even from this viewpoint,
we could see the missing gap in the skyline. We also could see the tall cranes at the WTC site, but
that was about all -- that and the gap where two very tall and proud buildings once graced the
Up ahead were Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in the middle of the harbor.
New Jersey tries to claim that both places really belong to them, but I wouldn't bet any money
that you'll ever see the words "Statue Of Liberty in New Jersey" -- ever.
When the four of us were here two years ago, we took a tour to see both places up close and
personal. It was raining on that tour -- misty rain and cold. However, today, it was gorgeous --
blue sky and a good bit warmer (than December).
The statue was closed to tours -- has been since 9/11. Our guide said that every time the National
Parks Service sets a date to reopen it, they get a phone threat. Not right -- just not right.
As we circled near this beautiful and profound statue out in the middle of New York Harbor, I
could not help looking at her from our boat out there in one of the busiest harbors in the world
and tried to imagine what it was like all those years ago. From lands far away, thousands came this
way and cast their eyes on the one thing that meant freedom and a new way of life to them -- the
Statue of Liberty.
Seeing her was proof of all the stories they had been told -- about the beautiful Lady in America
who would greet them after their long journey across the wide Atlantic.
She stood then as now -- tall, proud, and forever holding her torch high to light the way for all
those who seek the freedoms that our country gives so freely. The longer you look at the Statue,
the more you well up inside with pride, love, and a deep appreciation for all that you have --
especially the gift of freedom.
Leaving the Statue of Liberty, we headed toward the East River and started our journey up and
around the Island of Manhattan. As we sped past the Battery and then by the South Street
Seaport, our guide gave a continual description of what we were seeing. We saw the huge terminals
for the Staten Island Ferry and one passed just ahead of us.
Some of his facts were, of course, just that. However, he also threw in the human side of the facts
-- who slept here, who built this place, famous person X lived over there, died there, etc. His extra
facts made what we saw real, made it personal. Kind of like SimCity -- he gave voices and reasons
to all the pieces spread out before us on this, real, live game of life.
We could see the Brooklyn Bridge ahead of us -- absolutely gorgeous in the morning sunlight. One
could spend hours talking about the history of this still-beautiful suspension bridge -- linking the
borough of Manhattan with the borough of Brooklyn. NYC is made up of five boroughs --
Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. We would see all five on our cruise.
Beyond this bridge was yet another bridge -- the Manhattan Bridge -- gateway to famed Flatbush
Ave. over in Brooklyn. We were told that on this tour we would pass under many, many bridges as
we navigated the waterways around Manhattan.
New Yorkers love to create acronyms for areas they live in. Two of the most famous are SoHo
(South of Houston Street) and Tribeca (Triangle below Canal Street).
As the old Brooklyn waterfront was transformed and became more and more popular (after fixing
up old buildings or building new ones), the new residents were determined to have an acronym of
their own to define where they now lived. Since the area is in the shadows of the Manhattan bridge,
they decided on the word DUMBO.
Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass -- DUMBO. Only in NYC.
As we cruised under the Manhattan Bridge, we saw the Williamsburg Bridge up ahead as it crossed
over the East River. This bridge was almost lost several years ago -- seemed like no one had done
any real maintenance on it for years and years and the corrosion and rust had just about got the
bridge shutdown by the state. With the help of a lot of money (and major restoration and repair),
she's continued connecting Delancy Street, the heart of the Lower East Side and Little Italy,
Up ahead on the left we could see the Empire State Building standing tall against the backdrop of a
teaming city glimmering in the bright sun. Since 9/11, she has the distinction once again of being
the tallest building in NYC -- an honor I'm sure, she never wanted to regain the way she did. The
beautiful Chrysler Building could also be seen. Her top, some say patterned after a 1928 Chrysler
hubcap, was shining in the bright sun.
We passed by the United Nations buildings and kept on sailing. Soon we passed under the 59th St.
Bridge (Queensboro Bridge). This bridge passes over Roosevelt Island that sits in the middle of
the East River. Running right alongside of the bridge was a huge cable car that connected
Manhattan with the island. At Universal Studios in Florida, the "King Kong" thrill ride takes place
on the "Roosevelt Island Cable Car."
Our tour guide had been giving us a steady stream of information about all the sights. Without his
informative narrative, this would have been just a long boat ride. He showed us a building in the
59th St. area that on the top, instead of the usual flat structures hiding water tanks, the owner
had decided to hide his tanks with a house.
It looked so funny -- high up on a 60-story building was this gorgeous ranch-style home with
English Tudor-style characteristics. My kind of guy -- if you're going to do something different,
go all the way!
On our left was Gracie Mansion, the home for the New York City Mayor. Beautiful setting -- old
1800s vintage homestead, sitting on a few acres of land at the water's edge. The house was actually
built in 1799 so it has been around for quite a while.
The house was positioned so that the view is directly toward an area known as "Hell's Gate." The
name comes from the way the water behaves where the East River forks -- with the left fork, the
Harlem River, heading northward and the East River itself turning to the right to go out into the
waterway called Long Island Sound. The water was very, very turbulent, complete with whirlpools
and ripping tides.
We were told that the current Mayor, a billionaire, had elected NOT to stay at Gracie Mansion.
Dare I ask "Why not?" -- most would love to live here for a short time in their lives.
We turned left at Hell's Gate and sailed up the Harlem River. We passed under the Ward's Island
bridge -- a pedestrian-only bridge that connects Manhattan with the Ward's Island recreation
area. There were many low bridges along this part of the river -- we just barely cleared some
Big bridge ahead -- the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95) Bridge -- for traffic coming in from New
Jersey via the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River, to literally zoom straight across
Manhattan and drive directly into the Bronx and beyond. Yes, a big bridge.
As we cruised by the Bronx, we could see Yankee Stadium on our right and Harlem on our left. We
had basically been traveling north for some time now and suddenly the river turned rather sharply
to the left as it made it way toward the Hudson River.
The Columbia University complex was now on our left and up ahead a bit was a huge (several
hundred feet high) rock island just to the right of the middle of the river. The island side facing
the university dropped off straight into the water as an almost vertical cliff.
There is a gigantic block "C" painted in white on the face of the cliff. Our tour guide said it had
taken daring students, hanging by ropes from the top, almost ten years to get it painted. It took
that long because every time they stared to paint, someone called the police and the police were on
them in just a few minutes.
We fast approached the Hudson River again. Soon, we had cleared the railroad swing bridge that
only opened up if a notice was given four hours ahead of time. Out in the Hudson, we could see
northward up toward the Tappan Zee Bridge, the 800-foot high Palisade cliffs across the river,
and looking down river, we could see the famous George Washington Bridge.
As we approached the bridge -- beautiful as it gracefully connects the Island of Manhattan with
the cliffs over on the New Jersey side of the river -- we could see a little red lighthouse under
the bridge. Sitting out on a small point of land on the New York side, it was once a beacon of
safety for traffic on the river. When they built the bridge and lighted it, they decided to tear
down the lighthouse. Wrong!
The children's book "The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge" by Hildegarde Swift
in 1942, had popularized the little lighthouse, now dwarfed by the bridge. Millions of children who
loved the lighthouse spoke out -- thereby, saving it from destruction. And they say kids can't get
Soon, we could see the aircraft carrier Intrepid looming once again into view and we knew that our
three-hour tour around Manhattan was coming to a close. Passing by Grant's Tomb high up on a hill
overlooking the river, we were told the story about all the water tanks -- why they were there.
From this particular spot in the river, you could see them by the hundreds spread out across the
Just before the Intrepid, were the cruise ship docks. No ships were in at that moment but NYC is
trying very hard to get more and more of them to dock here like in the old days. With a final bump
and grind, our cruise ship was once again securely tied up at the dock.
Saying our farewells to our tour guide, we sought directions on how to get to Saint Patrick's
"Easy -- just hop on the number-50 bus and it will take you straight there," stated our tour guide
without blinking an eye. "Easy for you to say," we all thought as we ambled down the gangway and
returned to firm earth once again.
It was a great tour.
Boogying Across Town on Number 50
The weather around the docks had certainly improved in the three-plus hours since we were last
there. Warm, still beautiful, bright sunshine, and the wind had dropped considerably. We saw
where the bus stops were near the road (12th Ave.), so we made our way over to them.
First problem -- the fare was $1.50 per passenger, the buses only took exact change (coin only),
and the driver did not or would not make change. We dug into our pockets -- I had two quarters,
Barb and Jim had one each and Deanna, still thinking there might be a slot machine around
somewhere, swore she had none.
Next problem -- the Number 50 bus left in less than 10 minutes and we only had $1.00 in fare
money. Being $5.00 short was problem number three.
Looking around, we realized that our options were limited for getting change. I finally ran over to
a hot dog stand that was just opening up there on the docks and asked (actually I begged) the
young girl behind the counter for an extra roll of quarters. She didn't even blink an eye until I
realized that, hey, this was NYC -- so I held out a $10 bill. Bing, bang, boom -- I had a roll of
quarters in my hand.
Number 50 Bus -- real simple -- it only ran across town on 50th St. When it reached 2nd Ave. and
came back across town on 49th St., guess what the bus number was…?
At first, there were only six people on the bus -- us and two other tourists that were also lost. This
type of maximum passenger load is about the same in my home county. I've never seen more than
six people on one of our buses at one time. Anyway, we figured this was cool. We would get to sit
back and relax and look out the windows until we reached St. Patrick's at 5th Ave. and 50th
As soon as the bus turned off of 12th Ave. onto 50th St. to head across town, it stopped to pick
up passengers. It stopped a lot. We picked up LOTS of passengers. Businessmen, shoppers,
students, construction workers, musicians, rappers, drunks, and other assorted folks -- all nice and
polite, but pushy!
By the time we got to Broadway, I had long since given up trying to see out the windows. I stood up,
sat down, stood up. Finally, I just hung onto the overhead dangling straps like I knew what I was
doing and tried to act like I knew where I was and where I was going. All the locals knew I was just
a tourist and ignored me.
Deanna, Barbara, and Jim kept glued to their seats like true New Yorkers and blended in with all
the locals. All in all, it was a fascinating journey. It only took about 25 minutes, but in that time,
we saw New York alive with her people -- coming and going, each solving the problems of the day in
their own ways.
Just like on the train trip up here, the bus constantly added and discharged passengers. Some knew
each other -- you could see their greetings and smiles at each other. If you listened closely, you
could hear them communicating with each other -- in several different languages.
In that one short bus ride, I could distinguish English of course, but I also could hear Italian,
German, French, Chinese, Slavic, Arabic, and a few others. I was fascinated by the fact that here
we were, all being bombarded by a tower of babble and each person, without even thinking about
it, only heard his fellow communication partner.
Saint Patrick's Cathedral
When we got close to 5th Ave., we bailed out of our cross-town bus. I for one, was glad that I did
not have to do that every day of my life. Working our way up to the street corner, we could see St.
Patrick's Cathedral diagonally across the street from where we stood.
It was beautiful -- soaring up toward the sky like all the pictures of cathedrals we've always seen.
The spires, the stone works, the windows -- truly beautiful and inspiring. Seeing it in person is like
looking at the Grand Canyon for the first time. All the pictures in the world do not compare to just
being there. After waiting for the pedestrian lights to signal it was OK to cross the streets (had to
cross over 5th Ave. and 50th St.), we made our way to the cathedral.
Crossing busy intersections in NYC can be daunting at times. Going against the pedestrian lights is
truly taking a risk. Even with the light, it seems like every car, truck, or cab at the intersection has
you directly in their sights. Horns blow and cabs nip at your heels as they try to nudge pass you. In
general, it seems like you're caught up in some type of human tidal wave as the mass rushes toward
the opposite shore. Almost scary, but always exciting.
We quietly walked up the steps and were dwarfed by the enormous doorways leading into the
cathedral. The entrance area all around the front of the cathedral was probably three to four feet
above the surrounding sidewalks -- hence the few steps. Before going inside, we stood in the shade
of the cathedral for a moment and just marveled at the huge stone structure looming over us. I was
not sure how, but just the presence of the cathedral amidst the very busy city all around us
projected a sense of security and calm.
Once inside, we were humbled by the vastness of the vaulted ceiling and the stone arched pillars
soaring upward to hold the roof in place. We headed down one of the side aisles so we could see up
close all the beautiful individual prayer alters -- each one set below gigantic, complex stained-glass
windows high above.
The colors in the windows were breathtaking. Each piece of glass was pure with rich colors and hues
-- all intricately pieced together to form a picture -- a person, a scene, or an object.
There were lots of people in the cathedral -- some like us just looking in awe at one of the most
beautiful structures in the world and others who were there to pray. Since 9/11, we've been told
that all the churches in the Manhattan area have seen a dramatic increase in people just dropping
in to say a quick prayer for a loved one still lost or to simply say thanks for those who were
spared on that fateful day.
Our little group of four wanderers made our way slowly around and through the cathedral. At the
back of the cathedral, I, too, paused for a moment and said my prayers for those whom I loved
and for those who were still grieving for their lost loved ones.
Being there, in the presence of such awesome beauty and protection by the obvious strength of the
stone, I understood why so many souls sought comfort, understanding, or forgiveness there.
After a while, we headed back out into the "real" world. We were only a block away from
Rockefeller Center, so we ambled back along 50th St. and contemplated how we wanted to get home
-- hoof it or take another cab ride. We were also hungry and had to "go" -- know what I mean?
Therefore, we postponed our decision making for a while and sought out the rest rooms down on the
lower level of the Center (by the open, sunken plaza area). Afterward, we found a great deli-type
restaurant and decided that this was the place for lunch.
As I had said, we were hungry and we all pigged out on stuff we got in the deli. Afterward, we again
brought up the subject of getting home.
Rockefeller Center and the Long Walk Home
Hoofing it back home won out -- the girls were game for the long walk home -- about 12 blocks
altogether. Don't forget that blocks are about three times as wide as they are tall in this part of
NYC. Anyway, we worked our way down 6th Ave. for a bit, and then started angling over toward
7th Ave. to the west and then over to Broadway, and then on down toward Times Square.
The sites -- the excitement -- it never stops. So much of what I saw and heard reminded me of
central Paris -- another city that never sleeps.
Just like in Paris, people live and work in NYC. Street level generally has the businesses, and
sometimes, just one flight up are residences for people. You can truly live and work in almost the
same place. This type of cohesiveness and synergy radiates. You can feel it, sense it. It makes the
city seem alive.
We were surrounded now at the street corners by all the food vendors, sidewalk entrepreneurs
(say cheap watches and handbags five times real fast!). People talked on cell phones, conducted
meetings, bought and sold things, and carried on screaming matches of all sorts.
Somehow, it all seemed to fit. As we approached Times Square from the North on 7th, you could
look down the avenue so to speak and see it like canyons of lights, signs, and dazzle. It is hard to
describe all the advertisement that you are bombarded with -- the plays, movies, TV programs,
BVD underwear, Victoria's Secret bras, and world events ticking by on lighted message boards
that make it seem like the words are racing each other around the buildings.
Show Time in the "Square"
We were walking on the right side of 7th Ave. and approaching 43rd St. when we heard the
drummer. Gene Kruppa would have been proud -- the sounds of perfect staccato rhythms sounded
out on a variety of drums and cymbals. The closer we got, the more you were drawn to this obvious
talented musician. By the time we got to him, we were beating along inside with his rhythm.
Plastic buckets. Tin cans. Pie plates. Cooking grills. Wash boards. Welcome to the world of
improvised musical instruments. We were dumbfounded. Sitting there on the street in front of us
was a young black man playing his heart out on discarded items.
Didn't matter -- this young man could hold his own with any band -- real drums or not. If I had the
money or the connections, I would have hired him on the spot or sent him off to school somewhere.
We were watching a true musician -- home grown -- performing for quarters thrown into his tips
bucket. He had more talent than the hundred people around him, combined.
Working our way on past him, we could hear more music as we approached 42nd St. There before
us on the sidewalk was a whole family of black entertainers -- from one young man about four years
old up to an older man who was his father. As we approached this event, the young man of four was
break dancing while his other family members played music and clapped for him. He ended his
performance by spinning around on his head with his legs outstretched above him.
Everyone was applauding when we heard this deep, gentle, but powerful voice behind us say "What
do you think about our entertainment here on the square?"
When I turned around to see who was speaking, I was greeted by one of the biggest policemen I
have ever seen. He was a young black man, soft spoken, and the size of a firehouse. Deanna told him
we were enjoying everything -- it was all so exciting.
"Have you seen our naked cowboy?" the policeman asked with a grin on his face.
"No…" Deanna said timidly -- thinking he might be kidding. "Where is he?"
"Out there where?" we all asked.
"Out there in the middle of the street," he again said.
Keep in mind that this young man was well over 6-feet tall and could see over everybody. We
worked our way through the crowds to the edge of the sidewalk and sure enough, there he was.
Smack-dab in the middle of Times Square, standing on the center median in the roadway, was a
young white man, 6-feet tall, blond hair, wearing nothing but snow-white BVD briefs, cowboy
boots, and a cowboy hat, while playing a guitar and singing!
Only in NYC! We found out later that he's been on several of the news shows.
People (women) were gathered around him getting their pictures taken with him. On the tops of his
orange boots (looked just like mine), he had the words "Tips" painted and the women were stuffing
dollar bills into them after the picture taking was over. Some wanted to stuff the bills elsewhere,
but he wouldn't let them. I guess he figured he was already stretching the limits of what they
would allow in the new and improved Times Square area and didn't want to mess up a good thing.
After we all got through gawking at the naked cowboy, the policeman asked Deanna if she had been
to Ground Zero yet.
"Yes," she replied, "but we couldn't stay very long -- it was too emotional."
"I know what you mean," he said, "but we're rebuilding and getting our city back. It won't be long
until we're standing tall again!"
Deanna looked up at him and said "No, I think NYC and our nation is already standing taller since
9/11. I'm from the South, but as of 9/11, nobody better knock NYC!"
The policeman just stood there a moment looking down at Deanna before he responded. "We thank
you for that," he said as tears welled up in his eyes.
Little things -- a giant of a man, an NYC policeman with tears in his eyes -- continuously made us
aware of how deeply the citizens of NYC felt about 9/11. To them, it was still up close and personal,
it was home, it was my neighborhood, that sort of thing. You name it and you saw signs of it
everywhere you looked. NYC was still quietly grieving.
By now, we four tourists were dead tired, so we headed back to the Milford a block away from us.
Arriving at the Milford, our very long foot journey from St. Patrick's Cathedral was complete. The
entrance to the Milford is of course at street level. After you go through the revolving doors and
into the lower-level of the lobby, you have several choices of how to reach the main lobby level of
You can walk to your left and up a set of broad, carpeted, curving steps up to the main lobby level
or if you're lucky, go straight ahead and ride the escalator up. I say lucky because it goes up in the
afternoon and down in the morning hours. When all else fails, you can get the bell captain to order
down an elevator that can take you up to the main lobby or even on up to your room.
We rode the escalator up. This level of the hotel is where registration and checkout are located as
well as the concierge's desk, gift shop, and other areas that all hotels seem to have. The lobby is
open from the street level up past the main level. This vastness is of course, beautiful with the
huge crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling high above your head, the paintings on the wall,
and the polished marbled floors beneath your feet. The lighting is bright, yet not harsh -- you feel
warm and comfortable
We decided to just chill out in our rooms for awhile (that means, lay our tired butts down on a
comfortable bed and take a NAP). Since we were going to see The Producers at 8:00 p.m. that
night, we agreed to meet downstairs around 6 o'clock so we could eat before show time.
At 2100 hours Zulu Time (6:00 p.m. -- just had to throw that in here to make Jimmy feel at home),
we met in the lobby as planned and made our way down to Robert Emmett's Restaurant on the
corner by the hotel. We liked this place. It was only a few doors down from the St. James Theater.
We already knew the drill about going into the restaurant and then back out and up the street to
the elevator entrance. We acted like seasoned customers and enjoyed the personal attention given
to us by our tour guide.
The meal was great. Afterward, we sat by the windows and watched the street below fill up with
people all dressed up to go to the play -- didn't matter which one -- just so it was one! We had
noticed the day before while looking out these same windows, that even though the street had
regular street lights up on poles along the sides of the road, that each pole also had another set of
lights mounted on it.
Movie lights -- about four per pole -- the bright, high intensity type that you always see lighting
up an area when they are filming. They must film a lot in the Theater District for what's known as
location shots. I guess they figured it was cheaper to leave them in place all the time.
Down below, the people gathered along the street in lines in front of the different theaters.
Another thing that we had noticed yesterday while up here and verified again a dozen other places
all over town was the fact that people in NYC love the color of black when it comes to clothes.
The majority of the people below us wore all black or fairly close to it. Oh, there were some who
had on blue jeans and tennis shoes, but by and large, most were dressed up -- in black.
Deanna on the other hand, was wearing a beautiful white outfit with a red, white, and blue collar
and a red turtleneck sweater underneath. "You ain't from around here, are you--.?"
Limos and private cars (all black of course) pulled up and dropped people off in regular cycles. A
whole bunch would show up, then nothing, then more cars again. At first, I couldn't figure it out.
Then it dawned on me -- real simple -- they were being governed by the stop lights on each end of
44th St. Too many Coronas, I guess!
We finally gave up our people watching. It was show time! After the private elevator ride back
down to the street, we were out the door and within a few minutes, were queued up in line inside
the St. James Theater and ready to see our play.
The Producers -- The Play
I laughed my butt off for almost three hours. The play was so funny!
No one except Mel Brooks could have conceived of such a farce. Who else but Mel would have had
Jews, Hitler, homosexuals, and a blond bombshell all in the same story -- a play -- a full-blown
musical, complete with all of them singing "Springtime for Hitler."
My senses were at one moment shocked -- the sight of men in uniforms prancing around with Nazi
swastika arm bands and the next moment -- laughing silly at one of them singing and dancing to
Hitler's favorite, but secret song, "Der Guten Tag Hop Clop" with the two lead actors, "the
producers," in the play.
The same character that was leading the stupid song was, in the story line, the playwright of the
"worst play in the world" the producers wanted to produce.
He was a closet Nazi supporter of Hitler and lived in Greenwich Village. There was one scene where
he was singing one of his crazy German songs and feeding his pigeons up on the roof of his
apartment. At one point during the song, all the pigeons raised their right wings in a stiff-arm
salute and you could see small swastikas under their wings. When those wings snapped up, I thought
I would have a heart attack I laughed so much!
The play being hysterically funny one minute and blatantly brazen the next made me feel cautiously
sensitive at times as I became aware of all those around me. I asked myself "Were they laughing
too or is it just me?"
The couple in front of us were as Jewish as they come -- they laughed from the opening curtain
until the final bows were taken. The gay couples seated on both sides of us were crying -- they
laughed so hard at all the exaggerated antics on stage by the "gay actors" in the story line.
It was wonderful -- it was exciting. I could hear Jimmy laughing so hard. Tears were running down
Deanna and Barbara's faces at times because they were laughing so hard. At one point in the show
when women dancers came on stage wearing the most ridiculous headpieces, like a gigantic German
pretzel, I thought they would both die with laughter.
Again, just as with the play Oklahoma!, I was overwhelmed by the sheer artistry involved in pulling
off something that was as dynamic and irreverently funny as this show. The words, the props (they
were a hoot at times), the songs, the dances, the actor's actions -- all of it so perfectly timed,
staged. Like I said, I was in awe of their combined talents.
When the curtain finally fell, I was exhausted. They say that the original starting actors in the
play, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, were great but I honestly do not see how they could
have been any better than the two lead actors we just saw -- Brad Oscar as Max Bailystock and
Steven Weber as Leo Bloom -- both as The Producers.
We left the St. James Theater laughing. All those around us were also smiling and talking excitedly.
A good play -- live theater -- does that to you. For a brief time, we, the audience, became as one
with the actors. For a moment or two, it makes the mind live beyond itself -- for a moment or two,
it lives up there on the stage.
As we walked back to our hotel -- our home -- I could hear lines and tunes from the play. Even now,
weeks later, I can still hear the laughter that was on and off the stage that night.
Another great day in the Big Apple came to a tired end. We had done so much that day -- circled
the entire island of Manhattan in a boat, taken an odyssey across town on a city bus, seen St.
Patrick's Cathedral, walked about a mile in midtown NYC, and saw one of the funniest plays ever
written. What a day!
"Say good night, Deanna." "Good night--."
Loop de Loop!
The sound of horns blowing on the streets below our room woke me up. Our window remained open
ALL the time because the heat and air conditioning unit in our room seemed to have a mind of its
own. On the day we had checked in, we should have figured something was amiss when we opened
the door to our room and saw that our window was open about a foot. Even turned off, our unit was
blowing a steady stream of HOT air.
We had them come fix it Sunday night but that only lasted until we turned it off (air conditioning
part) Monday morning when we left for touring about the big city. When we got back that
afternoon, the window was back open. Oh well, such is the life in an older hotel.
We had decided last night that it looked like it would be fun to take one of those big, red, double-
decker sightseeing bus tours. We stopped by the concierge's desk on our way to breakfast and
asked about these trips.
No problems -- there were several to choose from. Tour around Central Park and then up to Harlem,
tour downward from Central Park to the Battery, both loops, or wait until night, and take the
nighttime tour to see the city all lit up.
These were loop tours, that is, they started and ended at the same place. Not only that, but since
the buses ran every 15 minutes, you could hop off one bus, tour around the area where you stopped,
and then hop back on another bus when it came to that same stopping point.
If you were really adventurous (and had a copy of their tour map), you could get off the
southbound bus at Stop Number 9 in Greenwich Village and walk toward the East Village and get
back on a northbound bus at Stop Number 17. Doing so would probably save an hour off your tour,
because you would have effectively cut out the entire lower Manhattan part of the tour.
Some people did it, by the way -- they really only wanted to see that part of Manhattan up close
and the bus method of getting there was just part of the fun.
We finally settled on the downtown tour, got our tickets, and headed out to a new place to eat. We
had seen this neat looking restaurant across from the hotel and decided to try it. Besides, we could
read the sign advertising a full breakfast for $3.99 from across the street!
Don't Stand Up!
The restaurant was really great. After the self-serve routine at McDonald's the past two mornings,
having a waitress was rather nice. When we finished our meal, we headed up 8th Ave. for the
starting point of the downtown loop tour. The walk was only a few blocks and we were there in
After we got there and gave the attendant a copy of our tickets, Jimmy and I headed for the top,
open-air part of the bus while the girls stayed below. The curving steps up to the top, almost like a
ladder because the climb was so steep, were just to much for the girls, especially after just hiking
four blocks. It was chilly up on top because the wind was up just a bit and it was still early in the
day -- about 9:15 in the morning.
"Don't stand up while we're under way," pleaded our tour guide as soon as he picked up the
microphone. We haven't even moved yet and here he was telling us not to stand up -- heck, he
adn't even said good morning yet."
"Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I'm Rick and I'll be your host today on your tour downtown."
Talk about timing!
He then went on to carefully point out the dangers of standing up on this bus. Since we were a
double-decker bus, we rode high on the street and to prove that point, he pointed to the traffic
lights right in front of our bus.
The lights hung from a large metal arm off of a post on the side of the road. This arm stretched
way out over the street -- maybe as far as the second lane from the curb. I could see with total
certainty that if I were standing up when that bus pulled away from the curb, I would have a red
light for lunch!
When we were underway a few minutes later, I estimated that the lights were only about two feet
above my seated head as we drove under them. I was convinced -- "Don't stand up!"
Off and Cruising
Sitting there on the top, Jimmy and I quickly realized that this was the place to be -- we had total
unrestricted, views. As we picked up a little speed, we also realized that maybe the girls were right
-- it was really chilly. But, being the brave pathfinders that we were, we decided to stick it out.
We went up 8th Ave. to 57th St. before we turned right to go over to 7th Ave. so we could turn
right again and head south for Times Square and all points below that. As we turned right at 57th,
we could see Columbus Circle up ahead at 59th St.
Inside the circle is a 2-story tall column type structure that has a statue of Christopher Columbus
on top. What's neat about this place is that way up here on the southwestern corner of Central
Park is the place that all distances (by car) are measured to -- from anywhere in the United
States, to New York City -- to the statue inside Columbus Circle. You'd think it would be to city
hall or the main post office as it is for most cities.
As soon as we had started down 7th Ave., up popped the girls from down below. They had to really
struggle to get up top but the climb was worth it. They said that you couldn't see "doodley squat"
from down there. One of these days, I'm going to find out exactly just what IS a squat, especially
a "doodley" one!
We turned right and swung over to Broadway then turned left and again headed south through the
Times Square area. We saw so much of what we had just seen yesterday but from up here, it was all
new and exciting. Not having to watch where you were walking (including where you were stepping)
allowed us to see ten times as much.
The billboards and the signs were so much more in evidence when viewed from up here. I guess
we're above the crowds, so to speak, and nothing was blocking our view. The lines over at the
TKTS booths were just as crowed as they were yesterday. The only thing different (as far as the
middle of the street was concerned), was that the naked cowboy hadn't shown up yet. Needless to
say, the girls were very disappointed!
Talking about signs -- when we passed by Times Square, I saw one of the most to-the-point traffic
signs I have ever seen. The sign, attached prominently to a pole at an intersection, stated in
unmistakable BOLD Red and Black Letters:
Not 5 Minutes
Not 30 Seconds
NOT AT ALL!
I think maybe they were serious -- what do you think?
When we left Times Square, we angled to the right and was back on 7th Ave. again (Broadway and
7th Ave. crisscross each other in the middle of Times Square) and headed for the Garment District
all down around 34th St. As we drove through the area, our tour guide explained that a lot of the
buildings around us had not only office or retail space and residential space in them, but
manufacturing space as well.
Seemed strange to think that there were factories in those buildings. Back home, a manufacturing
plant (factory) sits out on the edge of town, surrounded by huge parking lots. Bottom line, land is
very, very scarce and nothing is wasted -- including the thousands of square feet of floor space in
some of these buildings that were a block wide.
Hence, manufacturing, and right here -- the Garment District -- clothes manufacturing. Sew it
together on the tenth floor and sell it on the first floor. We saw people pushing racks of clothes all
around on the streets below us. Who knows where all these clothes ended up -- maybe in a Target
Store or Sacks Fifth Avenue near you!
We turned right and made a loop around Madison Square Garden and Penn Station beneath it. I
looked over to where we had caught our cab on Sunday afternoon to see if our cab driver might be
back in the queue line to pick up more passengers. He will never know how close he came to
encountering the full wrath of the Johnson Girls that day.
Our sightseeing bus was only about half full. Because it did allow getting off and on, the capacity
varied continually throughout our tour. As we passed by Macy's Department store going east on
34th St., I looked again at the size of this store -- one full block wide and many, many stories tall.
Until you have actually been inside Macy's at Christmas time, close to Christmas Day and shopped,
then you haven't experienced what crowded shopping is all about. Think close to what seems like a
million people, all with packages, packed tight together in one building, and nobody knows where
they are, much less which floor they are on or where their kids are, and you -- YOU -- just took
the last item off the sales table!
We turned south again on 5th Ave. When we made the turn, we looked high above and stared at the
Empire State Building that just seemed to soar upward forever. Empire State Building -- King Kong
-- all the old movies about it. Seems like I've seen pictures of it, heard about it, read about it all
my life. Since the 1930s, it has been so much a part of all of our lives -- it is staggering to think
about all who have been touched by it one way or another.
Up ahead was the Flat Iron Building -- one of the most photographed sites in NYC. Built in 1902, it
is an airplane-wing shaped building that fits into the crisscross intersection of Broadway and 5th
Ave. at 23rd Street. It is a beautiful, old building -- one room wide at the intersection, growing in
width as you pass by.
The term "23 Skidoo" was coined on the corner of Broadway and 23rd. When the wind is traveling
in a southeasterly direction, the aerodynamics of the Flat Iron Building causes a brisk wind to
develop even on quite calm days.
In the early 20th century, when most women wore very modest clothing, the men would hang out on
23rd St. to watch the dresses of the unprepared young ladies catch a burst of wind, exposing …
well, you can guess the rest.
The police became aware of this and would say to the gentlemen … "Hey you on 23rd, skidoo!"
Throughout our entire tour that morning, the sights all round us were a continuing kaleidoscope of
colors, sites, shapes, and sounds. Tall buildings, short buildings, skyscrapers that touch the sky --
all together or intermixed. It seemed so strange to see a six-story building sandwiched between
two 60-story buildings. The architectural styles of all the buildings were fantastic -- from the
ultramodern ones like Citi Corp with its single, sharp angled top as if someone had cut it off with
a knife, to the old style ones like the Flat Iron Building, or the beautiful art-deco styled
My favorites were the older ones, the ones built by master craftsmen -- whether it was a tall
building to work in or just a four-story walkup that people lived and died in -- it didn't matter.
What mattered was that every stone, every brick, every cut of the wood was the best that
The buildings -- each stood like guardians protecting the streets at their feet -- displayed a
multitude of colors as we sped down the avenues. Brightly colored signs were on the sides of
structures and buses.
The cars themselves, speeding all around in a flurry of motions -- blurring many colors, including
the very popular color of yellow, all together into a palette of visual excitement.
The people on the sidewalks and intersections -- their clothes a constantly changing pattern of
many colors blending, blurring, shimmering in the light as their wearers moved swiftly to
As we looked at all this from the top of our bus, we were also enveloped in a continuous rhythm of
sounds. Horns, beepers on trucks backing up, the rise and fall of diesel engines in the buses as they
revved up to go a short distance, then backing off as they reached the next block.
We could hear all the cars around us, and sometimes, even the people on the streets. Jack
hammers, trash cans being battered about, garbage trucks dropping huge metal containers. At
times, the wail or whooping of sirens as police or fire trucks sped toward someone in need.
Many sounds, many sources, many listeners.
Our seats on top gave us a wonderful advantage to see, hear, and experience all this -- some of the
magic and beauty that this great city only gives to those who venture about.
On to the Battery
Down around 14th St., we turned right and headed west to 7th Ave., where we again turned south
and started our passage through the "West Village" off to our right toward the river and
"Greenwich Village" on our left and straight ahead. The streets were starting to narrow and the
easy east-west, north-south street grid pattern of the upper part of Manhattan was soon lost.
We were back on Bleeker Street again -- in fact we saw right where we had been walking on
Monday. Still looked the same -- like it was going to change! We turned south again and headed for
the SoHO district (South of Houston Street), Little Italy on our left and in a few minutes, we
crossed Canal St. and were smack-dab in the middle of Chinatown.
This whole section of Manhattan -- Greenwich, SoHo -- made us feel like we were in another city,
another country. Tree lined streets, quiet residential streets, quiet neighborhoods like I described
the other day when we walked near Bleeker Street. Yes, there were businesses all around us,
including some tall buildings, but we didn't seem to be as intimidated by them as much as when we
were in the shadow of the Empire State Building.
Chinatown, the largest grouping of Chinese outside of mainland China, was an explosion of colors,
sounds, and visual treats. The language characters themselves look like artwork spread across the
fronts of buildings. There were a huge number of street-side vendors -- almost blocking the paths
along the sidewalks with their temporary shops. It seemed like everything was for sale from
luggage to watches -- and all very cheap.
Ever since we had left the SoHo district, we had been traveling south on Broadway. Up ahead on
the left was City Hall. On the way here, we had passed by another one of those old, but beautiful
buildings -- probably built around the turn of the century. Up on top at the front edge of the
building was a huge statue of an eagle -- it looked like it was ready to swoop down and pick us off
as we rode by.
We had moved into the edge of the financial district and once again, our skyscrapers had returned.
The Woolworth building, built in 1913 was clearly visible from just about anywhere in this area.
Gothic in design, especially with all the fancy stone and window work, and the copper green top that
looked like a steep-pitched pointed roof, it was the tallest building in the world until they built the
Empire State Building around 1929.
We turned right on Chambers St. and headed for West Ave. over by the WTC site. When we looked
behind us as we cruised along Chambers St., we could see the huge open arch where Chambers St.
goes straight through one of the city municipal buildings. It looked so cool -- the arch must have
been three stories high and the road itself was at least four lanes wide.
Our tour guide -- hard to call him that because, well, frankly, I knew more about NYC than he did.
His repertoire of facts, figures, and all around interesting information was severely lacking. Be
that as it may, he gave us our marching orders for tour bus etiquette that we all HAD to follow
when we went by the WTC site.
NYC, especially the police and firemen, all treat the WTC site, Ground Zero, as sacred ground --
as it well deserves to be. Bottom line is "This is our place and here are the rules if you want
West Ave., which runs south right by the western edge of Ground Zero, had only just been opened
after being closed on 9/11. The rules -- the bus cannot stop, or even slow down as it passes by the
site. Passengers on the top cannot stand up to take pictures. The word is, if any one breaks these
rules, that particular tour bus is taken out of service when it reaches the Battery.
When we reached West Ave., and turned, we noticed that the street was wet, but we were still
touring under a beautiful blue sky, clear day. The tour guide said that the school near the
intersection where we had turned had requested that the city wet the road every day since 9/11 to
protect the children from any harmful particles that might become airborne.
We sped straight past Ground Zero. We actually saw more of the actual site than we did from the
viewing platform on the opposite side. Even while speeding by, we clearly saw the vastness, the
enormity of the disaster area. We sat quietly, snapped a few pictures, and wiped away more tears.
The hole in the ground at Ground Zero felt like a hole inside ourselves. It was so large, so deep -- it
almost defies being filled again.
We ended the down-leg portion of our tour when we pulled into the parking area by the Battery.
After a short break, we would head around to the Lower East Side of Manhattan and then back up
toward Central Park.
The Battery area is such a beautiful part of Manhattan. You can see out into the harbor that
surrounds the whole southern end of the island. The Statue of Liberty stood out there -- beautiful
even from here. Ferries were zipping across the harbor -- taking passengers and cars between
Manhattan and another one of NYC's five boroughs -- Staten Island. Way out in the distance, was
the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that links Staten Island with Brooklyn. This bridge is the longest
single span in North America and the third longest in the world. Beyond the bridge, was the
Our bus was parked near a place where the city has put on display, a huge piece of art work that
visitors are allowed to touch. It is the remains of the 15-foot-high Fritz Koenig sculpture "Sphere,"
which once stood in the plaza of the World Trade Center. The sculpture now is half destroyed, the
scars of the violent disaster clearly visible all over its surface.
Cruising the East Side
After our potty break (we never could figure where we could go, so we just held it), we headed
toward the South Street Seaport area where we had been on Monday.
The Financial District was now off to our left -- the tall buildings once again forming canyons where
the sun has to really work to put sunlight straight down on the streets. When we turned at Wall St.,
we could look straight back into the heart of the district. It looked cold and gray, lots of steel and
stone, windy -- almost depressing on an otherwise beautiful day.
After turning right on Wall St., we swung down to South St., and then back left to follow along
South St. (and the docks) to the Manhattan Bridge. This part of South St. is actually under the
overhead FDR Expressway that eventually winds its way up the east side of Manhattan to Harlem.
People were lined up at South St. Seaport to get WTC tickets just as we had done on Monday. We
also noticed that South St., all along the Fulton Street Fish Market area, was clean today -- no ice
in the road, no paper fluttering about -- just clean and inviting looking. In fact, we passed by one
area that looked like it had some sort of outdoor eating area -- complete with umbrellas. This was
quite a contrast from early Monday morning.
Off to the right, as we peeked under the overhead roadway above our head, was the famous
Brooklyn Bridge. Even after 100- plus years, she is still beautiful. The massive stone towers that
support the suspension bridge between them are truly works of master stone masons. Now, the
master builders just nail boxes together and fill them up with concrete.
When we passed under the Brooklyn Bridge, we could see the next bridge across the East River --
the Manhattan Bridge. Remember DUMBO -- the acronym for those on the Brooklyn side that live
Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass? We turned left on Pike Street and started north now
After we crossed over Division St. in a few blocks, the roadway became Allen Street -- a beautiful,
divided (by a tree-filled median) street through the edge of Chinatown, the Lower East Side, and
Little Italy. This whole area brought back memories of characters and places we grew up seeing
and hearing about (in the movies). This was the kingdom where the Bowery Boys, the "Dead End
Kids" hung out -- from the docks down by the Brooklyn Bridge up to around 14th St. past Delancy
and Houston Streets.
We were surrounded by lots of old buildings and tenements. We saw lots of people going about
their daily lives. With each block that we passed, one neighborhood ended and another one started
-- each one almost like a separate city.
We saw a lot of tattoo parlors and ear piercing stores with brightly colored signs advertising their
services. When we stopped at intersections and watched the throngs of people scurrying about the
streets, we could see young kids (teenagers) walking around with crazy hair colors -- some things
just never change.
During our entire ride through the Lower East Side, from the docks all the way north past the UN
Building near 34th street, our illustrious tour guide never opened his mouth. Well, he did say one
thing -- "We must be going through Chinatown 'cause we can't read none of the signs!"
Such a shame -- this area of NYC is so rich in history and character. His put-down remark tended
to cheapen the area and the people who lived and worked there. Out of all that was around him --
almost the birthplace of the city herself, all he could think to say was a knock against Chinatown.
Crossing over Houston St., our roadway became 1st Ave. which continued straight north on past
Central Park. Just a few yards up the road was a famous intersection in NYC -- the intersection of
1st St. and 1st Ave. This point marked the beginning of the numerical street numbering system used
from here on well past Central Park.
Soon, we sped past the Gramercy Park and Murray Hill sections of the East Side. Gramercy Park is
an old historical section of the city with lots of famous buildings and places where famous people
lived, like Theodore Roosevelt's birthplace over around 19th and Broadway. As we approached the
Murray Hill section, we could see off to our left the Empire State Building and other tall buildings
coming back into view.
Murray Hill is another great historical area we just breezed right on by. It is a residential
neighborhood consisting primarily of row houses built between the 1850s and 1910s. I just wish
that we could have gotten off the bus and poked around this old part of town.
"The men in white coats from Bellevue will come get you!" "You're crazy -- we're going to send you
over to Bellevue!" "Let me guess -- his psych report from Bellevue says he wouldn't hurt a flea!"
Lines from dozens of old movies from over the years filled my head as we drove past Bellevue
Hospital on our right.
This place was enormous. The entire complex of buildings, including the New York University
Medical Center, stretched from around 29th St. up to about 34th St. and all the way over to the
East River. I could just image trying to find a place to park or find a doctor at this place -- it just
Bellevue Hospital only had six beds when it open in 1736 as the first public hospital in the United
States. It also had the country's first maternity ward, hospital-based ambulance service, and
emergency room. Now, with nearly 2,000 beds, it is a huge facility and one of the top-ranked
medical facilities in the world.
However, it seemed like all I had ever heard about Bellevue was in reference to its psychiatric
services. I can still remember comments made by my mother 50 years ago like, "Boy, you keep
acting like that, and they're going to lock you up in Bellevue!"
At the time, I had no earthly idea where or what Bellevue was, but since Mama was the head nurse
and night supervisor at our local hospital, she easily convinced me that I did not want to be there.
Soon, the UN Buildings were also on our right. Seemed strange to think that if we had gotten off
the bus and walked over to the where the complex was, say by the flag area out front that we
always see on TV, that we would by law, "Leave the United States." Sovereign territory of the
world or something like that.
Anyway, if it was left up to me, I'd just as soon give'm all the boot and turn the place into a nice
hotel. Just look at the view it would have -- Empire State Building to the West and the East River
and Brooklyn to the East.
To Walk or Not? … That is the Question
When we approached 49th St. where we would finally turn left to end our long trek north, we
talked about whether or not to get off the bus before it actually completed its tour. The tour
ended two blocks from our hotel, but the tour did not take a direct path to the end point from
where we were at the moment.
The real problem was the fact that we had tickets to see The Lion King at 2:00 p.m. and it was fast
approaching 12:30 p.m. Traffic along 49th St. had come to a really slow crawl.
It took 10 crawling minutes to just go a few blocks on 49th. Since we knew the tour still had a long
way to go, we decided to bail out and hit the streets when the bus got near Rockefeller Center.
Having walked from there back to our hotel just the day before, we were confident we could do it
and have enough time to get ready for the play.
To keep our trip back to the hotel different today, we varied our path back. Same excitement as
yesterday -- the people, sights, and sounds -- all combined to give us another view of NYC in the
middle of another busy, beautiful work day. I made a mental note to observe the color of the
clothes people were wearing this day and nothing had changed -- people in NYC (at least up in this
part of Manhattan) love to wear black. Must be a New York City thing.
As we cruised by Times Square, the girls tried to find the naked cowboy but he was gone. The lines
at the TKTS booths were just as long as yesterday -- even looked like it had the same people in line.
Rounding the corner on 44th St., we headed straight for our hotel a block away.
Our lower Manhattan sightseeing tour came to a sudden stop when all of our tired behinds came
into contact with the beds in our hotel rooms.
New Amsterdam Theater
What a fantastic tour -- my mind was still swimming with all that we had seen and heard those last
three hours. It was exciting, it was rewarding. Everyone needs to see NYC on a beautiful, blue-sky
We didn't have too much time to get ready to go see The Lion King. The New Amsterdam Theater
was on 42nd St., so we had a good two-plus blocks to walk. That doesn't sound like much but when
you navigated the streets of NYC with walking canes, you just can't be in too much of a hurry.
We had decided to skip lunch (we had a huge breakfast) so we all just rested a bit, got dressed for
the play, and then met back in the lobby for the short walk over to 42nd St. Since this was a
matinee performance, we figured we would go to the play and afterward, find a great restaurant
The escalators were still coming up in the lobby area so we had to get the bell captain to get us an
elevator (there is only one out of six) that can go down to the lower lobby. In a short while, we
were down and out the front door of the Milford. "Look out lions, here we come."
In a short while, we were being ushered into the theater. It was beautiful -- absolutely beautiful.
Disney had completely restored the old theater, originally built in 1903, for the presentation of
The Lion King. The decorative painting, plaster work on the walls and columns, around the box
seats and on the ceilings were just magnificent in craftsmanship and color.
We ended up with great seats -- in the orchestra level about the 5th row. The only bad part was
that we were at full stage left (as viewed from our seats). I sat right on the aisle by myself and
Jimmy and the girls sat behind me and in about two seats from the aisle. I enjoyed it -- I could
stretch my legs all the way out. I'm now convinced that the same guys that put seats in airplanes
have the theater seating contract also -- pack'm in, pack'm in, they can rub their knees tomorrow!
I could see Deanna and Barbara behind me holding hands like two children in a scary movie -- they
were so excited about the play. I could not see Jimmy. He was probably napping :-)
The lights went down. It was show time!
The Lion King -- The Play
I cried. Both girls cried. The opening sequence was almost mystical -- we were immediately
transported beyond our real presence and into the spirit of the play.
Figures -- half people, half props, combined by costume and fluid motions into but a single
character -- entered the theater from the rear and slowly made their way toward the stage using
all of the aisles
The music was haunting, beautiful, and stirring -- it made your senses lock on to the multitude of
figures as they just seemed to float through the audience. Some figures were animals -- tall
giraffes and elephants and sleek lions and tigers.
Other figures were costumed people who held long flexible poles as they walked toward the stage.
Attached to each pole by long strings were birds made of silk. The figures moved the poles in
rhythm to the music and the birds soared with them.
Still others were characters in full native African costume -- beautiful, graceful people singing and
moving in perfect rhythm with the haunting music. They came so close to us -- all the characters
and figures -- we were, for a moment, with them.
Slowly they moved down to and up on the stage. The lines of figures looked like they would never
end. All the while, they moved with the music and chanted, moved and sang, while we were
transfixed -- held captive by their simplicity and beauty. Graceful -- each movement of the
animals that were half person, half prop, was precise and measured. They made you believe, made
you see the animal -- they made them real.
By the time that all of the figures had assembled on the stage to set in motion the opening scene at
Pride Rock where the song "Circle of Life" was sung, the audience was totally mesmerized by the
event -- a happening -- in no way just a scene for a play.
I cried. Deanna and Barbara held each other tight and cried. The trip to New York was complete
before the first song had ended.
The play was wonderful. The scenery was so inventive, like people standing up all close together,
clothed in all green with boards on their heads with grass on top to represent the grasslands of the
There was one part in the story where Simba came back to his own homeland that was now a hot,
dry place where all the water was drying up. This was represented by a huge 70-foot diameter
circle of blue-silver silk being slowly pulled in the center down through a small hole in the stage
floor. At first, because the circle was so large, you did not even recognize what was happening.
Then you finally saw it -- the water was all drying up -- poof, it was all gone!
As I mentioned earlier, several of the characters in the play were actually half person and half
prop. Both were costumed and painted to be as one. For example, the laughing hyenas. You could
see the mechanical faces of the hyenas, with their teeth glaring bright in their exaggerated
mouths and at the same time, you could see the people holding the face props on the end of a stick
in front of them.
For some reason, this strange but effective prop did not bother us one bit, even when we could
obviously see the person moving the wires and such to make the prop face move. Keep in mind that
the props were as big as the person so we're talking about a large figure moving about the stage.
The other half-figure characters in the play were also wonderful like the crazy, and very funny
wart hog. You would have to see the characters to understand and to appreciate their abilities and
unbelievable contribution to the play. Without them, the play would have been just another play.
My favorite character in the play was Scar, the disillusioned brother of the king and, of course,
Simba's uncle. Derek Smith portrayed him with tremendous skill and power. His voice was so
demanding and powerful -- the words rang with cunning, contrived gentleness, and murderous hate.
He was the bad guy -- no doubt about it.
By the time the play had ended, our minds reeled in sight and song. One minute we were laughing,
then next, we were holding back tears as the tragedy of the death of Simba's father unfolded on
the stage. We reveled in joy when the young lion king reclaimed his true place in his kingdom, and
we felt good all over when the "Circle of Life" was sung once more at Pride Rock.
When the curtain fell, our spirits soared -- we were there, we saw, we heard, we felt the power
and magic of The Lion King.
We left the theater glad to be alive.
Breakfast was a long time ago. We were starving. We realized our mistake in skipping lunch. After
making our way out of the New Amsterdam Theater, we headed toward Sardi's over on 44th St.
near our hotel.
We figured, what the heck -- last night in town, already had a great day, why not top it off with a
really nice, even famous restaurant. Who knows, maybe we'd see somebody famous.
When we got there, there were lots of people already ahead of us trying to get inside. Some were
coming for a before-show dinner and others like ourselves, were there for an after-show dinner.
Seeing the large crowd gathered around the hostess desk, we initially thought that our luck might
have run out. All we could hear around us was people talking about their reservations and as usual,
we had none.
But, have no fear, I thought -- "They don't know we have a secret weapon." Two seconds after
Deanna and Barbara quietly spoke to the hostess guarding the entrance to the restaurant, we were
quickly escorted past all those around us and straight into the dining area. People stared at us as
we walked past them and were seated at an elegant table in the middle of the restaurant.
Once again, we had pulled it off -- no reservations, seated immediately, and the best table in the
house. One day, I've got to find out just what it is that Deanna says to these people when she leans
slightly forward and speaks to them -- almost in a whisper -- and boom, they are falling all over
themselves being nice to her and her friends!
We loved this place. Everyone around us was happy -- their eyes filled with excitement and
anticipation that somebody famous might show up at any moment. I say everybody, but that's not
quite right -- everybody except all those still out in the outer area that were staring at us and
trying to figure out just who the heck we were and how we were seated ahead of them and worse
still, at the primo table for viewing everything that was going on in the restaurant.
What can I say? Maybe we were just lucky.
Sardi's was a history lesson in motion. The walls were filled with signed photos or caricatures of
famous people in the theater, movies, whatever --- going back a long, long time. Together, all of
them represented a history of who's who of famous people from throughout the world -- from the
early days of Broadway until this very day. They were the faces of those that brought all of the
plays into being -- from the producers, the directors, the musicians, and of course, the actors who
gave life to all the characters in the play.
During dinner, we recognized a man who came in and was immediately seated next to us and given
the actor's menu by the head waiter. Our celebrity was Shuler Hensley who played "Jud Fry" in
the musical Oklahoma! we had just seen on Monday night. I'm not sure many people recognized him
out of character, so to speak. Sometimes, there is a huge difference in how one looks on the stage
and on the street.
He was with his wife and very young daughter, eating their evening meal before he had to appear
on stage. When we got up to leave, I stopped at his table and offered him my hand and
congratulated him on his fantastic performance as "Pore Jud Fry."
He appeared shocked at first that I had even recognized him. He shook my hand and said that he
really appreciated that very much. I found out later that he is from Marietta. I wish I had know
that at the time. By the way, just the other night, he won the 2002 Tony Award for "Best Featured
Actor in a Musical." Way to go Shuler!
We felt like our trip to Sardi's had been a success. Great food, wonderful surroundings, and at
least one celebrity thrown in for good measure. Walking out the door, we saw a few people we had
passed by in line two hours earlier -- still staring at us and trying to figure out just who the heck
were we! Sorry, but when you've got connections, you use them!
Back out on the streets, we immediately sensed the excitement in the air. As we walked past the
St. James Theater where The Producers was playing, we could see all the people queued for
Except for a few who were determined to see a Broadway play while wearing blue jeans and a tee-
shirt, all of them were dressed up for the occasion and were anxiously waiting on the stage doors
The scene here was being repeated a dozen times all around us in the Theater District -- smiling
faces, voices chattering away with excitement, and eyes twinkling with anticipation.
Elements for another great night on Broadway. Another night when people would be transported
beyond where they were -- transported into yet another story of love, hate, crime, joy, passion,
music, or just plain magic.
We slowly made our way back to our hotel because we knew that this was our last night in the Big
Apple. It was hard to imagine that it was over so quickly -- it seemed like we had just arrived. We
had planned this trip for over a year and in just a few hours, we'd be heading home.
Back at the Milford, we made our way to our rooms. It had been another long day and we were just
plain worn out. In the lobby we had discussed several things we could do -- go for drinks
somewhere, whatever. We had finally decided we would go back to the rooms early so we could
start packing. In truth, I think we just wanted to go back to our rooms and lie down.
Before I quit thinking for the day, I said a small prayer and called Amtrak to see if by some
miracle, we could get private rooms on the way back to Atlanta. After a few seconds of keyboard
clicking sounds in the background, the Amtrak agent came back with "Sure, no problem."
We were saved. I thought Deanna was going to scream she was so happy. I started to tell her how
much the upgrade had cost us but she just looked at me and said very quietly, "I do not want to
know, and Barbara does not want to know how much." "Yes, dear--."
What a Day
We had traveled around the entire lower half of Manhattan on top of a huge, red open-air bus and
seen sights that were at times, just beyond words.
We saw some of her older neighborhoods -- each filled with people and structures that made
We had completed another long walk though Manhattan and once again, experienced the heartbeat
of the city at street level -- where the pulse can be felt beating in time with each step.
We had also seen another play. Not just any play, but The Lion King -- a magical, spiritual event if
there ever was one.
For just a brief moment in time, we had rubbed elbows with the rich and famous while dining at a
A great day -- one that my cousin Hump would have summed up as "And a good time was had by all."
"Say good night, Deanna." "Good night--."
Once more, I awoke to the sounds of the city coming alive below our window. The sun was well on its
way up and I could see the New Jersey skyline far across the Hudson River. I looked down at the
street below and it was the same as all the other times -- a hustling bustle of people, cars, cabs --
all zooming about, all going somewhere in a hurry.
Departure day. Sounded horrible -- we had had so much fun. There was so much more that we
wanted to see, wanted to do. Deanna and I both just stared out the window and quietly said to
each other, "I do not want to go." All I could think of to ease the pain was to suggest to her, "Just
think how much we can do the NEXT time we come to NYC."
Next time -- yes, that eased the pain. With that in mind we got dressed and rang up Barb and Jim
and told them we'd meet them in the lobby and then head out somewhere for breakfast. Once we
all got down to the lobby, we quickly decided that the place where we ate yesterday across the
street was great -- why not hit it again?
With that easy decision, we were out the door and headed for the restaurant across the street.
After breakfast, I hung around on the street for a short time snapping a few pictures of the area
-- up 44th St. toward Times Square, Robert Emmett's where we had eaten several times, and of
course, the Milford Plaza Hotel entrance itself.
I also took a picture of the statue of a fireman memorial on a trailer that was parked in front of
our hotel. The fireman statue was a 6-foot bronze statue of an anguished firefighter. A Pittsburgh
company that made the sculpture for a firefighters museum in Missouri had donated it, instead, to
New York after the terrorist attacks.
People still place flowers and other remembrances next to the parked memorial each day. Even
after all this time, over seven months now, people still grieve -- they still want to do something for
all those lost on 9/11.
Back in the rooms, we packed all our stuff and then some. I can never figure why, but I swear that
stuff multiplies when you go on a trip.
We were having a hard time figuring out where all this stuff would go, including the few things
extra that we had bought. You know, souvenirs: hats, shirts, books, pins, glassware, magazines, all
he ticket stubs, programs, confiscated menus and ash trays, towels (are you sure these are ours?),
extra bottles of water, pain pills, headache pills, sinus pills, tissues, maps, sightseeing guides,
subway schedules, and two extra umbrellas!
Time to Catch a Train
Our train was scheduled to leave Penn Station around 3:00 p.m. Knowing that we had to check in
early, take a cab ride, and see about getting the actual tickets switched over, we decided around
11:00 a.m., what the heck, let's go!
I know for a fact that we didn't have this much luggage -- or is it baggage -- when we got here!
Somehow or another, Jimmy and I got it all downstairs and outside by the curb. We hadn't gone
100 yards toward home and I was ready for a nap. Finally, the doorman got a cab to stop for us.
I had seen several that had started to stop but when they saw our pile of luggage, they just
whizzed on by.
For the last time, we scrunched into the cab and were off. Same as before -- another cab driver
practiced his tank attack skills and crash avoidance routines. Soon, we were on 7th Ave., headed
south to Penn Station. As we maneuvered our way down 7th., I watched the midday crowds all
around us going about their daily routines -- people, cars, cabs, and delivery trucks.
The delivery trucks -- by the hundreds it seems, filled all the extra space (if you could call it
that) on all the side streets.
Everybody was jockeying for position -- this foot, those few feet -- it was almost scary at times.
If a WHOLE car length of open space appeared, it was like the gold rush days all over again. It
was unbelievable how many people, cars, and trucks tried to occupy that new, free open space.
Horns blowing, a few yells, sirens, whistles -- normal sounds on a normal day. Like I said,
Penn Station -- finally. After we got out of the cab and milled about trying to gather up all our
belongings, we heard this huge boom -- loud but far off. We also felt a slight rumbling under
We looked around and saw that other people were also looking around -- all trying to figure out
just what the loud noise was. Since no one seemed particularly concerned, we just shrugged it off
and made our way on into the station. As we walked up the steps to Madison Square Garden, we
heard sirens start to wail somewhere down in the Chelsea area.
To get to Penn Station, we had to go up into Madison Square Garden, then take a set of steep
escalators down to a street that runs under Madison Square Garden, then across the street to
actually enter the station itself. The street that we crossed used to be open but now (after 9/11),
it is barricaded at both ends.
Somehow (pure luck) we found where we were supposed to go to catch our train. Remember what I
said about this place when we first arrived -- big, beautiful, noisy? Well, nothing had changed -- it
was still big, beautiful, and noisy. Thankfully, having arrived here by train first did have its
advantage -- we already knew what the baggage area looked like.
First, we got all the baggage checked in and while Jimmy left with the girls to go find a place to
wait in the waiting area, I headed for the infamous Amtrak Ticket Service Windows. Talk about
an oxymoron -- "Amtrak Ticket" and "SERVICE Window."
I could spend hours describing the comedy that took place next. All I had to do (based on what I
was told on the phone the night before) was to show my tickets to a Service Agent, have them pull
my reservations up on their terminal, confirm who I was, and take my money for the difference in
the fares (between reserved coach and reserved private compartment).
I say an hour to describe because a simple four minute procedure took one full hour. First, I waited
in the service queue line for about 30 minutes before I finally got the message (they turn a lighted
number on) that the next available agent was free.
After I approached the window and handed the agent my tickets, I heard a voice straight out of a
Godfather type movie say "Anthony isa ma name, Mr. Mika Baileee -- I'ma gonna took ah good care
of you." Ever have those feelings when you know, just know, that your day is getting ready to go
downhill in a hurry?
Anthony -- in perfect Godfather accent, tone, and mannerism -- was determined to prove to me
that all computers were stupid. He told me that "He was going to crunch all my numbers to make
sure I was not being overcharged."
The way he said it sounded like a line straight out of a movie. I could just see this money man for
the mob, with an old-time calculator with the huge handle on the side being continuously pulled, as
he counted the "take" to make sure nobody was skimming off the top….
Anyway, he checked, he doubled checked. He didn't like any of the numbers he came up with. He
went and asked a supervisor to check his work. I saw them back in another room, gesturing,
pointing at the screens, both trying to key in things on the computer. Finally he came back, banged
on his computer for a while and left again.
By now, the other folks in the same queue line I had started in, were starting to stare at me and
wonder just what in the world I was doing that took so long in line. They were getting yancy --
rightfully so, because I had already seen people in line before me that had to leave to catch
Next, Anthony went over to another supervisor's terminal, and started going over all this again with
her. I could actually read her lips from 40 feet away when she said "Go charge him EXACTLY what
it says on the computer and quit wasting his time!"
He came back to my window smiling and told me basically that everything was OK. I paid him what
had come up on the computer screen exactly 30 minutes ago.
Should I say that I was a little put out during all this? I actually scared myself. Normally, I would
have exploded. You'd have been proud of me, Deanna. I never opened my mouth, never frowned,
smiled the whole time, and when he gave me my tickets, I told him "Thank you, Anthony, for taking
such good care of me -- I really do appreciate it."
My expressed thanks to him must have been unusual because it blew him away. I left Anthony
standing there, speechless and smiling like he had saved the day -- he thought that he had
outwitted (somehow) the computer with all his number crunching and had made certain that I had
not been overcharged.
First Class -- There Is No Substitute
Exhausted, I made my way back to the waiting area and found Jimmy and the girls. "Good news," I
told them as I approached with the new tickets in hand -- "We get to go sit in the First-class
Let me say straight out -- after getting buzzed through the locked club door, we knew right then
that this was the ONLY way to travel.
It was nice -- really nice! NO panhandlers, no loud kids screaming "But I want to ride the
choo-choo NOW," and no hard plastic seats to park our collective butts on for the next two hours.
The place was quiet. Soft couches, chairs, a free drink bar, clean rest rooms, computer connection
stations, a TV that worked, and a receptionist desk that was manned by people who could speak
English and smile at the same time. The lady at the desk checked us in and said that she would
inform us when it was time to go down to the tracks and that she would arrange for a Red Cap to
meet us to assist with our luggage. Oh yeah! We could get use to this in a heartbeat.
While we were getting settled in, we realized that the TV was talking about the loud noise that we
had heard down past 34th St. Turned out that it was a building on 8th Ave., about 10 blocks south
of us, that had literally exploded and had collapsed. By the time we got to the TV set, they had just
announced that it was NOT considered to be a terrorist attack.
They said that it was some sort of boiler explosion in the basement of the building. Talk about
instant relief! We just looked at each other and said, "It's time to go home--."
Soon, our train number was called, and our party by name, and were on our way down to the tracks.
I'm glad we had a Red Cap leading the way -- you could get lost in about two seconds if you did not
pay attention to where you were going. Turn here, down these steps, turn, turn, escalators, and
more turns. When we finally saw our train, we were relieved and thankful.
I was sleeping with Barbara and Deanna was sleeping with Jimmy. That was how the new tickets
were printed out. When we meet the head First-class Passenger Attendant, "Jim," at the side of
the sleeper cars, I explained the mix-up to him.
He just smiled and said "Ain't none of my business who sleeps with who." Grinning from ear to ear,
he pointed out that the car on the right was ours and the one on the left was Barb and Jim's.
With those encouraging words, we climbed aboard the sleeper cars (you enter between two).
Deanna and I headed right toward the front of the train for our car and Barbara and Jimmy
turned left to enter their sleeper car. Deanna and I saw right off that this was going to be nice.
The car was nothing but individual private compartments -- very clean, bright, and modern looking.
We had hit the mother load -- we were traveling First Class and proud of it!
Our own room -- our very own private compartment -- we were in heaven. First Class is the ONLY
way to travel on a train if you're going to be on one for more than a few hours.
We were laughing, almost giggling at our good fortune. However, after the first few seconds, the
wild exuberance wore off. We zeroed in on our compartment.
Small. Very small. Very compact. Did I mention VERY small?
We plopped down in our facing seats and took stock of our new surroundings. Yes, the seats were
comfortable -- very comfortable in fact. However, I soon realized how just how small this space
really was. With my left shoulder pressed against the window, the wall on my right -- between our
compartment and the aisle -- was much LESS than an arm's length away.
I soon realized that the wood looking step -- about 18 inches high, 18 inches wide, and 18 inches
long -- that was jammed between my seat and the aisle wall was not only a step, but you guessed it,
We both laughed at the same time -- we already had visions of us trying to maneuver ourselves into
position to try and use this thing. When we thought about doing it in the middle of the night, on a
rocking, bouncing train, the visions got even funnier! Above our toilet and folded into the wall, was
the wash basin. Cool -- it was very nice and quite functional.
On Deanna's side of the compartment, her space between her seat and the wall held the small TV
monitor, some air handling vents, and some light switches. The TV never did work. Didn't matter --
I think we enjoyed the adventure of the train itself more and probably would not have used
Beds. This was the tricky part. The lower bed would be made up of moving some levers, whatever,
and the two riding seats would collapse down into what turned out to be a very comfortable single
bed. I say single bed but in reality, it was very narrow -- about the width of a cot.
The upper bed -- mine -- was something else again. This bed was actually some sort of device that
slid up and down on tracks mounted on both of the compartment end walls. From about midpoint of
the bed to the head end, the bed was about the same width as the lower one. However, the lower
end, the foot end, was significantly narrower.
With the bed pushed all the way up, Deanna could safely stand up in the room. However, if it was
not for the change in width at the midpoint of the bed, I would not have had any head room
The upper bed even had a harness-type gadget, like a cargo net of some sort, that could be secured
from the edge of the bed upwards to the ceiling after you were safely up in the bed. It was
designed, of course, to keep one from falling out of the top bed.
Our compartment had two huge viewing windows, butted together, equally spaced between the
seats. This was so much nicer than back in coach. The physical row you sat in determined just how
your seats were lined up with the windows.
On each side of our very narrow compartment door, which was mostly a glass door, were two, tall,
narrow glass windows that all together, allowed us to see out into the aisle and over into the other
compartment across from us. Both our door and the two windows beside it had curtains that could
be closed for privacy.
About the time we had completed our inspection of the compartment that would be our living
quarters for the next 18 hours or so, our attendant, "Jim," showed up.
He was so nice -- explained everything to us, told us if there was anything that he could do for us to
just let him know and he would try his best to see that it was done. He explained all about the toilet
and lavatory devices and that he would make up our beds whenever we gave him the signal.
We figured we would test his offer of service straight away by promptly ordering up two Coronas
from the lounge car. He told us we were literally just about 15 feet away from the dining car and,
of course, the lounge car was just back of that. Great, we thought -- no more long, aisle-bouncing
trips to the dining car!
In a few moments, we were settled back in our comfortable seats, toasting each other with two
cool ones, and watching the world start to flash by our viewing windows as we slowly pulled out of
Penn Station and started the race for Atlanta and home.
Highballing the Rails
We were leaving NYC much the same way as we had approached her just four short days ago -- in
the rain with low, gray clouds hanging above us. The trip back to Atlanta would literally be along
the same path (track) we had used to reach NYC.
This was cool, I thought -- I'd get to see everything first that I saw last on the way up here. Huh?
Soon we were passing familiar sights -- Newark, Trenton, and racing for Washington D.C. If all went
right, we'd pull into D.C. around 6:45, hang around there for about 30 minutes while they switched
engines and then start our journey on down to Atlanta.
Highballing -- I had heard that term all my life but I had never really experienced what it meant on
an actual train. In plain language, it means wide open -- full throttle. We were highballing it to
Washington at around 130 miles an hour! Not 70, not 90, not 100, but 130 mph! Whoa!
We were on the high-speed section of the tracks that the "Crescent" traveled on her journey from
NYC to New Orleans. We were literally going almost twice as fast as we had on our way up.
Actually, it was almost frightening -- the objects close to the train whiz by so fast they are but a
blur out the windows. You could feel the power of the train as it screamed forwards -- rocking and
rolling, surging continuously ahead. The sound of the train whistle constantly going off reminded us
how fast we really were moving because each blast on the whistle meant that we had blown past yet
another railroad crossing.
Fast -- whew -- we were highballing it for sure. If you've never moved across the ground at 130
miles an hour, you've missed another one of life's great adventures -- it is exhilarating to say
We finally wandered back to the car behind us where Barb and Jim were hiding out. They too had
gone through all the explorations that we had done in our compartment and were kicked back and
riding high on the rails.
There is no way that Deanna and I will ever ride coach again -- never!
Barbara told us about a lady that had the compartment across from them. Seemed like she was
looking all around out in the aisle for something and finally Barb asked her just what was it that
she was trying to find.
"The bathroom -- I've got to use one real bad," the lady told her in quiet desperation.
"There's one right there in your room," Barb told her and she pointed to the hidden toilet in
"Get outa here -- no way -- you're kidding me," the lady said in obvious disbelief.
"I'm serious -- look here," said Barb as she opened up hers for a demonstration.
"Ain't no way I can use that," exclaimed the disbelieving woman. "Look here," the lady continued,
"They said that I've got a wash basin in my room too -- I ain't seen nothing that looks like no
Barbara pointed to the folded-up basin in her compartment and said "It's true, it right here."
"Get outa here -- no way -- you're kidding me," the lady said again in obvious disbelief.
I can only imagine what went on in that lady's compartment after the door was closed and the
curtains were pulled tight.
We chatted awhile and agreed to meet in the dining car as soon as they announced that it was
opened. Our attendant had said that it would be after we had left Washington. On our way back
to our compartment, I kept thinking about how that poor lady was going to deal with all her
built-in devices. It must have been a hoot!
On past Philadelphia, Wilmington, the row houses of Baltimore -- we sped ever closer to
Washington. When other trains passed us going the opposite way, the compressed air shock wave
that hit our train as the two passed within a foot or so from each other, literally set us back in our
seats. We could feel the force. As Barbara's grandson Zack would say "Awesome man, awesome!"
Chased by the Moon
Soon we were pulling into Washington -- actually on time -- can you believe it? Deanna and I had
realized after getting on the train that we were low on cash. We had already spent a few bucks on
a few cools ones and realized that considering the length of the trip still ahead of us, we might run
out of money.
Beside that, we knew that we still had one more cab ride to take before this whole journey was
completed. Michael had already informed us that we were on our own when we got back. He would
be at work and could not pick us up. I asked our attendant if there was, by any chance, an ATM
machine onboard this train.
His look told me "Are you kidding me?" He then explained that no, there was not, but there was
one in the lobby area of Washington Station.
"But you just announced over the loud speaker that people could step off the train and onto the
platform for a quick smoke break or to stretch our legs, but not to try and go up into the station
itself," I stated.
"That's true," he said "because if you were not careful, you'd be lost in two seconds and never
find your way back down here in time."
He then proceeded to tell me that he had to go up into the station and that if wanted to, I could
follow him up after he helped the people off the train who wanted a smoke break.
When they were all off, the attendant motioned for me to follow him. Slipping away from the those
on the platform, we rounded a wall and raced up the stairs -- a lot of stairs and popped out in the
middle of the station. This place was huge -- and all the steps coming to and from the lobby area
looked the same. I memorized what the sign said over the stairwell we came out of and then I took
off alone in search of an ATM machine.
Nothing -- zero. I was just about ready to give up when I saw a sign pointing the way to one --
pointing the LONG way to one. I literally ran to find the machine. Once there, I had these visions
that once I fed my card into the machine that I was going to see a message that popped up that
said "You have got to be kidding…!"
I guess we hadn't hit the ATMs too hard while in NYC because it spit out the money. I headed back
for the train. Our attendant was right -- if I had not paid strict attention to where we had come up
into the station, I would never have gotten back in time.
After our stop to switch engines -- never could find out why but our attendant said they did it
every time -- we pulled out of Washington Station. It was still light enough to see some of the
familiar sights in Washington. We saw the Washington Monument, the Capitol, and Jefferson's
Memorial down by the Potomac River. One of these day, we've got to come up here and tour this
town like we did NYC.
The beautiful Virginia countryside started to roll by and soon we passed Manassas, headed for
Culpeper and then on to Charlottesville, VA. The final major leg of our journey home had begun.
We'd be in Atlanta around 9:30 in the morning.
"The dining car is now open." The words came across the speaker system and we made our way
there. On the way, our attendant asked about our beds. Deanna told him to go ahead and make the
beds. This was going to be another early-to-bed night.
Being right next to the dining car was great. It took us about one minute to get to our table. A
few minutes later, Barbara and Jimmy joined us. We were starved and ready to eat.
One of the neat things about traveling first class is that our meals (except for any liquor) were
covered. They kept track of who was who (first class vs. coach) by watching how you entered the
dining car. If you came in from the front of the train, you were first class and if from the rear,
you were coach and you paid. Simple, huh?
Another elegant table -- white linens and all. We ordered our meals and enjoyed a glass or two of
wine together. We were still on some of the high-speed tracks and old Number 19, our train
designation for the trip home, was rocking along again at 130 mph.
I wish I could describe what it really felt like sitting there on this, the eve of our last night
together on our great NYC journey. We were almost as one -- rocking, swaying together as our
train anxiously pulled at the rails to get us home. We laughed about all the crazy things that we
had seen and done in the big city and quietly shed a tear when we reminisced about Ground Zero.
Yes, we moved right along -- on the rails across America and on with our lives.
When we had finished our meals, we decided to call it a night. We worked our way back into our
sleeper car and said our good nights to Barb and Jim as they bounced on off toward their car.
When we opened the door to our compartment, we were shocked.
Gone was the comfy, daytime riding, viewing compartment. In front of us now was a neat, compact,
and inviting looking bedroom. All made up, the beds looked so good -- we could not wait to crawl in
under the sheets so to speak, and just snooze away. I think that we were just remembering the trip
up and how it had been so uncomfortable from a sleeping standpoint and were eager to erase
We tried to stay out of each other's way so that we could undress, use the toilet, etc., and
basically, just get ready for bed. Easier said than done -- my bed was now in the down position
and the room had basically shrunk in half. We laughed, giggled, and bumped our way around a bit
and finally, we were set to hit the sheets.
Deanna just pulled back the covers and slipped in -- bing, bang, boom -- she was done and was
laughing at me.
I had to now figure out how to climb up on the toilet, step up on another small shelf like step above
it and then work my way toward the front of the bed. Head space was limited for both beds so it
was a little bit of a challenge to move about. Finally, I made it under the covers, hooked up my
harness thing -- the last thing I wanted to do was to take a rolling dump off the top of this bed --
and turned off the lights.
"Hush up, Deanna, quit laughing. I'm old. You want to sleep up here…?"
The moon was chasing us as we sped through the night. I lay there in the dark and looked out of my
window at the full moon shining bright in the early night sky. It appeared to flicker on and off as
we raced by objects close to the tracks that blocked my view of the moon. It was chasing us --
watching us -- following us home.
On past Lynchburg, Danville, and Greensboro we sped through the night. I closed my eyes and
listened to the sound of the train whistle blowing -- ever so haunting and lonesome in the darkness
around us. We were bound for home -- chased by the moon.
"Say good night, Deanna." "Good night…."
Slipping into Georgia
All during the night we had rocked and rolled on our way back home. Every time I woke up and
peeked out my window, I could still see the moon chasing us. In a way, it was comforting -- kind of
like when I am outdoors and traveling somewhere by car or foot and looking up and seeing familiar
stars. When I see them, I know where I am -- I always know how to get home.
We had passed quietly through High Point, Charlotte, and Spartanburg during the night. Around
5:30 in the morning, I woke up and saw that the eastern sky was already lightening. Dawn was
beginning to break while we raced on past Greenville, S.C.
I guess I slept OK -- tossed and turned a little more than usual. All I knew was that it was a whole
lot, repeat, whole lot better than trying to sleep back in the cattle cars. Deanna slept fine -- if her
snoring was any indication of her success with the new bed and surroundings!
At 6:00 a.m., we were up and getting ready for breakfast. Our attendant had buzzed our room at
6 just as we had asked him. I started to call him to move my bed out of the way but figured I could
probably do it just as easy. My bed had some sort of lever under it in the middle and if it was
turned, the bed became unlocked and could be moved up or down on the end tracks quiet easily.
Barb and Jim came by to pick up us a little while later as we were approaching Clemson, S.C.
Together, we made our way back to the dining car and settled in for one final meal on
Breakfast was wonderful -- or maybe it was just a good cup of coffee. Anyway, we finished our
meal and chatted on about our trip as we quietly slipped into Georgia near Toccoa, GA, and sped on
The train became alive with activity. By the time we approached Gainesville, we could tell we were in
the home stretch. People all about us were talking about getting off in Atlanta. After breakfast, we
made our way back to our individual compartments for the last time.
Our ever-faithful attendant had already broken down Deanna's bed and restored our compartment
to a dual seating arrangement. Gone were sheets and blankets, gone were the pillows that we had
used to cushion our heads as we rocked along the tracks last night.
Time to start getting stuff together. Time to re-pack all the little things we had taken out of our
two carryon pieces of luggage. Seems like a lifetime ago, when Deanna and I traveled somewhere, it
was simple. A quick change of clothes, a toothbrush, and boom -- we were gone. I looked about our
compartment that morning and saw how far we had really come in our lives.
I saw at least three bottles of pills and Deanna had at least twice that many. Hair dryer, two pairs
of scissors (for what, I had no idea), an alarm clock (never could find the battery), two pairs of
fingernail clippers, and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Did I mention the crushed box of Band-Aids,
three different boxes of sinus medications, a small container of baby powder or the plastic
containers of hand lotion (three kinds I think)?
And then there was the smashed box of Q-tips, a steam iron, four bent coat hangers, two electric
toothbrushes, two regular toothbrushes, five smushed tubes of toothpaste, and a plastic bottle of
after-shave lotion. And yes, several sticks of body deodorant, a spoon, and two old, bent steak
knives were also present.
How did this all happen? One minute, you're as free as the wind and before you know it, you're
bogged down with all those little things…
We finished packing and just sat back in our seats and watched the Georgia countryside flash by
our window. Just like on the way up, we roared past crossings -- our whistle blowing its message of
pending danger and the flashing lights and bells on the crossing kept cars at bay.
The people sat there in their cars this morning, like the hundreds of mornings before it, and
watched us speed by -- going somewhere -- anywhere.
One Last Cab Ride
"Atlanta Georgia -- next stop -- Atlanta Georgia"
The sound, the message that we knew would come, was finally blaring away on the loud speaker
system. Looking out the windows, we could see very familiar sites now -- we were crossing over
I-285 by the General Motors Plant in Doraville and knew that it would be only a matter of
minutes before we reached Brookwood Station.
When the train finally stopped, Deanna and I just looked at each other and smiled.
"Hey, little girl, have a good time in New York City?" I asked with a smirk on my face.
"You bet your boots I did."
With that firm acknowledgment that the trip had been great, we quickly gathered up all our stuff
and headed for the exit. When we stepped off the train, I gave our attendant a good tip. He had
taken good care of us on our long journey and was just a great guy. Amtrak was lucky to have such
a dedicated worker -- he helped give our adventure a touch of class.
We knew that we'd probably be the last to get back into the station, you know, hobbling along on
canes and kind of stiff from the long trip, etc. We had already been told that it would probably
take at least 30 minutes for our luggage to make it topside, so we took our time getting to the
elevator that would take us up to the lobby of the station.
Back in the station, it looked just like it did last Saturday when we were anxiously awaiting on the
train to New York City to pull into the station so we could begin our long journey. As we made our
way toward the baggage claim area, I suspected that the people in the waiting area were people
just like us a week ago -- anxiously waiting the beginning of a train trip to somewhere, anywhere.
After Jimmy and I found the girls a place to sit down and rest, we headed for baggage claim. While
we waited on our luggage, we tried to engage cab drivers who had come into the station to find
fares. We finally found one that acted like he would help us.
Thirty minutes later, our luggage finally started popping out a hole in the wall (I'm serious). Jimmy
grabbed a few that he recognized and I finally found the rest. Picking up the girls, we headed
outside. Unfortunately, the cab driver that I had originally talked too had gotten ripped about
something and had left the scene.
No problem -- we'd just get another one. Wrong -- was a problem. "Going where? How many? That
luggage? You've got to be kidding."
We finally secured a driver who spoke halting English and agreed to take us home. He had a mini van
and that made carrying us and all our baggage simple. Loaded up, we headed for home.
Junk. Best description I can think of that describes the cab we were in as we raced up I-75. It
sounded like it was in second gear all the time or maybe its warp core engine was about to explode.
We just sat there in the back of the cab and prayed that it would hold together for just a little
Our Journey Completed
Home. $55 plus tip and we were finished with cabs. I told the cab driver to stop out in the
cul-de-sac in front of my driveway. After bailing out of the cab (still seemed like some sort of
discarded army vehicle with a broken, rattling, high-pitched warp engine that was about to
explode), we started unloading all of our luggage -- our baggage -- our stuff.
Ever since 9/11, I've had an American flag hanging between two large pine trees on the bank in
front of our house. Stretched out today, the blue field to the left and about 15 feet off the
ground, she looked wonderful -- she looked beautiful -- the red and white strips rippling in the
slight breeze. All four corners are secured so that the flag always flies fully presented.
On this day, on our return back home, she so simply and vividly reminded me of what it was all
about -- freedom and all that it means.
After we left the street, I could see our home -- it looked good -- safe, secure, and familiar. Home
-- fun to leave at times but sooner or later, the heart tugs at you to head back there.
The four of us had completed one of our life's missions that we had set up for ourselves. The girls
had planned long and hard on this trip. Even before 9/11, we knew that we were going back to NYC
to explore it, to know her better, to see plays, to enjoy some of the magic that we had experienced
the last time that we had visited.
After 9/11, we knew that our trip back to NYC would be different -- that it would be for
different and more important reasons. Yes, we wanted to have a good time -- and we did -- but we
had a journey to complete. We needed to see for ourselves what Ground Zero looked like. We
wanted to show the people of NYC that we cared -- cared about them and their beloved city.
Walking up the driveway, I knew that in the days ahead, we would recall all that we had seen and
done on our trip. We would laugh about the cramped private compartments on the train and the fun
trying to get into the beds. We would recall the wild and crazy cab rides we had experienced as we
had zoomed and swerved all about NYC.
We would never forget all the beautiful sights we had seen from the top of the big red double-
decker bus as we sped around Manhattan or from the decks of the cruise boat around the island
We would find ourselves humming "Oh what a beautiful morning" when we remembered Oklahoma!,
or find ourselves at times laughing out loud when we thought about the craziness of The Producers,
or during the quiet times, find ourselves smiling inside when we remembered the magic of The
I also knew that in the days ahead, we would all remember the moments when we stood at Ground
Zero and cried as we stared at the huge hole in the ground and recalled all the visions of all the
horrors we had witnessed on TV.
We had a dream, we had followed that dream, and we had experienced that dream.
Our journey was complete.
"Say good- night, Deanna." "Good night-- ."