The hardest part about posting trip blogs about New York City is that it makes me miss it, and wonder when I’ll get back. In this case, though, I know when I’m going back, since it’s in less than two days from now. So, before I start packing (hello, procrastination), I thought I’d recap my last trip to the Big Apple, November 3-5, 2012.
I’m going to employ a conversational tactic passed down through the generations of my family and say, “wait, wait, let me back up.”
The year was 1998. I was a junior in high school, and Joie Lenz got a two-week gig on Guiding Light. She made a good impression on more than just me, because a year later, she got a contract role… playing a different character, taking over the role of longtime Springfield resident Michelle Bauer from another actress, which is always dicey in daytime television. It’s been quite a few years, and I’m getting old, but as best I can remember, one day the previous Michelle was killing a dude in self-defense, and the next day, Michelle looked a lot different and she needed to keep the mob from finding out she was the one who offed their guy. Naturally, she was found out, but the mobster sent to kill her married her instead, and they eventually fell in love. Man oh man, daytime television. It was awesome. I’m sorry you missed it. But, for old time’s sake – feast your eyes on Danny and Michelle Santos:
Joie Lenz left Guiding Light in 2000, and Danny (Paul Anthony Stewart) got yet another new Michelle. I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Paul on a few different occasions after that, but I never got to meet Joie. In 2003, I read in a magazine that Joie Lenz had landed a starring role in a new show, and I knew I’d have to see it. She had gone back to her real name, Bethany Joy Lenz, and adopted a new character named Haley on The WB’s “One Tree Hill.” And I think we all know how I felt about THAT show.
As it would happen, in all the times I visited Wilmington and watched filming and met most of the One Tree Hill cast members, I never met Joy. I passed her once on Front Street. She was among friends for a girls’ night (I’m guessing), and in addition to not wanting to intrude, I was too stunned to have said anything, anyway.
In addition to being an actor, writer, and director, Joy is also a musician, so after One Tree Hill finished, I just hoped that she’d release an album and tour, and I might get a chance to see her that way. Therefore, after 15 years, I hope you can understand why, when I read that she was scheduled to headline a benefit concert for Rock the Schools in New York, I immediately bought a VIP ticket, without even being sure that I could attend.
While I was trying to figure out how I could afford to make the trip on my own, my BFF Jessica mentioned to me how much she and her daughter, Thai, wanted to return to NYC. I mentioned the weekend, Jessica jumped on it, Thai was excited, and we were off and running.
Then, a week before we were supposed to go, Hurricane Sandy hit the northeastern coast, and parts of New York City were devastated. After making sure my loved ones were safe and sound, I started waiting and watching, wondering if our trip would go on, or if we’d have to chalk it up as a loss, with a lot of non-refundable expenses paid. The news media is, of course, no help on such matters, and we had a chorus of well-meaning naysayers, but Jessica and I were in agreement: “Even if we have to walk there, we’re going.”
The key concerns specifically pertaining to our trip (and most New Yorkers) were the power outages, including all of lower Manhattan thanks to a blown transformer, and that the flooding had knocked out the subway system and vehicle tunnels, which would be akin to all of the highways closing down in a mid-size town.
New York, though, has a will of iron and they know how to get back on their feet. Jessica and I were planning our walking-intensive (walking-exclusive!) itinerary when I saw the announcement that partial service had been restored on the subway. Mere days after the greatest devastation the subway system had ever seen, and almost half of the lines were back up and running. New lines were added every day, and by the time our plane landed on Saturday morning, every subway line we needed was operational again. Also, Saturday morning, power was restored to most of downtown, including to the Gramercy Theatre, where I was going to the show that night. In the words of Fiona Apple, “I can’t help it; the road just rolls out behind me.”
We stayed in Queens at the same hotel where I stayed in May. And, feeling relieved that we no longer had to walk across the 59th Street Bridge (aka the Queensboro Bridge) to and from Manhattan every day, we took a walk to the river to have a look at it before hopping on the subway.
The subway took us to Roosevelt Island, and Thai and I had railroaded Jessica into taking the tram from there to Manhattan if we at least let her get there in one direction without testing her fear of heights. Before hopping on the tram, though, we took a walk around the southern end of the island, which afforded a nice view of Manhattan.
And we could look across the East River back toward Queens, from whence we came.
Thai was a big fan of the tram. She may have even loved it more than I do. Jessica didn’t freak out even once. I think she rather enjoyed herself, even.
Once we were back on the ground on the Upper East Side, we repaid Jessica’s tram generosity with two of her requested stops: a deli and a Sephora. As we walked, I got reacquainted with the city in my usual way – camera in the air:
We made our way to Central Park and found a pedicab driver to ride us around. I teased that I was going to post this photo and say I took it while I was running by, but I knew you’d be on to me, because the Marathon was cancelled in the aftermath of Sandy.
Pedicab is such a nice way to see Central Park. Someone else does all the hard work, and lets you off at key points for photo ops.
I worked it out with our driver to change the route a bit and drop us off at mid park on Central Park West, so we could continue on foot and see a place I’d never been to before: Belvedere Castle! On the way, Thai terrified us by climbing atop a huge rock. And then made us come up, too.
Doggies in New York actually pose for the camera! (At least, this one did.)
Leaving the park, we parted company for the night. Jessica and Thai were going to tour the Times Square area and see a few stores before going to see Wicked on Broadway, and I was headed downtown for my show!
VIP ticketholders (including myself) were attending a pre-show party and gaining early admittance to the concert, but when I arrived at the theatre, I found folks were already lined up for general admission! I was pretty happy to get to head inside ahead of the crowd. Before going in, I saw one of the acts, Matthew Perryman Jones, headed into the building. I don’t think anyone else recognized him (though they learned later that they did recognize his music), so I could go over and talk to him without starting some kind of frenzy. Then, it was time to head inside for the party.
The party was held in a cute space in the basement of the theater, and there were mini cupcakes waiting on all the tables. I probably would have appreciated this more, but I had one thing on my mind. Luckily, I ran into some folks I was acquainted with through my trips to Wilmington, so I had some solidarity as we waited for a chance to talk to the woman of the hour.
All things considered, I think I kept it together pretty well. I’m grateful that it’s my chest that usually flushes when I’m experiencing any kind of extreme emotion, so my face doesn’t betray me so much. One of my cohorts, Tray, knew that it was a particularly momentous occasion for me, so he sent me up first and broke the ice a bit – thank you, Tray! I pretty much rapid-fired all the things I had wanted to say, because I usually forget things, so I told her that I was a fan of hers since Guiding Light, and having given her my name, I said that I was one of the three writers she chose to feature on her blog last year, and named the piece I had written. The only thing that could have beaten the day that I logged on to her blog and saw my own words there was the moment that I related that to her and saw recognition cross her face. She had posted my entry on her blog, yes, and she remembered it still, and pulled me into a hug, saying that it was great to finally meet me. She signed the back of my lanyard, Tray took our picture, and I walked away with a big smile and a wonderful memory. I’ve met a lot of celebrities (famous by varying degrees), but the ones that I really admire, and careers I’ve followed for years on end – those are the hardest ones to meet. There is always that fear of a bad encounter; the fear that, in person, they’re haughty or mean or they’re neither, but they’re just having a bad day. I’m happy to say that Joy was warm and kind and as delightful as I could have ever wanted her to be. It meant a lot to me.
Shortly thereafter, they opened the doors upstairs for the VIPs to go ahead and claim a spot in front of the stage. I was the first person to walk in, and being very early, I took a seat in front of the middle of the stage and waited for the show to begin.
There was a long list of performers for the evening, and I didn’t know most of them. Amongst those unknown to me was Thomas Ian Nicholas, of American Pie fame. I never saw that movie franchise, but I’m sure some of you have, so I included a photo of him.
I was excited to hear Matthew Perryman Jones again, as he’s put out a new album since the last time I saw him, so I had some new songs to sing along to. He also played my favorite, “Feels Like Letting Go,” which I had requested when I saw him outside. He was even kind enough to call out to me from the stage, and say he was playing it for me.
Since both Joy and Mike Grubbs (of Wakey!Wakey!) were performing, other One Tree Hill cast-members who were in town turned out for the show, including James Lafferty and Robert Buckley. When the hosts called Grubbs to the stage, out walked James Lafferty instead. Dressed in Grubbs’ signature cardigan, James sat down at the keyboard as if he was ready to put on a show. In a cute skit that the audience loved, Grubbs came out and told James that was his piano and his sweater and this was his moment, and James couldn’t have it. He then called Robert Buckley out to remove James from the stage. I must say, I enjoyed it.
I have seen Wakey!Wakey! a few times before, but this was my first time seeing him with a 99% One Tree Hill crowd. Such screaming! He was overwhelmed by the reception. He played a fantastic set which got me pretty excited about the next album.
Joy even came out at one point to sing a song with him, which certainly got the audience psyched. I would have flipped over to video for that, but I was too busy, well, getting psyched!
Finally, the only performer remaining was Joy. My feet were not thrilled about how much time I’d spent standing, but finally getting to see Joy perform was enough to take my mind off of that. She brought down the house! AND… she brought CDs!!!
Joy said she had just written a new song, but it was a duet, and Grubbs reappeared to sing it with her. I flipped over to the video setting for that! And… since trying to get my blog to embed a YouTube video makes me want to jump off of a cliff, just click here if you want to see it, ok? (It will open in a new tab.)
Here is a photo of Joy, taking a photo of the crowd, which she immediately posted to Twitter. I’m visible in her shot, so I’ll post that below as well!
I was exhausted and happy as I made my way back to the hotel Saturday night. Jessica and Thai had beaten me there by 30 minutes or so and had already had our bags brought up, and had a Caffeine Free Diet Coke waiting for me, so I could unwind before getting some rest.
Sunday morning, we decided to go to Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum in Times Square. On our way, Thai stopped for a photo op with Mickey and Minnie.
Also, it is just me, or is there something wrong with this picture?
But then, here’s the cure, because there is nothing wrong with THIS picture!
I usually doze off at the mere mention of a museum, but Ripley’s was actually pretty fun, and Thai loved it.
I did not fare very well in this “black hole,” but Thai thought it was awesome.
The best part was this room that recognized our movements and projected them in a colorful way via a screen that covered one entire wall. We stayed for way too long in here, and I inevitably got dizzy from all the dancing and twirling, but it was worth the price of admission, right there.
Our next stop was another museum of sorts… THE MOST AWESOME MUSEUM IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND… The Harry Potter Exhibition!!! I had just missed it when it was in NYC last year, and I was so bummed about it. When we saw a sign advertising it as we walked around the day before, I was afraid that it was an old sign, just teasing me. It turns out, the exhibition had just reopened on the day of our arrival. All three of us looked like kids in a candy shop when we walked in. The employees manning the photo camera actually chuckled a little when they saw the three of us, wide-eyed and pointing and gasping around the room. And we hadn’t even entered the actual exhibit yet.
Unfortunately, photography was not allowed (Warner Brothers and all their copyright business), but when we walked in, they took volunteers to be sorted (Thai got Gryffindor and I got Slytherin and Jessica got to witness us geeking out), and then we proceeded to walk through rooms filled with props and costumes from the Harry Potter films. We got to pretend to pot Mandrakes and play Quidditch, and I found great difficulty in moving away once we came upon the replica of Snape’s Potions Closet. We all took turns sitting in the enormous chair in Hagrid’s Hut, and the tour culminated in the Great Hall, which was magnificent. We had a blast!
Back out in Times Square, we saw some more strange sights. What do you suppose they’d be discussing?
And is this some sort of convention?
Thai wanted to go into Toys R Us, and she really wanted to ride the ferris wheel. We’ve already covered Jessica and her heights, so, what can I say? I stepped up and took one for the team. Which is to say, the only person who enjoyed the ferris wheel more than Thai… was me.
In case anybody ever wonders what bonds Jessica and I together, here she is, holding her Harry Potter bag, grinning like a fool in front of a Disney Princess display. Yep. I’d say that clears things up.
Next, we made our way uptown so we could be at the Top of the Rock by sunset.
As always, the view was spectacular, and as always, it is so stinkin’ cold on top of that building!
I caught Jessica and Thai warming up in the light room. Ooooh, pretty!
Once the sun went down and we were all pretty frigid, we walked back to the Theater District to see Mary Poppins! The show was great, and Mary Poppins even flew right over our heads!
Broadway Cares was raising funds for Hurricane Sandy victims, and Jessica made a donation, which resulted in us being invited backstage for a tour and to meet the cast.
These are fishing reels, used for the kite-flying scene.
After the show, we were all hungry, so we went down the street to Dallas BBQ. Thai was amazed at the size of her drink. The caffeine had no effect, though, because she fell asleep on the table as soon as she finished eating. Clearly, it had been a long day.
Monday was our last day, and we started it off right with a big breakfast at Court Square Diner in our little neighborhood in Queens.
Jessica thought, since it was vacation and all, it would be appropriate to order an appetizer before breakfast. She settled on this lemon meringue pie. Even with three of us, we didn’t quite get to the bottom of it.
From there, we made our way downtown, visiting Old St. Patrick’s cathedral and then walking downtown, catching sight of the Williamsburg Bridge and the buildings that scrape the sky down in the financial district.
I wanted to see the South Street Seaport, which I knew had been badly damaged by Sandy. I love that area, and it was sad to see so many small businesses boarded up. I hope they’ll be back on their feet soon.
We continued to walk along the river by the seaport down to catch the ferry over to Brooklyn.
When we reached Brooklyn, we walked along the parks which had been completely submerged only a week earlier. For instance, here is a photo of the carousel that sits at the edge of the water on the Brooklyn side. It’s one of the higher points along the parks.
And here is a photo of that carousel on the night of the storm.
But, the water had all receded and if we didn’t know it, we wouldn’t have been able to tell Hurricane Sandy had even come through the Brooklyn Bridge Parks.
We made our final stop at Front Street Pizza to get some lunch. The food was amazing and cheap, and I uttered the phrase, “Excuse me, but y’all are hot and I’m a tourist, so smile for the camera.” Good sports, these ones.
Once we left Brooklyn, it was back to Queens and then on to the airport for the trip back home. I’d say we had a fantastic time!