Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New York, New York

Start spreading the news

I'm leaving today
I want to be a part of it
In Old New York

....I want to wake up, in a city that never sleeps....

Strike that last one. I didn't want to wake up, not after sleeping a brief fifteen hours total in the past four days. And, it wasn't exactly a city that never sleeps, as we had discovered the night before in our crazy cab ride around Lower Manhattan searching for night life. All we saw were bums, sketchy types, and cab drivers. Our crazy Moroccan cab driver was awesome, although my traveling companions had a death grip upon the oh-shit handles. He took us around and pointed out landmarks, and even stopped the meter at Macy's so we could take photos of the storefront windows, though he recommended we come back during the day when the music and animation was on.
What a journey it was! None of us wanted to sleep but finally we had to, collapsing on our beds, visual images still flooding our brains and last night's makeup still on our faces. We wanted to soak up as much of New York City as we could in our brief stay in MidManhattan, a gift from our employer. And what a gold, glittering gift it was.
A month ago, our employer, the veterinarian who owned the EC where we work, gave the option as a holiday bonus to take an all expense trip to NYC versus the cash equivalent. The vote was cast, but majority voted the cash option. Mysteriously my vote disappeared, and then it was announced that all who wanted to go to New York would go, and Scarlett, my employer, added me on at the last minute for a trip for six to go.
I wanted to feel excited our journey, but with my cash flow dwindling, Christmas approaching, and the reproachment of others, I was starting to wonder about my choice. I was told a few times over the past week that it was stupid not to take the money, that it wasn't worth giving up the money for. I had finally lost my temper with one of the more vocal naysayers the night before, finally telling her through my gritted teeth to quit making value judgements for me.
Perhaps I might change my mind at a later date (especially since I am losing the rat race, it appears) but I value adventure and experience over monetary compensation. This has been true of me for some time, I see, when I look at some patterns throughout my life. I could be a reason I am where I am professionally, romantically, and domestically. I also know if I took the money option, I would spend very little of it on myself. It would go instead towards presents for other people and getting ahead on bills. I have not taken a vacation from work since last year's trip to see my husband on leave from the military, and had not taken a break from family life since perhaps my last veterinary conference two years ago. I had almost forgotten who I was outside of home and work. I had always wanted to see New York City, a place I might have wanted to go to school if I had chosen to study literature instead of science, a place where my heroes, such as Jack Kerouac and John Lennon, spent critical time pursuing their art, a place of dreamers and poets and artists; in other words, those that appeal to my romantic side. I might never have spent the money on a trip like this, especially not the way we did it, if it was up to me, though, because it would feel selfish. I wasn't sure up until the moment of the trip if I was going to end up regretting it.
The moment I stepped on to the plane, however, I brushed aside any notion of regret and decided it was worth it, even just for this: to sit in the bulkhead seat in first class, on my way to New York. I have only traveled first class once when my friend's mom paid for her and I to go to Colorado for spring break. I am too cost-conscious to do it myself. When we arrived at JFK, there was a limo waiting to drive us to our four-star, world famous hotel in the middle of Manhattan. That afternoon, while strolling down up Broadway, down Fifth Avenue, an oft-repeated refrain between my traveling companions and I was "This is so worth it!"
And what marvelous traveling companions to have! There was Cendra, the Prettiest; Misty, the Smartest; and Christina, the Coolest, in addition to Scarlett and her partner, Stacey, who had planned and paid for the entire trip. Misty's enthusiam was infectious, and I remember the shining excitement in her eyes as she took in the amazing lights, the holiday decorations along the storefronts, the lights of Times Square, the tree in Rockefeller Center. She was like a kid in a candy store who had just been told she could buy anything she wanted. Cendra was a fantastic companion for geocaching adventures both in Central Park and on the New York street, where we found a micro-cache attached to a piece of the Berlin Wall. Christina made friends with everyone and drew from them pieces of their lives, little nuggets of what it was like to live and breath in the Big Apple. Scarlett and Stacey were our tour guides and financiers, buying us slices of pizza, roasted chestnuts, cannolinis, and hot coffee as we browsed the vendors and took in the scenery.
I had adopted the role of the navigator and planner, who developed the rough drafts of where we should go and offered it as suggestions, then led the charge to the appropriate cross street and subway station. After some confusion near the end of the trip, where I had lost my bearings on the subway while trying to lead us to a famous pizza joint in Little Italy, I told them I was henceforth retiring from navigating, and after that our expedition became a little more confusing, but I kept resisting the urge to jump in because my sleep deprivation was causing the information in my mind to get jumpled up, so my companions had to resort to asking NYPD which direction we needed to head in.
The first afternoon, we had walked up Broadway to Central Park. We checked out The Dairy, the statues, the ice skating, the horse drawn carriages, and Scarlett filmed me finding a geocache, where I left a travel bug near and dear to my heart. It was starting to get dark and Christina's feet were killing her in her boots, so we did not walk to the upper west end of the park to check out Strawberry Fields, although I cannot wait to go back to check out that tribute to Lennon, as well as take a look at The Dakota where he was shot. We were drawn across the park, though, by some glittering lights, which turned out to be Tavern on The Green, all decked out for the holiday season. After that, we ended up in Columbus Circle. It was dark outside, and all around us were vendors selling holiday wares. I especially liked the vendor who was trying to talk Cendra into buying a painting about "chaos and order, and how they go hand in hand" for $125, "but I'll give it to you for $100". She politely turned him down, and we found the rest of our group as I was purchasing a small photo of New York, pre 9/11, Twin Towers still intact.
We strolled down Fifth Avenue right as the lights came across the front of Cartier's, and giant jewelry boxes came sliding down the front of the store to the beat of Christmas music. Everywhere there were lights twinkling and snowflakes moving across buildings, music and cabs and people walking. We ended up in Rockefeller Center, taking photos of the tree while Scarlett tried to convince us to go ice skating. We walked through Times Square on the way back to the hotel for "wardrobe and makeup" before heading to our Broadway show.
The show was exciting in the respect that we had great seats at a Broadway venue, but we had been a bit disappointed at the choice of play (SPAMALOT). I was less disappointed than most, being a Monty Python fan, but I found myself only smiling quietly instead of laughing out loud like Misty was next to me. I think I would have been more amused if the scenes were carried out just like the movie Holy Grail, but apparently I like my Python pure and undiluted.
After the show, we walked across the street to Carmine's for a fabulous Italian dinner. The food and wine were incredible and we couldn't get enough, but we were unable to finish all the chicken marsala, shrimp marinara penne, cheese ravoli, and calamari that we ordered. After this, we walked around Times Square a bit more, stopping at the Europa Cafe for coffee and dessert. Then we heaved our full bellies and tired feet back to the hotel, where we dropped off Scarlett and Stacey and ran outside for a nicotine break.
After a brief geocaching adventure, we hailed our cab, who gave us our Lower Manhattan at night tour, and then off to bed. In the morning, we had French pastries before heading off to the subway for sightseeing.
First stop: Empire State Building.
Cendra and I checked out the observatory while the other girls did some shopping. We met at the Macy's storefront to see the windows in action, then headed to SoHo and Little Italy for lunch at Lombardi's.
Our adventure ended that day with a stop at Ground Zero. We looked through the fence at the bulldozers and the rubble pile, and gazed at the memorial photos. By the time we made it over to the south side of the memorial, we had tears forming in our eyes. I stopped to read the "Timeline of Events" and the wet eyes became tears streaming down my face, thinking of the people who had died and those who would miss them, the effect that single day had on our national consciousness, the way New Yorkers must have felt. I remembered that day clearly, where I was and what I was doing when I heard of the first plane hitting, and moments later the second plane crashing into those towers. I went to find the other girls and initially found only Christina, weeping into the phone to her husband. We regrouped and somberly filed into the subway station to race back to our hotel.
I sat by myself in the subway as it raced towards 53rd street, clutching my metropass like a lifeline in my hands, until a blind beggar walked past, microphone in hand, singing to the crowd and pulling his stoic old sheperd on a pinch collar behind him. I started feeling empathic for the dog and that halted my emotional reverie. I wiped the last vestige of tears off my face, took a cleansing breath, and put my "game face" back on. In a jiffy we were back at the hotel, where our limo was waiting to take us back to JFK.
The ride back was stressful, weaving in and out of traffic. Christina was feeling sick from the motion, and we all turned our conversations back on work and going home. We were all exhausted and longed for hot showers and the comforts of home, but we all felt extremely grateful for our Christmas gift, the gift of this wonderful experience of the holiday season in Manhattan, a memory we would treasure forever. And the best news was we would still be getting a Christmas bonus after all when we returned!
Thanks so much to Scarlett, Stacey, and the staff of AEUCC for making this happen!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Beatles - Let it Be

I've been thinking about this song. This video makes me nostalgic for a time I never experienced.