Monday, March 20, 2017

NYC Day 5: Up and at 'em Today

Another late night followed by the earliest morning yet. Met downstairs at 6:15 to walk to the Today Show. I gave Mom ample opportunity to back out of this, but she doesn't want to miss out on a thing! (Drat! I was hoping to sleep in, but if she doesn't want to miss it at her age, I'm not about to!)

It was a twelve-minute walk according to Kirsten's GPS to the courtyard outside the NBC studios across from Rockefeller Center. We didn't go the most direct route (not sure if that was the fault of the GPS or not) and ended up coming back a couple blocks and then going around the building to be on the correct side for the line. We had registered ahead of time on-line, and Kirsten went ahead and made arrangements for wheelchair access.

There was a food truck out front giving away free coffee, tea, chocolate and warm crumb cake with a suggested donation for cancer. Nan clearly has a thing about her morning coffee. She had commented on every Starbucks on our way and considered darting out of line to go in the Starbucks across the street, so she was very happy for the free coffee without risking losing her place in line.

Bob chats with the page who took us around the security line.
In the end, we didn't need the line. A page showed us directly to the wheelchair area. It meant Mom could be right at the front without having to look over heads (or at butts, which are more at eye-level in a crowd). The problem is that it was way to one end, so when they panned the crowd, they rarely came as far as us. I was disappointed for the 16-year-old birthday girl next ot us whose little brother has muscular dystrophy. They had a sign to hold up about finding a cure. But once after a break when the techs had been chatting with us, they started at our end. So their sign hit the screen, and Mom has been on TV twice in four days! A real celeb!

I look like I need some of that coffee Nan was after.
We stood out in the cold for an hour and a half. I was very glad that I had worn my boots instead of the tennis shoes I wore on Friday to the parade. (My toes still hurt from the chilbains I got that day.) The anchors came out for a 30-second intro at 8, and we left after that. Everyone was cold. Not something I would make a high priority next time, but it was an experience and hey! Mom was on TV!

A friend in St. Louis texted Kirsten this screen shot.
The others were taking off this afternoon. Before they went, Bob wanted Mom to personally present Kirsten with her Christmas present. Of course, Kirsten knew exactly what it was--a copy of Mom's family memoir, but we staged a handover for the camera.

We lunched at Lombardi's in Greenwich Village. The website says it was founded in 1905 because that is as far back as they have documentation. Word of mouth history says 1897, but restaurants weren't licensed until 1905. After the building of the subway (whose vibrations damaged the original oven), the location moved a couple blocks up the street to a former bakery with an oven that was the twin of the original. Great pizza; cool atmosphere. They had a temporary ramp they could put down in a secondary entrance to let Mom easily into the quaint restaurant in her wheelchair.

As we sat around the table, Kirsten suggested that we share "superlatives": the best outing (other than our purpose of coming to the Carnegie Hall concert), best meal, and best transportation experience. Since I know I will not remember everyone's, I'll share mine and ask family members to add theirs in the comments. Although I loved the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, I had been there before, and our 9/11 experience was totally unique, so that is my best outing. My best meal was unquestionably last night's veal Parmesean, and my best transportation experience would be walking back to the hotel at night through Times Square.

Jack and Kirsten were off to see some friends, so the six of us remaining tried to get an Uber that could carry all. The car that came could carry six, but not six plus a wheelchair. At least he wasn't willing for Bob to try to fit it in for fear of scratching his car. In the end, we used two cars again. Our driver's name was Sekou. Since I used to live on Avenida Amad Sekou Torre in Maputo, I asked where he was from. Guinea. And he was named after the independence fighter who became the Communist dictator that my street was named after. Almost all our drivers have been immigrants and they have been fascinating to talk to. Very enthusiastic about America.

Mom and I decided that the one thing missing from our NYC experience was shopping on Fifth Avenue! So when the others left for the airport, we went window shopping. What is the most famous store on Fifth Avenue? Saks! So that's where we headed. We looked at evening wear on the 9th floor (way too fussy), designer wear on the 3rd floor (not the least tempting), and hats on the first floor (all too large for Mom's tiny head), so we spent zero money on our outing.

Sak's is right next to St. Patrick's Cathedral and Friday while we watched the parade from across the street, we all wondered what it looked like inside.

And look what is over those doors we were looking at!

We walked around the block so we could say we were on Madison Avenue just because it was famous.

On the way home I had to take a picture of the ice rink at Rockefeller Center even though I didn't bring my skates. It was way smaller than I had pictured it--regular NFL size. I thought of my niece Kelsey whose husband proposed to her there with friends and family looking on from the rail holding signs saying, "Say yes!"

The one thing I didn't do in New York was meet with any big-time publishers. Sigh. Next time.

After all our fabulous meals, Mom and I did the NYC food truck experience for supper. She had a hot dog, and I had a kebab from the truck on the corner near the hotel. We carried them back to Times Square to eat sitting on a bench.

Tonight we will not be staying up until midnight. Tomorrow we are off home. I think we both need a rest!

NYC Day 4: Carnegie Debute

Our reason for gathering in New York this weekend was Bob's Carnegie debut.

His wonderful church choir sang tonight with a mass chorus under the direction of Andre Taylor. They sang Taylor's compositions, which the conductor said was a lot of fun since usually he conducted the music of dead people. The whole weekend was like a choral workshop for them with rehearsals while we did our glavanting around the city. Bob joined us today for 9/11, but while we relaxed, showered and ate dinner, he was at a final dress rehearsal with the orchestra.

Don't bother to look for Bob. He's behind the cello on the right.
The concert included a high school choir from Florida and a mass children's choir. I had kind of dreaded them wondering what kind of quality we would get, but both were excellent. Bob's adult mass choir, of course, had a much more mature sound, and they were the only ones with the orchestra. During the intermission I could see the kids filing into the balcony, so I kept thinking how neat it was for young singers to get to hear the adult choir, although the adult choir also included some high schoolers. The music was very interesting with a gospel flair. We laughed that one of the best was "Keep Your Lamps" accompanied only by drums--which they ran out of time to rehearse in the afternoon so they had NEVER been over it with the musician.

The hall was packed with families like us who had come to hear their friend/relative sing in Carnegie Hall.

I had my Carnegie Hall singing debut as well. Today was Erika's birthday. I called her at intermission and sang Happy Birthday for her answering machine even though it was already Monday morning in Seoul. But I now HAVE sung in Carnegie Hall.

Walking home after another exciting night out

Sunday, March 19, 2017

NYC Day 4: Remembering 9/11

It was nearly midnight when we got to bed last night, but we were up by 7 to head to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. We have not been impressed with NY’s structures to care for people in wheelchairs. The people are great, but structures are lacking. Not only has clearing curb ramps of snow been low priority, but we have encountered many elevators out of order or inaccessible. This morning we went to the subway station that had an elevator only to find that the entry on our side of the street did not. Elevator was only on the other side of the street—with a half marathon between us and there.

The police couldn’t let us across. Meanwhile another guy in a motorized wheelchair arrived with the same need. He was a pastor trying to get to his church to preach. The police said we might be able to cross at Broadway, a block up, so we all (including the pastor) headed that way. There the police brought us back to where we originally were and eased Mom with Bob and the pastor across through “traffic” like police cars might divide the stream of traffic around an accident on the freeway. Jack got this video.

We met them below in the subway station, no problem. But when we emerged at our destination at the World Trade Center the elevator was broken. A sign said we should re-board and get off a couple exits back. Not very practical. In fact, headed for the museum was mostly ramp. Then we got to about 20 steps down. Mom held the rail and my arm and eased herself down while Ben and Bob carried the wheelchair down. After that, no problem except that we took a taxi back rather than try to get her up those stairs.

The World Trade Center Museum is awesome and emotionally exhausting. Of course, every visitor old enough to remember is reliving their experience of that day. The atmosphere is quiet and subdued except the audios of current news accounts, phone messages left by passengers on flight 93, 91 calls, recorded memories, etc. If you are only planning to visit the outdoor memorial, you don’t need as much time, but the museum requires a minimum of the full day. You could spent several and not see everything.

Our day included meeting a man who told us his story. I’m not sure his official position at the museum, but he was the one who showed Mom (with Bob and me) to the elevator while the rest took the stairs. He told us he was there that day. That his daughter worked on one of the floors that took the direct hit. But he came down early and talked her and another relative who worked in the tower into going to breakfast with him.  They were on their way back when the first plane hit. He was a former marine who served multiple stints in Africa fighting Idi Amin. He said he’s not proud of it, but his first instinct was to get out of there. They were gone before the towers came down. Now he is a retired systems analyst who cares for family members of the 9/11 victims when they visit. He met one young man who was 19. He had never met his father. Our new friend took the young man to the family room where he bawled for half an hour. Our friend was wandering spiritually before 9/11, but the experience brought him unequivocally back to faith.

He took us all into the auditorium wheelchair entrance where we sat through both movies (one events of the day, the other political response with interviews of Bush, Blair and the Pakistani president). When we came out, he said no one was in the family room and offered to let us see it. That was a very intimate look at drawings by children (at this point many grandchildren learning family history), pictures, personal messages plastering all the walls. Before he left us, I asked to pray for him. I feel like God saved his life for a purpose and has placed him where he is to minister to people.

Base of pillars of the South Tower

The rebuilt World Trade Center seen through two irders of the old in the stair well at the entrance.

A ladder truck crush in the collapse. Miraculously, at least some of the firemen from this truck survived.
The museum is a very personal experience, and we didn’t try to stay together the whole time. There are huge pieces of twisted metal, a flag, a set of stair down which many of the survivors escaped, the foundations of pillars, huge photos, video clips, posters of the missing from the days immediately after, memorial art displays, and so much more. The wall of the Foundation Hall is the slurry wall that kept the Hudson River out of the foundations from the time of the construction of the buildings.

The tree on the left is called theSurvivor Tree. It was found buried in five feet of ash
a month after the collapse, yet it survived and thrives.

This experience is not for every American child like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are. It's too intense. It requires a certain level of maturity and emotional stamina. But it is definitely a powerful piece of our nation's history.

When I showered back at the hotel to get ready for tonight’s concert, I felt like I was washing off the layers of dust from the collapse.

NYC Day 3: Liberty Cruise

Slept better last night. Mom took the batteries out of her hearing aids and plugged her ears with them. I slept with my earphones in. I could still hear some honking of horns and one siren, but mostly it was subsumed in wind chimes and waves from my noise maker app.

We were up early to meet at 8 for breakfast and the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. We had planned to take the subway but the correct station did not have an elevator for Mom. We spent so much time going from station to station looking for an elevator that we ended up just calling a couple Uber cars. We were supposed to be in the security line at 10 and we made it. Barely.

Kirsten is not injured, just taking advantage of Mom's chair.
The ferry people take one look at the wheelchair and say, “Would you like help?” We have let their experienced personnel guide the chair onto the gangway. It was supposed to rain and/or snow today. I was glad that it was cold enough to snow most of the day, but only light flurries. It’s less sloppy than rain.

 Even with overcast skies the Statue of Liberty is moving. As Jack said, “Every American child should have the experience of coming here.” We had tickets to the pedestal. Supposedly there is an elevator for the disabled, but it was out-of-order. In fact Mom still would have had to climb 26 stairs at the top. I’m not sure why they didn’t tell us that. As it was the first elevator only went to the level of the museum. I took Mom, and the others were to meet us. Except when we couldn’t get any further, I left Mom in the museum and climbed myself—5 stories. 

Wonderful views from the top.

We didn’t do the crown. That would have been 6 more stories and tickets were sold out before we began planning this trip. The museum tells all about the building of the statue, the various designs considered, etc.

Statue-size foot in museum

I didn’t realize tha Mr. Eiffel of the Eiffel Tower designed the inner structure which is very complicated to allow for the raised arm which puts everything out of balance.

The café was standing tables and we were ready to sit, so we headed for Ellis Island and ate there. Another moving experience. I got the free audio for both Mom and me. It includes sound effects and the voices of immigrants recalling their experiences. Mom concluded that in fact none of her ancestors came through Ellis Island. They would have already arrived before immigrant reception was moved there.

Exterior of main reception building

Hall where immigrants were received. Climbing shose steps you see opposite was the first part of the physical exam. 
If you had trouble climbing, you were were pulled out of line for further evaluation. 
We had about 30 minutes back at the hotel before taking off for dinner at a fabulous Greek Kitchen. I saw the octopus on the appetizer menu and had to have it. Much more tender than I expected it to be and very tasty. Mom had a lamb kebab. Of course, she couldn’t finish her salad so I had half and she shared a lump of her very tasty meat. Kirsten and Nan also ordered a couple appetizers to share. One was a flaming cheese with lemon served on pita. Wonderful!

Then we hopped in Ubers and headed for the Stephen Sondheim Theater to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Lots of fun. Nan called it the soundtrack of her life, and I could hear people singing along at times, but I hardly recognized a thing in the first half. There was more that was familiar to me in the second half when she went out on her own, singing her own songs, but even those I could not have sung along. They did have a sing along in the curtain call. Mom didn’t recognize anything either, but it was still lots of fun. Very well done and the sets moved in and out of each other on multiple levels with fascinating precision. Walked back to our hotel through a very busy Times Square--an exciting experience in its own right.

Friday, March 17, 2017

NYC Day 2: St. Patty's Day

First impression: The city that never sleeps is NOISY!  Sirens multiple times in the night, a burst of honking horns some time after midnight, shouting at 4:30, besides the miscellaneous bumps and traffic noises all night long. I miss my silent woods! Although someone suggested that it might have been St. Patrick’s Day revelers. Besides the noise we were cold. The thermostat was set to 64. Once I got that adjusted it was better. We were using our coats as spare blankets. What a pair of country bumpkins!

Bob was at his rehearsal, but the rest of us met in the lobby about 9 when we picked up the wheelchair Bob had rented for Mom. While we gathered, I enjoyed the murals around the walls.

This classic hotel does not have breakfast, so we headed toward the parade route and looked for a place on the way. The coffee shop where we ended up had green bagels for the day.

A doorman stopped Kirsten as we passed and told us there was a dedicated place for wheelchairs across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, so we headed there. I’m not sure we ended up in the right spot. It seems it was a VIP section where we needed passes, but they let us in. A great spot to see dignitaries. The only draw back was all the press who got in the way of our shots. But one—Gabe Pressman (60 years with NBC here) interviewed Mom. Not sure we will be around to catch the evening news, but I expect we can find it on the internet.

It is a cool parade—all bands and associations marching. There were a handful of high school bands, etc., but pipe band after pipe band, each in a different plaid. Steve would have hated it! There are a lot of police or fire groups. Some soldiers, all wearing sprigs of olive.

One of the dignitaries outside St. Patrick's was Cardinal Dolan. Nan was esepcially excited to see him since he is formerly of St. Louis.

We met a lot of interesting people in our VIP section. The man who made room for Mom to get up to the barrier turned out to be a former corrections officer whose son's high school graduation will be at St P. His son was marching in the HS band and Dad had promised to "embarrass" him by yelling in this his senior year. The son has just been accepted to St. Bonifacio's. Half way through the only other wheelchair arrived with a sweet man named John who was clearly intellectually challenged since he had no since of appropriate time to hold hands when greeting someone and loved petting Kirsten's fur coat, but he talked to everyone and remembered names.

On our way to the parade we saw the fire department lining up. Later we were told they carry 300+ American flags, one for each of the firefighters who fell on 9/11. Even though our feet were cold, we had to stay to see the firemen. They stopped right in front of us.

By the time they passed we were cold and hungry. Found a fabulous soup place on the way to Central Park. Mom and I shared a large New England clam chowder.

Nan was anxious to see the John Lennon memorial mosaic so we guided our steps in that direction. I had downloaded the app with a map before we left home which kept us oriented.

We took turns pushing Mom. The snow from the storm earlier in the week has not all been cleared away. Sometimes pushing was a challenge. Sometimes wading through the melt was a challenge. 

Getting directions from a friendly New Yorker
While we were awaiting our Uber cars to go to supper, one of Bob's choir texted him to ask if his mom was from Cambridge, MN. She had just seen Mom on the evening news! (She's at 1:10 on the video.)

We went to dinner at a noodle chop in Chinatown. Delicious and cheap. We were pretty late for our reservation. Traffic was so bad in this area around Times Square that our first Uber driver gave up and cancelled on us. We were enough for two cars. The other had already walked a few blockes for an easier pick up so they got there well ahead of us. I downloaded the app and paid for our ride home. So easy. We'll probably use this to get to JFK since the shuttle from the hotel charges a full person for the walker as a third piece of baggage.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

NYC Day 1: Off for Adventure

NYC has long been on Mom's bucket list forever. It was something she talked about with her friend Tami, but it never happened. When Bob's church choir scheduled a concert in Carnegie Hall, it seemed like the right time to make this happen. Our crowd of choir groupies includes Bob and Nan, daughter Kirsten and her husband Jack (coming from London!), Nan's sister Leslie and her husband Ben, and Mom and me. It should have included Patty and Bob. They planned to fly out Monday and take extra time, but the big snow storm cancelled their flight, and they were rescheduled for the red eye Sunday to Monday to turn around Monday and fly home. Big disappointment since this was to be her 60th birthday celebration. They will be missed.

Our adventures often start with something in the Cities. This trip to NYC is no exception. We timed our flight out to follow a Minnesota Orchestra concert. Simone Porter (age 20!) was exquisite on the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. The audience leapt to our feet at the end and couldn’t stop cheering. Even Oberlin grad critic Steve was moved almost to tears.

Steve and Katie dropped Mom and me off at the airport. The wheelchair pushers do a great job of taking care of Mom and this time I got to tag along. We checked Mom’s walker along with a bag each. I left her at the gate and went for Subway. Of course, by that time it was after 2 PM.

Flight was fine. I carry my empty thermal mug through security and then get it filled with hot tea on the plane. “Hot” would be an exaggeration, but warmer than tepid and my mug helps it to stay drinkable. Coming in over the lit city in the evening was beautiful. Laguardia was a pleasant and easy airport to get through. The taxi ride into town took forever mainly due to traffic. We were on the fourth or fifth time through their TV loop before we arrived, and the fare was over $50 with the tip. But we are just off Times Square. I’m thinking I’m going to need the noise maker app on my phone tonight.

Hotel Edison is an elegant, but older building. It doesn’t even have a coffee maker in the room. I’m glad I have my little heating coil to make tea. They first showed us to a room that was already occupied. Turned out to be Bob and Nan’s room. By the time we got it straightened out that we were Hardy's, but not those Hardy's, it was 8:30 PM NY time (just 7:30 by the time we got up). A 2 PM lunch worked fine. Mom was getting her pjs on by the time the porter had left the room, and we picnicked on hard boiled eggs (Mom’s clever idea last evening), granola bars, biltong and Mom’s left over sub.

Tomorrow we’ll meet the others in the lobby for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Such a shame that Patty can’t be here.