I’m sorry to make you wait a week for Day 2. I hope your suffering will not have been in vain…
We hit the road at 7:15 a.m. in our own private Town Car. This was more like it. It was black and sleek and roomy. The arm rest was down in the back seat and it was holding in place a crisp new copy of The New York Times. The windows were tinted, so I was free to stare openly at other people on the road. If I got bored with all of that, I could leaf through Jet Setter magazine. But I didn’t want to overindulge, so I snagged The Times, snapped it open to the front page and inhaled it.
It took nearly an hour to travel from our hotel to the Bronx, where we were working. The area didn’t look too much different from home: Trees, walking paths, people, 1950’s brick colonials. Every now and then, though, we’d pass through an obviously ethnic area and I was reminded of the differences between NYC and home.
We arrived at our training location and spent a good day toiling. The only breaks in the otherwise seamless day happened during lunch. We walked a ways to get to the cafeteria, but when we were almost there, our hostess, Kate, decided we ought to take the stairs.
“It’s just one flight,” she said as she flung the swinging door open and followed Andy up the stairs at a quick pace. We reached the landing with me as caboose and before I knew it, I was face-to-face with one of our older trainees, who was carrying her lunch in one hand and grasping the banister in the other. I made my way past her and heard her paper bag crinkle. I thought I had nudged her lunch with my large travel bag, so I turned to reach for her lunch so she wouldn’t spill it.
At this time Andy and Kate turn around and see me grabbing for her lunch while this poor woman’s knees began to buckle. In fairness to them, it must have looked like I knocked her down. However, I didn’t knock her down, I merely bumped her lunch bag ever so slightly.
“Oh my God!” said Kate, “Are you all right?”
“No, actually,” she gasped, “I’m not!”
“Do you want me to get someone?” Kate asked her.
“No…” she gasped.
“I just got done with rehab and my back went out,” she explained.
“Why are you on the stairs?!?”
“My therapist said it would be good for me.”
Kate gave her the hairy eyeball on this one, and checking once again that the poor woman didn’t need our assistance, we decided to carry on. We made our way to the cafeteria and I struggled, as always, with what to get. I decided on a grilled chicken salad, which was the grill special. I asked the ex-con behind the grill for the special and he menacingly retrieved a pre-cooked chicken breast and threw it on the griddle. I let my eyes slide off his scary visage to what counted as the “salad” part of the grilled chicken salad. It was a pile of shredded, iceberg lettuce and three slices of tomatoes.
“Um, excuse me, sir?” I asked, “Could I just have the chicken and hold the salad.”
He stared at me while reaching for a regular plate.
“Also,” I ventured, spotting a large bin of corn nearby, “Could I have a serving of corn with that?”
“I don’t have corn,” he lied as he slapped my chicken breast on a plate and handed it over.
“You’ll have to get it from him,” he said, motioning toward his cell mate.
I moved along and waited for my helping of “Southern Fried Corn with Bacon.” It had bacon in it, it must be good, right? I waited and waited while the person behind me in line began to eat her chicken wings. Finally, having had corn slopped on my chicken, I made my way to the salad bar. I considered the vessels they offered for containing salad. They were pretty big. I still had a small corner compartment on my Grilled Chicken Salad sans Salad plus corn plate. So, I fixed myself a salad, got a Diet Coke and met my colleagues in line to pay.
“You can’t do that!” the cashier scolded me.
“You have to put the salad on a salad plate; I have to weigh it in order to charge you.”
“Oh,” I said, “I’m sorry…I didn’t see a sign or anything.”
“You new here?” she inquired accusingly.
“Yes, I am.”
“Well, next time you come down here, put your salad in a separate bowl. I won’t charge you this time…I’ll charge you for a Grilled Chicken Salad, since you didn’t get the salad that was supposed to come with it.”
“Oh, thank you,” I said, “I’ll be sure to do it right next time.”
The rest of the work day went off without a hitch, though Kate and Andy endlessly teased me about knocking down that poor, defenseless old woman. I retorted that they were walking so fast, they must have created a draft strong enough to knock her down. Fortunately, I was there to save her. After lunch, we told Kate about our experience trying to get back from the city the night before. Andy was developing a theory and sharing it with Kate. He was sure all the crazy things that were happening were my fault or due to my karma.
Once we got back to our classrooms, Kate hurried off to get us some taxi vouchers for the evening so we wouldn’t have to worry about a night time walk through Queens. She also arranged a car to take us to a subway station after work so we could head in to the city to do a little more sight-seeing, buy some souvenirs and join up with the East Coast Bloggers Conference for an auspicious meeting of the minds.
Our day complete, we hit the road and got on another subway. We eventually were crammed in because it was a busy time of day. I had the good fortune of having my foot crushed by a man in a short sleeved suit. He apologized and plunked down in the seat next to me, where his thigh was in constant contact with mine as he text messaged like his life depended on it.
Exhausted and grimy, we arrived at Grand Central Station and once we emerged from the subway, I was knocked over by the grandeur of the place. I wanted to take my time and soak it in. The ceiling was amazing, painted like the night sky with constellations outlined. People were moving very quickly since it was around the rush hour. It was thrilling and exactly what I expected to find in New York City, though I wasn’t intimidated. For a moment, I pictured myself one of these people, hauling ass to catch a train to wherever I would call home. I could do it. I like rushing around. I like it when other people rush around when I’m in a hurry. This shared urgency seemed very humane. Often, in Ohio, I’m in a huge hurry and everyone else has decided it’s a good day for a nice drive. On those days, it feels like the world's against me. I appreciate hustle.
But not today. Yesterday, I chased after Andy to keep up, but today I wanted to adopt a more leisurely pace. It was around 5:30. We weren’t to meet Coaster Punchman, Poor George, or Beckeye until 7:00 p.m., but when we emerged from Grand Central, I immediately saw the Pershing Square Café, where we were to meet.
“I want to go to F.A.O Schwartz,” Andy proclaimed. “It’s just up a few blocks near the Plaza and Central Park.”
I stood there for a moment (or an eternity, if you’re Andy) and considered. Shall I sit in the bar for the next hour and a half? Or should I join Andy for this lark and see Eloise’s home? Sentimentality got the better of me and I agreed to go with Andy. Again, we hauled ass at nearly the speed of light, block after block after block. We got to the toy store and Andy pointed out the Plaza across the street. I cast a glance over it and we went in to F.A.O. Schwartz, past a starving actor playing the part of a toy soldier.
We went in and it was amazing. I found some “Hungry Little Caterpillar” plush toys and a couple of books for my girls. Andy found a puzzle and some books for his son. We explored the main floor and the basement. We were working our way towards the cash register when I asked him if he wanted to go up the escalator.
“Sure,” he said and we hopped on. It only took me a moment to realize the giant stuffed animals on the median between the escalators were mythical creatures from the Harry Potter stories…Fawkes, Aragog, Fluffy, the three-headed dog…My eyes lit up and gasped.
“They’re from Harry Potter!” I squealed, “Look…see the Gryffindor Banner?!?”
“I take it you’re a fan of Harry Potter?” Andy said, in mastered understatement.
“Yeah!” I said, his irony completely lost on me as we ascended and found ourselves smack in the middle of a room full of Potternalia.
“I’ll see you later,” I said and marched over to the Gryffindor scarves.
I drooled over the wonderful stuff they had. A set of wizard money, a miniature of Harry’s wand, the Goblet of Fire. I coveted them all and lingered over them. I didn’t know what time it was getting to be, but I had this nudging feeling that we should depart this place soon. Eventually, I found Andy, we checked out and headed out the door.
The toy guard at the front was charming the children who were rushing to the door. “What’s your rush? We close at 8:00 p.m. and it’s only 6:30!”
6:30?!? Andy and I looked at each other, looked at our maps and began to race back to Grand Central Station. I had foolishly hoped to find a different shirt to change into before we met the gang, but there was no chance of that now. We strolled in to the Pershing Square Café with five minutes to spare, sweaty, grimy and full of anticipation for meeting a group of strangers I had known for years.