I had previously visited New York City and found it fascinating and tedious at the same time.
I enjoyed seeing the famous landmarks; the bustle of a million people moving erratically as individuals, yet totally in sync as a city; and, of course, the food!
My previous visit was in March 2002. That’s when there was still a giant hole where the World Trade Center Towers once stood. Earth movers and dump trucks hummed busily in and out of the site hauling away the debris. The corner Burger King, still with its recognizable red letters x’d out and “NYPD Emergency Operations” scrawled in blue spray paint just under them. It was moving. Posters and candles and stuffed animals and flowers and memorials lined the streets of lower Manhattan for miles. Each an individual tribute to a fallen loved one; collectively, a solemn oath silently whispered by the hearts of all Americans that our Country will not yield to terrorists.
My party had tickets to Phantom of the Opera at The Majestic on 44th Street that year. Front row mezz! I thrilled to the goose flesh prickled upon my arms as the infamous chandelier went whizzing by my head at breakneck speed. An understudy was portraying the Phantom that night, but I sure couldn’t tell. The evening and the performance were both magical and I was dizzy at the very thought of being in a theater in New York City enjoying one of the most spectacular events ever brought to the stage.
I sit back now thinking how I had my whole world ahead of me. I was 38 years old, thin, in great shape, single, and pretty. I could walk around Manhattan for hours without taking even a five minute break. Except to eat, of course!
I had no idea what a difference another four years would make, when I would be diagnosed with breast cancer the first time in 2006.
At any rate, in April 2017, I ventured back to The Big Apple, this time with my 17-year-old great niece Kelsey, whom you will read a lot about in this blog. She is not only my favorite traveling companion, but the very reason I breathe!
It was her Spring Break from her Senior Year of High School and I was hoping this was going to be one of those trips that she will remember for a lifetime.
One of her surprises was that I hired a stretch limousine to pick us up at LaGuardia to take us to our hotel on W. 56th Street – The Manhattan Club – a swank, suite hotel only blocks from Central Park. I couldn’t wait to get down to baggage claim and see the driver holding the sign with her name on it and her looking at me inquisitively.
Unfortunately, our plane was delayed and the stretch limo I ordered wasn’t available later that day. The company still sent a car – a really big black SUV and she still freaked when saw her name on the driver’s board and all was right with the world.
Long story short … WE HAD A BALL!
We took a bike carriage ride through Central Park and our driver was so cool. He stopped at nearly every possible thing to look at, explained to us just what we were looking at, how long and why it was there, and what movies or tv shows it had been featured in. The glacial rocks; the Friends fountain; Bethesda Terrace; The Shandor, aka “Spook Central” in Ghostbusters; and, more somberly, The Dakota, where John Lennon was shot. Needless to say, our bike chauffer got a very big tip, on top of the ridiculous cost of the tickets for our ride.
We spent our days meandering about the island from top to bottom. We shopped in Times Square, visited Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and ate nearly everything is sight. We rode on the double-decker sight-seeing bus and nearly broke our necks looking at everything there was to see. And, I saw the new One World Trade Tower, which stands gloriously in place of that hole I stared down into 15 years prior.
One of the highlights was The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre on 45th Street. We had been eagerly anticipating the show for weeks and it was finally time. As we shuffled into the theater and were ushered to our seats, that old familiar feeling of headiness came over me as I took in the expanse of the theater’s interior. The production was outstanding – the sites, the costumes, the performances. All spot on and phenomenal.
More days and more sites and more food. Cascade Café on 8th and 54th quickly became our favorite breakfast haunt, and I think we had breakfast there at least four out of five mornings. I use the term breakfast lightly, because when I’m on vacation (or any time really) I’m all about living in the moment. There was one morning Kelsey and I had Tiramisu for breakfast. No regrets! – gotta cram in what I can in each six months!
And, though I was exactly two years removed from my mastectomy and flap reconstruction, I was boundless of energy, enthusiastic, and wide-eyed with wonderment at the visions that unfolded in front of our eyes.
As stated previously, this trip was intended as a lifetime memory for Kelsey, and while it succeeded at that, it was also a week that I will absolutely never forget.
As the sun rose on Central Park on the last day of our visit, I rode quietly in the back of our limo, taking a moment from my daily existentialist ponderings, to wonder in awe at just how fortunate I am that once again, I had the privilege to live another great adventure. Thankful, as always, to God, The James Cancer Hospital, Drs. Carson and Cabiling and their staffs, The Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center and my family once again for seeing me through the second time and permitting me to enjoy yet another of life’s most wonderful moments.