Have you ever had a place you’ve always wanted to visit?
For me, this place was New York City.
I imagined the sights, the sounds, and the smells long before I ever made it into the City. I dreamed about overloading my senses with the textures, the tastes, the energy, the excitement, the culture, and the wondrous people. A city unlike any other, I knew New York would be amazing. How could it not?
Sadly, I wasn’t sure if or when this dream of mine would ever be a reality. Traveling across the country to visit the city simply wasn’t within the realm of possibilities. Truthfully, it wasn’t a priority. I was too focused on climbing the corporate ladder, raising my family, and making my everyday life better. My dream would lay dormant in the back of my mind. It was one of those “some day” dreams.
Little did I know that “some day” would happen sooner than I ever imagined.
Unexpectedly, everything fell into place. My daughter’s business and marketing club was traveling to New York City, and they were looking for parents to chaperon. It was the perfect opportunity. After quickly verifying with my daughter that she wouldn’t die of embarrassment if I were to go, I took vacation and volunteered. The cost of the trip would be a quarter of what we would normally pay for air fare, hotel, and attractions if we were traveling on our own. We would also have the safety of the group for our first time in the big city. It was perfect. I couldn’t be more excited.
A cram packed itinerary kept us on the go from the moment we landed at Newark Airport. Being a school sponsored trip, we were extremely privileged to have the opportunity to be able to see and do many things, most tourists never get to do when visiting. It was an exciting whirlwind.
Standing at the top of the Empire State Building, we felt small as we took in the view of the magnificent city skyline at night. We took in the billboards, the lights, and the fantastic chaos of Times Square. Dining at Lombardi’s Pizza, we sampled original New York style pizza at one of NYC’s oldest restaurants. We received a rich history lesson when we boated out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and stood where millions of immigrants once stood, desperately hoping they would receive clearance to enter our great country. Touring several successful businesses around the city, the kids were given an inside view to help them understand first hand what it takes to succeed. We shopped at store after store, but the overall favorite was Century 21 with its the discount sales. Dressing up, we were entertained by shows both on and off Broadway. Exploring Yankee Stadium, we were given a sneak peek of what it would be like to watch a game from a luxury box. Visiting Radio City Music Hall, we received the grand tour and met a Rockette. We visited Louisa May Alcott’s house. Walking through Central Park, we paid our respects to John Lennon at Strawberry Fields. We haggled with shop keepers and street vendors in China town. We took breakfast at a local deli by our hotel. Paying homage to the victims of 09/11, we visited the memorial and St. Paul’s Chapel. We did it all and so much more.
The City was everything I imagined and more. I loved it all, every enthralling and exhausting moment of it. Best of all, I came to love the people.
Weaving our way around the city to get from Point A to Point B in the short time frame, we had between activities was no easy feat with fifteen teenagers, two volunteer parents, and one teacher. Thankfully, we had Jay navigating us all. Jay was our tour guide, a real New York treasure. An amazing man with a wealth of knowledge, Jay would heighten each activity and experience by regaling us with facts and informative New York stories. His love for the city shone through, and made our visit extraordinary.
Each morning, my daughter and I would wake early, get ready for the day, and walk to the corner deli where we would enjoy a leisurely breakfast served by the kindest man who always seemed to have a smile on his face and a kind word for anyone entering his shop. It was a simple activity, but perhaps one of the ones, I enjoyed the most. It was nice to enjoy this time with my daughter before meeting everyone else in the lobby of the hotel to get started for the day.
Wedged together on the elevator of the Empire State Building, we were treated to some crazy unplanned entertainment by a drunk mother and her two equally inebriated adult daughters. Laughing and carrying on, the daughters gave us quite the show when they randomly flashed us all. Their mom then began panicking, begging to be let off the elevator. Repeatedly, she pushed the elevator’s emergency button causing a voice to come on over the loud speaker asking if there was an emergency and informing us all that the button being pushed was sending notification to the police and to the fire department. Stepping in, we were finally able to get her to keep her hands to herself long enough to allow us to safely descend to the ground. This crazy mom and her girls gave me and my daughter an experience we’ll never forget.
Packing our bags to return home, I knew I would return. How could I not, now that I knew how amazing the City actually was.
My daughter’s eighteenth birthday would be the perfect opportunity. She loved the City as much as I had, and would be ecstatic to visit it again. Buried in work, I was only able to arrange an extended weekend getaway this time, but it was good enough for us. Flying from Alaska to New York, I arranged our trip so we would have two travel days and two full days in NYC. Making the arrangements, I booked us a room at the Westin Hotel in Times Square, booked a shuttle from the airport to our hotel, and bought us tickets to see the Lion King on Broadway. This was the extent of my planning. Wanting to keep things simple this time around, I wanted us to have time to go with the flow and indulge in all the little things we never got to do last time.
Again, it was the people of New York City who helped to make our trip what it was.
Catching our shuttle at the airport, I was caught off guard when I learn the shuttle has a specific route they follow and wouldn’t be dropping patrons off at their specific destinations. Immediately, all my inner warning bells begin ringing. I am in New York City with my beautiful daughter, we have all our bags, and we are about to be dumped out onto some random street corner. Neither of us would stand a chance against a mugger. I see my daughter’s birthday trip turning bad on the turn of a dime. Mentally preparing myself, I wonder how many bags I can juggle myself while leaving the lighter stuff for her to hang on to. At the next stop, I gather my courage and ask one of the porters which stop would be the closest to the Westin Hotel. The young man takes one look at me then looks to my daughter, smiles and asks me to give him a minute. Going up to the front of the bus, he confers with the driver who looks back at us and nods.
Coming back to where I’m standing, the young man tells me with a smile. “Don’t worry. We will take you to the Westin Hotel.”
Instantly, I’m relieved. Gratitude washes over me. I no longer have to worry about being lost in the City. This young man has erased all the fears running through my mind. I thank him profusely. I sit back down as we get on our way.
The driver calls out that the next stop will be the shuttle’s last stop, warning everyone they would need to disembark. Looking out the windows, I don’t see our hotel. Nervously, I wonder if they’ve changed their minds. Quickly, I tell my daughter we are going to have to find our own way to the hotel. Warning her to stick close to my side, I tell her I will take the heavy bags, and she will take our lightest one. When the shuttle stops, I nudge her to stand.
Looking in the rear view mirror, the driver calls out to her. “Little, Miss. Not yet. Please, sit down. This isn’t your stop. We are going to take you to your hotel. It’ll be the next stop.”
My daughter looks to me and sits down.
“Thank you so much.” I tell him with a grateful smile.
He returns my smile and helps the remaining patrons with their bags.
As the shuttle empties, I feel another nudge of nervousness. It is now just us and the two men working the shuttle. I can’t help but worry that I may have just gotten us into a worse predicament. However, my fears are unfounded. The shuttle lumbers up to the front door of our hotel. We’ve arrived safely to our destination thanks to the kindness and the generosity of these wonderful young men. Thanking them profusely, I show my appreciation the only way I could, giving them each a generous tip.
We spent the next two nights happily exploring, shopping, and experiencing all the wonders of the City that we could. Neither of us can wait to go back.