“We’re going where?” I asked in an incredulous tone.
How about a surprise stop to Rockefeller Center so we can check out the Today Show, our New York City guide told us.
Really … seriously ... you’ve got to be kidding – and those were the nicer of the thoughts running through my mind.
When I occasionally turn on the Today Show in the morning, I laugh at the people who line up behind barriers outside of NBC Studio 1A for a chance to wave to the folks back home or to flash some silly signs as the camera scans the crowd.
They went to New York for that?
But before I could wait a New York minute, our Edgerton’s Travel Service’s group was in the middle of midtown … in the middle of the morning … and in the middle of the crowd awaiting Matt Lauer and Ann Curry to venture outside.
Long story a little shorter: We didn’t make it on TV but Ann Curry did come around to our location and chatted with a number of people – including my wife Margaret. I could have shaken Ann’s hand but I froze and so South Bend’s Joanne Kauchek, who was standing beside me, did so instead.
It was about 9 a.m. and Ann was pretty much done with her on-camera duties. So she stuck around and struck up conversations with dozens of onlookers. As much as I hate to admit it, she was sweet, genuine and every engaging.
And so Ann Curry became my Manhattan metaphor for our whole trip to New York, a city far friendlier and more charming than I would have ever imagined.
I had not spent significant time in the Big Apple in almost 20 years and there appeared to be a major attitude adjustment since then. The streets were clean, the buildings were beautiful and the honking of horns seemed a thing of the past – OK, those signs that state, “$350 fine for honking,” probably have a lot to do with that.
New Yorkers seemed genuinely happy to have us in their town, too. A guy monitoring the elevator line at the Empire State Building shook my hand. Several people in Central Park were more than happy to allow me to pet their dogs. A traffic cop outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art cheerfully pointed the way to the nearest pharmacy.
I was pleasantly surprised. OK, maybe I had watched too many “Law & Order” reruns lately. But it was definitely a different feeling for me there than in the past.
Part of the transformation certainly has been about effective leadership and influential people championing the restoration of many of their town’s landmarks. Part of it, too, may be that New Yorkers still appreciate the kindness and support they received from all over the country after 9/11.
And speaking of 9/11, Ground Zero was still little more than a crater just a few years ago. But now, the rebuilding is nothing short of amazing, including the construction of 1 World Trade Center, which will have a spire rising to a symbolic 1,776 feet.
Yet the most impressive part of this sacred site for me had to be the two huge memorial pools “set in the footprints of the original Twin Towers.” Inscribed on the parapets around these pools are the names of the people who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks.
New York has so many memorable places to see … Ellis Island, Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, Broadway, 38 skyscrapers at least 700 feet tall and on and on.
Could I live there? Heck, no. Too many people, too much hustle and bustle and not enough elbow room. But was I glad to visit for a while and marvel at its vigor? Certainly.
And so here’s what we did on our recent Edgerton’s Travel Service’s trip to the Big Apple:
Monday, April 2 -- We weren’t fools for getting on the road at 4:30 a.m. (and awakening at 3 a.m. or so) but we were only a few hours past April Fool’s Day, right? Early, early, early.
There were more than a few snores throughout the motor coach as 31 of us -- including tour manager Sandy Shoff -- headed for the Big Apple. Really, my wife wasn’t snoring; that was just a little purring from her.
We headed through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and eventually New Jersey – or New Joisey as the locals say -- as we got to know each other.
It was nice to know we had a doctor on board to handle any health crisis. LaPorte’s Tom Calvin, traveling with his wife Kathy, is a retired internal medicine and pulmonary physician and said he would be more than willing to pull out his cell phone and call 911 if any emergencies arose. Thanks a lot.
We also had a few good men -- actually more than that -- but Jim Forney, traveling with his wife Dee, and Tom Meyers, traveling with his wife Stephanie, were the epitome of the U.S. Marines’ “few good men” slogan. Both were 20-year veterans and would have made great bookends for any problems.
But about the only problem we had was a touchy microphone that caused Sandy and I to almost lose our voices while talking to the group on the motor coach. With the reaction to some of my jokes, I’m sure some of our fellow travelers wouldn’t have minded me losing mine.
We pulled into the New Jersey town of Secaucus (sounds like some kind of bacteria, doesn’t it?) in the early evening and in time to see New York City’s skyline from across the Hudson River. It looked like Emerald City. It looked like we had quite an adventure ahead of us.
Tuesday, April 3 -- Our driver Orv (and don’t call him Orville since his real name is Orvan) drove us to Liberty Park so we could take a ferry out to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
Many of the immigrants who were processed at Ellis Island beginning in 1892 might as well have been going to the moon as foreign as America soil was to them. But so many of them put everything into their dreams of a better place -- and so many of them had to be overwhelmed when they were greeted by the Statue of Liberty in the harbor.
I still don’t think you can grasp Lady Liberty’s powerful presence until you have stood below her pedestal and looked into her eyes. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddles masses ...” is her motto. And she has always given us hope.
Our specific hope on this day was to make the ferry over to New York’s Battery Park even though a particular travel host was almost late while I -- I mean, while he -- bought a Statue of Liberty T-shirt and cap. We made it, though, and got our first taste of Manhattan.
Our chatty guide Selma led us to the South Street Seaport where several of us -- including Nila Gerhold, Nancy Kegler, Diana Hullinger and Annette Rideout -- had lunch with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge is certainly an architectural feat considering it was opened in 1883 -- or a couple of decades before cars were even invented.
We then went on a whirlwind tour of such places as Downtown, Lower Manhattan, Chinatown, Little Italy and Wall Street before taking a little walking tour in Hell’s Kitchen (before the devil even knew we were there).
The 9/11 Memorial was next and it’s hard not to feel some emotion here after almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens died here more than 10 years ago during the terrorist attack. The work here is amazing.
Several people in our group, including Dee Manuel and Margaret Hess-Chell, studied the etched names of the victims around the memorial pools and found the name of Katy McCloskey, the South Bend native who worked on the 97th floor of the north tower. There is a certain reverence here where everyone seems to be speaking in whispers.
We regained our full voices later as we had a great meal at the Peking Duck House in the heart of Chinatown. Then it was into the Lincoln Tunnel and back to our hotel in New Jersey for a good night’s sleep.
Wednesday, April 4 -- We started off our day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We could have spent a couple of days here instead of a couple of hours but it was well worth the visit. Many of us especially liked the impressionistic art by Monet..
The steps outside the museum made a perfect place for our group picture. Too bad we couldn’t borrow some of the early African art so we could pose with it.
Lunch was at Ben’s Deli and Margaret and I enjoyed our big sandwiches alongside Jerry and Cheryl Pieh, Floyd Colosky and Lavonne Ernst. You could have made a meal out of the pickles, too.
The Harbor Cruise was next and we traveled from the Hudson River, around Battery Park and into the East River. We even saw where the heroic Sully Sullenberger landed U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River.
Chinese last night and so it was Italian tonight at the Trattorio Dopo Restaurant. Good stuff although we had to hustle through our dessert so we could go see the theatre performance of the “Newsies.”
OK, the play was great, the audience was enthusiastic and the night was grand even if our seating arrangements were a little bizarre. Half of us were on one side of the Nederlander Theatre and the other half on the other side. Traveling companions could wave to each other across the theater. But it gave me the honor of escorting Joanne Kauchak up the narrow steps while her husband George watched from the other side.
Afterwards had to be one of the highlights of the trip. We went up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building -- at least those who weren’t afraid of heights. Catherine Murphy made the trip with Margaret and me while husband Ted waited down at sea level -- a good place for him since he served in the U.S. Coast Guard.
The view was spectacular but the wind almost blew us over. We could just about see our hotel over in New Jersey, a few miles away but an hour of traveling through the backed-up traffic. Couldn’t they have waited until the summer before they started working on the highway out of Lincoln Tunnel -- or at least until we were gone?
Thursday, April 5 -- We had no idea we would be talking to NBC’s “Today” host Ann Curry but that’s what a lot of us got to do when our first stop was outside Rockefeller Center.
Central Park was our next stop. Very peaceful and beautiful. We saw Strawberry Fields, the last part of the New York Marathon course and so many New Yorkers walking their dogs. I took a picture of Jim and Nancy Stover by one of he beautiful statues and pools.
We stopped at the magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and then Uptown and Harlem before visiting returning to Midtown and lunch on our own at the historical Grand Central Station Terminal.
We had an afternoon of free time and some of us walked down to Times Square where there were people, people and more people, even in the middle of the day. Others went up to the top of Rockefeller Plaza and could look almost eye-to-eye with those on the upper floors of the Empire State Building.
After a nice dinner at Rosie O’Grady’s, it was off to another show -- “Anything Goes.” We all sat together this time -- including the our own two little Margies, Marj Kronk and Margie Kobold.
Back to the hotel and Lee and Goeleen Rotzien -- always manning the back of the bus -- again gave me the last goodnight of the evening.
Friday, April 6 -- Home again, home again. But with a plenty of new friends and memories.
If you didn’t have a good time, you needed to talk to a therapist, which we just happened to have on our tour. That would be Ed Klodzinski, traveling with his wife Jo.
But all we needed was a good night’s sleep back in our own beds and we were all as good as new.