A Day in Manhattan

Sometimes a girl just needs to have fun, and if it’s in New York City with good friends, that’s even better!

“How long were you there? A week?” That was Tim’s question when he overheard me telling Lisa about the things we did in New York City a few weeks ago. We were only there from Thursday about noon until Saturday around 3:00 p.m., but we managed to make use of every moment. If you want to read a travelogue of six women’s experiences in the Big Apple, read on. You might get some good ideas about what to do when you visit the City.

Here’s a rundown of our first day:

We flew out of Myrtle Beach on Spirit Airlines, an experience that was grand in every way. Well, almost every way. If you want a soft drink, juice, or coffee, you have to pay for it. Gone are the days when those frills are free, at least with Spirit. At the same time, Spirit is more affordable than the giant airlines, and it’s virtually hassle-free. The ride was smooth, and the people were friendly.

Upon arrival at LaGuardia, we easily found the baggage claim area where we retrieved our bags and then went outside to hail a taxi. Fortunately for us, we quickly found a little yellow station wagon that carried all of us. We oohed and aahed our way into the city as our small-town eyes drank in the sights around us, and if I recall correctly, we especially loved the bridges and tunnel.

We checked in at the Staybridge on 34th Street (high recommend this establishment) and rendezvoused with Mary, a friend of Jeanita’s who lives in New Jersey. After checking with the Staybridge staff for directions, we headed out in search of the Westway Diner. My husband and I had spied Brooke Shields while eating  there in May, and we were halfway hoping for another celebrity sighting. If that didn’t happen, I knew the food would be good…and it was. I love the ambience of Westway. From the black and white tiled floors to the magnificent service, it’s a grand place to eat.

Tummies full, we walked to Macy’s for a little touristy-type behavior. We gawked at the window displays, enjoyed the sights of Herald Square, and did a little shopping for hats and gloves. While in Macy’s, I inquired about Tiffany’s location in relation to where we were, and since it was going to be open until 8, we decided to ride the Subway there. With Mary’s help, we made it there and back.

The area around Tiffany’s is far different from that around Times Square, not better but different. Connie and Tilara took numerous pictures of the beautiful street decorations, and then we went inside. Although they were incredibly busy that afternoon, there was still an almost formal feeling in the air. We loved the pale blue carpeting and uniformed “guards,” one of whom agreed to take our picture. We spent most of our time on the third floor drooling over sterling silver, and after making our tiny purchases, we rode the subway back to the Staybridge.

After a little primping and preening, we headed out to the Rockefeller Center area to see the famous Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. In a word, fabulous. I fell in love with Santa and felt like a kid mesmerized by his laughter and rich voice. Anyone who could sit through such a delightful performance and not be in the Christmas spirit would have to be a first-rate Scrooge.

All our walking and sightseeing left us hungry so after leaving Radio City, we walked to one of my favorite Manhattan restaurants, Junior’s. I’m not sure what it is that I like about that place, but well, maybe it’s the generous portions of good food. Or it could be that the staff is friendly and helpful. It’s a busy, buzzy place with a lot of energy and a big city feel. That night, we were there until 12:30 a.m., and as the restaurant was nearing closing time, the employees presented the hostess with a birthday cake and a song. Nice way to end a perfect evening.

The next day was even better. Stay tuned.

Lessons from the Pride Lands

I loved loved loved seeing The Lion King in New York last week. I don’t have a vocabulary adequate to describe the music. It was that powerful. I especially enjoyed “The Circle of Life” and the number in which Rafiki is mourning the death of Mufasa. The dancing was extraordinary, and the animals…well, they were all awesome, both in how they looked and in how they performed. I almost cried with pure pleasure and awe when they first walked up on stage, especially the elephant.  Mufasa and Scar both had such deep kingly voices, and Mufasa’s roar was mighty…as was Simba’s at the end.

I could go on and on about the performance itself, but instead I’m going to share a few lessons I was reminded of during the two hour and 45 minute production (didn’t seem that long!).   

  • There’s a lot more to see than will ever be seen and a lot more to do than will ever be done. I had forgotten that these words came from “The Circle of Life.”  The statement is so true!
  • Our ancestors live in us. I love the scene in which young Simba sees his reflection in the water and thinks that it’s Mufasa. But no, it’s his own kingly image staring back at him, and someone (Rafiki I think) tells Simba that his father lives in him. I first saw The Lion King (movie) shortly after the death of my father, and the concept of our parents living in us aided in the grief process (still does). My parents live in me, my siblings, our children, and our grandchildren.
  • Like Simba, we can do two things when it comes to our past:  run from it or learn from it. Actually, there’s another thing we can do, something I see every single day of my life…stay stuck in it. Rafiki reminds Simba to to learn from it and move on.
  • There’s a lot more to being king that lording it over everyone. Leadership involves influence, the ability to see the big picture, the recognition of the interdependence of all life, and lots of other positive attributes, none of which Scar had.
  • Good conquers evil in the end. It might not be in this lifetime, but ultimately it happens.
  • Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. I’ve been humming “Hakuna Matata” a lot lately. No worries, right?
  • We’re all in this together. The people, the animals, the water, the vegetation, and the celestial bodies all have a part to play. In fact, I learned last week that some of the elements in the stars reside in us and that they’re vital to life on earth.

I think I might rent The Lion King from Netflix today, and maybe you should do it too. So much truth, so much beauty.

Our Country

You have to love this picture. I snapped it at Ellis Island last year and have it tacked on the bulletin board in my office as a reminder that we all came from somewhere else. This great country is relatively new compared to many (say France or England), and we have variety unparalleled in the rest of the world.  When I first saw this picture, I searched all of the faces hoping to find ME. Who are my people? What is my heritage?

My recent trip to New York City reminded me once again of just what a WASP I am. That’s fine when I’m living in my little neck of the woods in South Carolina, but when I venture out just a bit, I see that I could easily become a minority. Truly, I heard more people speaking French, Spanish, Chinese, and German than English while in New York, and yet I hear people all around me frequently saying that they wish “foreigners” would go back where they belong (where that might be I’m not sure).

Don’t these intolerant folks realize that their ancestors came from elsewhere else and that they were once foreigners?? What about you? Did your ancestors come over on the Mayflower? And hey, even if they did, they weren’t the first ones in North America. Weren’t there some Indians (er, Native Americans) already here? Aren’t you glad they didn’t send your “people” back across the big water? I am.

And I’m also glad that so many other nationalities have joined to make this great land even greater…and it’s not just because of tacos and spaghetti either. It’s  because of everything related to culture, including art, music, traditions, skills, religions, languages, and so forth.  When at Ellis Island last May, I saw a short play featuring the experience of Bela Legosi upon his arrival in America. Then there are  Arnold Schwarzneggaer, Levi Strauss, Peter Jennings, Deepak Chopra, and Mariah Carey…all immigrants who enriched our society.

My husband must have commented a dozen times or more about how many different shapes, sizes, noses, skin color, and languages we encountered. It was mind boggling to see and hear the tremendous diversity and to realize once again that this is OUR land, not just YOURS and MINE.

As I walked away from the above picture and looked back, this is what I saw, the flip side of the same image(s). And just so you know, the little boy walking in front of the faces appeared to be from India. He belongs here just as much as you and I do.

New York, New York

My daughter-in-law Kelly is going to New York next weekend, and I’ve been scheming and dreaming of how and when I can go again. Until I have the money and the time, I’m going to do a little walking down Memory Lane.

The last time I went to the Big Apple was the first weekend in May. Some work chums and I had been talking about it for a while, and we decided that the weekend of graduation was the best time. Three of the group took Amtrak, and Nancy and I flew out of Charlotte. Our tickets were only $128 round trip, and we had no problems whatsoever. Well, that’s not entirely true because we had a delay of about an hour leaving Charlotte, but that’s a minor thing when you consider the reasonable cost and speedy, comfortable trip.

We stayed at Double Tree in Times Square, and one of the many things we liked about our accommodations is that they give fresh chocolate cookies to all of their guests. Yum! Sometimes little things make a big difference. After checking in, we walked to the New York Public Library and were overwhelmed with its awesomeness. Is that a word? The upstairs reading rooms had a hushed, reverent quality about themI loved picking up old tomes and reading bits and pieces of information. Afterward, Lisa, Linda, and I walked the streets gawking like a trio of exactly what we were, tourists from SC.  

I know no one is that interested in an hour by hour breakdown of our visit, so I’ll just hit the high spots beginning with the Evergreen, a neat little diner close to the hotel where we had breakfast a couple of mornings. We loved the “local color,” our French server, and reasonable prices on the excellent food.  We also enjoyed :

*The Strand, a bookstore with 18 miles of books. We were agog with the selection of books and atmosphere of the store.
*The two-day bus tour that took us on a loop all over Manhattan, complete with knowledgeable tour guides who gave us tons of  information about the city’s history and some of its famous residents.
*Chinatown and the Jobe restauarant where the dessert was “ice cream meeting with fried banana.”
*The sights, sounds, smells, and street vendors in Chinatown. We bought neat scarves and purses.
*La Mela on Mulberry Street in Little Italy.
*The South Street Seaport and the mix of people there.
*“Scarf night” at Juniors, a cool restaurant in the theatre district.
*Bryant Park and its outdoor reading room behind the New York Public Library.
 *Liberty Island and the climb to the top of the statue with Lisa and Linda.
*Ellis Island and the ambience in the great hall. I enjoyed this stop so much that I’ll probably write more about it later.
*The variety of people on the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands.
*Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn and back to the southern tip of Manhattan.
*Seeing West Side Story with Nancy and Martha (loved the scene at the gym when Tony and Maria first see each other).  Lisa and Linda were equally impressed with Wicked.
*Being at the set of Today and having our picture made with Meredith….also with Lenny, a regular on the show.

What made the trip especially nice was traveling with such compatible, pleasant people. This is an extremely important element to consider if you’re considering a group trip. Not a harsh word was spoken, and all three nights I fell asleep hearing laughter and happy conversation.  We didn’t do everything together, and we were fine with that. Lisa, Linda, and I played the tourist role to the max while Nancy and Martha visited  museums.  

Nancy and I left the city first, and as the cab driver put our luggage in his car, he made polite conversation and asked us where we were from. When we said, “South Carolina,” he shook his head and said his wife was from there and was hinting that she wanted to move back. “It’s a great state” we assured him. “You’d enjoy living there.” We laughed at his reply. “I’m sure gonna miss her when she leaves.”

Anyone out there up for a trip to the Big Apple? I want to see The Lion King and need some pleasant, compatible travel buddies. Just say when.

Brooklyn Bridge

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My mother said that once on our way home from Charleston when I was about 3, I wanted to take the Cooper River Bridge home with me. Hmmm. I think that was just the beginning of a lifelong affinity for bridges. There’s just something about them that captivates me. Maybe it’s because they symbolize movement from one place to another or a change from one part of your life to another, a transition of sorts. You can’t very well reach the other shore if you stand shivering and afraid on the homeland (so to speak).

When Connie and I dined on Mexican food earlier this evening, we began talking about our New York trips and the fun and memorable experiences we had. Although we went at different times and with other people, we still enjoyed reminiscing about the high and low points of our visits. As we chatted, I realized that I hadn’t written anything about my most recent visit to the Big Apple at the first of May. The hour is late, and my brain is a bit muddled, so I’m not going to go into a detailed description of everything we did.  Nope. I’m just going to mention THE BRIDGE.

For weeks before we left, Lisa and I talked about how she’d walk across the Brooklyn Bridge with me if I’d sit in Central Park with her and sip a latte or some other tasty beverage.  “It’s a deal,” I promised. After reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as a book club selection last year, I was determined to at least “set foot” in young Francie’s city. Yet when the time came, our schedules got a little too crammed, and I soon realized that if I was going to cross the bridge over to Brooklyn, then I was going to do it alone.  Leaving Lisa and Linda on the tour bus, I bravely (my perception) walked the two blocks to the start of the bridge ALONE. Well, sort of alone. I was surrounded by throngs of humanity, all strangers.

Approaching the bridge, I was awed by its beauty and structure. I was also surprisingly pleased at its human traffic since hundreds of people were traversing the mile long bridge between lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. While many were tourists with cameras like yours truly, many were not. The latter were dressed in suits, scrubs, uniforms, and other types of clothing that indicated that they were either coming or going to work. One of the neatest things I saw was a young Japanese couple having wedding pictures taken.

I took several pictures on the way over, and some of them are in this blog. The South Street Seaport shops where we had browsed the day before is the first one…after the shot of me waving good-bye to Lisa and Linda.  The others are simply bridge shots. I loved the experience. It was awesome, and I plan to do it every time I visit the city in the future. I think, however, that it’d be more memorable and enjoyable if I had a walking buddy next time. Do I have any volunteers?

Widen the Circle

Last weekend Amanda, my sweet daughter-in-law, and I were talking about changes in life, and she mentioned how much she missed Myrtle Beach and expressed the hope that they’d move back there someday. Since she and Paul both grew up in the area, I’m sure it was hard to leave family and friends for Atlanta. When Amanda mentioned that the main friends they now have are from church and work, it got me to thinking about friends and the importance of keeping the old and of making new ones. Plus, it reminded me of a quote I read by Eleanor Roosevelt last week: “The narrower you make the circle of your friends, the narrower will be your experience of people and the narrower will your interests become. It is an important part of one’s personal choices to decide to widen the circle of one’s acquaintances whenever one can.”

Being back in my hometown has occasionally thrown me into the company of friends and acquaintances from the past. It’s enjoyable to rub shoulders with those with whom I share a history, people who know my “back story.” Being around Patty and Joan Ella this past weekend reminded me of the importance of roots, memories, and a collective past.

At the same time, new friends are wonderful too. Sitting with Connie at church Sunday reinforced that. We share the same faith, ups and downs with our children and grandchildren, a love of books, an appreciation of terms like feng shui and wabi sabi, excitement over terms like Namaste, and an appreciation for the several ways one can accessorize black. A couple of other “C” friends, Carol and Cindy from Church, have also added to my enjoyment of life back in good old Camden. So have dozens of other Relief Society members. Our shared sisterhood in the gospel of Jesus Christ centers our lives and provides a sense of community and belongingness like no other…unless it’s with family.

Then there are work friends, people I’d never even laid eyes on this time seven years ago but who are now people whose conversation and company I’ve come to enjoy. Four of us are heading to New York City the day after graduation, and almost daily we discuss some little detail of our trip. Martha ordered the tickets for West Side Story and gave me mine today. Lisa and I had planned to look at the times of the ferry rides to Ellis Island, but we were interrupted by a student who needed a listening ear. Again, these people were complete strangers to me seven years ago.

On Thursday of last week my sister Ann and I went to MUSC to sit with my sister-in-law while my brother was in surgery, and while we were sitting in the fourth floor surgical waiting room, I heard someone say, “Jayne” in a soft, almost inaudible voice. I turned to see Ellen, a woman with whom I worked when I lived at the coast. Talking to her conjured up all sorts of recollections of dear friends with whom I shared so many good times during our “trying twenties” and “catch thirties.” Er, I guess we shared much of our forties too. We went through marriages, children, divorces, remarriages, disappointments, promotions, and a host of other vicissitudes of adult life. June, if you’re out there reading this, I miss you…and Ella, Elaine, Mary, Gail, Millie, Judy, Linda, Murph, and Teresa.

Last but far from least, there are my blog friends, most of whom I’ve never seen eye-to-eye but whose voices have become familiar and important to me. They’ve stimulated my thinking and broadened my horizons. At odd times, I find myself thinking about one or another of them (of you!) and wondering how a certain situation is evolving. Right now, NoSurfGirl’s little girls are on my mind.

I’ve gone on longer than I intended. Sorry about that. My purpose was to stress the importance of friends and to let Amanda know what a feast she has in store for her as she travels through her adult years. Reading E. Roosevelt’s quote and thinking about friends has encouraged me to continue widening my circle of acquaintances and friends.

First Noble Truth

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I snapped this picture of the American Society of Buddhist Studies  on my recent trip to New York. One of my brothers likes to harass me about the statue of Buddha that’s sitting atop my grandmother’s secretary. In fact, whenever he comes to visit, he usually turns Buddha around to face the wall. No matter how much I protest, I think Mike thinks I worship idols, but this is completely erroneous. Money, fame, fortune, huge homes, expensive cars, looks, possessions, degrees, movie stars, rock stars, super athletes, etc. are more idolized than my cream colored statue of Buddha.

Although I bought little Buddha for the aesthetic value, I must admit that looking at the statue never fails to conjure up the reasons why I developed an interest in him in the first place. It was through a book. Imagine that. Years ago, I read The Road Less Traveled by Dr. Scott Peck, a book that I still find myself referring to from time to time. It’s what I call a “deep” book, not one you can read once and put aside. The subtitle, “a new psychology of love, traditional values, and spiritual growth” prepares the reader for what’s ahead.

I knew very little about Buddha in 1980, but after reading Peck’s introduction, I did a little research. Here are a few lines from the beginning of The Road:

“Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.* It is a great truth because once we truly see its truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. …
Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. …
Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them?”

*The first of the “Four Noble Truths” which Buddha taught was “Life is suffering.”

I could go on and on and on about this. For today, I’ll just say that I learned more about Buddha and his truths and the eightfold path. One of the many things I learned is that one cause of suffering is desire. If you want to suffer less, desire less. Sometimes I think our greedy materialism, the desire for more and more “stuff,”  leads to suffering. The more we get, the more we want. It’s an endless, never quenchable cycle. It’s as if the worship of “idols” mentioned above is the cause of much suffering. Buddha says, like many of the great teachers, to renounce and enjoy. We say, as Americans, that we want more, more, more.

So I glance at Buddha and remember not to moan or whine. Life is suffering, and while I have problems like everyone else, I’m going to try to solve them instead of whine about them.

P.S.  You wouldn’t believe how lovely the statue looks contrasted with the russet red walls. Stunning.