If anyone had ever told me I would one day travel to New York City, I would have said they were crazy.
If they'd told me I'd end up having a really good time, I would have thought they'd lost their minds.
But that's just what happened over the Memorial Day weekend. My daughter Anna is part of the Snead State Community Choir. The choir traveled to New York City to perform in the 20th anniversary of the Masterwork Festival Chorus at Carnegie Hall. My wife Mary and I made the trip with the group. There were more than 40 of us in all, led by Dr. Barbara Hudson, chair of Snead's music department.
We packed a lot of New York City touring into just a few days. There were more things we wanted to see but we just ran out of time.
We stayed at the Sheraton on Times Square. Our stops included:
- Times Square
- Rockefeller Center
- Central Park
- The September 11 Memorial
- The Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty
- Carnegie Hall
- The Majestic Theatre, home of "Phantom of the Opera," the longest running show on Broadway
We rode the subway for the first time and also got our first ever Uber rides. We ate a lot of good food, but dining is not cheap in New York. Every meal was 2 to 3 times what you would have paid in Guntersville.
We also got to see our first ever protest march. Mary and I were strolling towards Central Park on our first full day in New York when we met an organized mob coming up the street, carrying signs and chanting. It was a group of high school students marching against climate change.
I grumbled a lot to my family before we went. The trip cost a small fortune. It involved air travel, which I'm not a fan of. And I missed my dad's annual birthday shrimp boil (his birthday is around Memorial Day every year).
But once we got there, the stress melted away and we just enjoyed seeing the sights of the big city. We got to see Queens on the bus ride from the airport to the hotel.
Manhattan was altogether different, a little overwhelming to a country boy what with all the skyscrapers, colorful signs and traffic.
I was surprised to learn you could get grits in New York City. We ate breakfast at Junior's a couple mornings. Grits were on the menu. I rocked my camo, a Crimson Tide hat and ate grits in New York City. I doubt many tourists can say that.
The singers practiced a lot, 3-4 hours each day. That's how Mary and I ended up going to Central Park without Anna and her friends. Mary had it in mind to stroll Central Park. But as soon as we entered the park we were met by Biere, a young man from the African nation of Sierra Leone. He had one of those 3-seater bicycles some people call a "rickshaw" and he offered to take us on a tour of the park for $35 apiece.
It turned out to be money well spent. Biere was very knowledgeable. He pointed out lots of landmarks and apartments where famous people lived or had lived. Lots of movie scenes have been filmed in Central Park and we got to see those places.
It was actually one of my most enjoyable experiences in New York City. It was very relaxing. Biere felt like an old friend by the time the tour ended.
After Central Park, Mary, Anna and I took in "The Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway. It's one of Anna's all-time favorite musicals. We actually saw the touring version a year or so back when it was in Birmingham. It was good, but the actual Broadway version was spectacular.
A stop at the famous burger joint Shake Shack followed our Broadway show.
On our second full day in New York City, we visited the September 11 Memorial. I was not prepared for the emotions that would flow over me. I very nearly cried thinking of the terrible loss of life that occurred there. Today, it's a beautiful, very well done park.
The names of those who were lost that day are etched in panels that line the memorial fountains where the twin towers once stood. We looked up the name of Rick Rescorla. He fought in the Vietnam War with my dad Don Campbell and was one of the heroes of 9/11. He was the head of security for Morgan Stanley and evacuated most of that company's employees during the attacks. He was last seen heading up the stairs in the South Tower looking for more people to help to safety.
I photographed Rick's name on the memorial and emailed it to my dad.
We made a huge mistake after the memorial. On the map, it looked like you could just walk down the street to the Staten Island Ferry. We should have got back on the subway. It was a long way.
But we made it, rode the ferry (one of the few free things we found in the city) and saw Lady Liberty. Mary and I sat inside near the back of the boat on the trip back across. We noticed the big boat was listing to one side. There were more people on the side towards the Statue of Liberty.
That night, as dusk fell over the city, we went to "the Top of the Rock," the observation platform 70 stories up at Rockefeller Center. It was neat seeing the lights of the city come on as darkness approached. It was chilly as dark fell on the city that high up. While it was in the 90s in Guntersville at the time, daytime highs were in the 70s in New York and it was considerably cooler than that on the Top of the Rock.
We were whipped puppies after trekking around the city for 2 days and tacos at Dos Caminos in Times Square was a nice end for our 2nd day.
Our last full day in New York, I got to enjoy 2 of the foods I'd wanted to try - New York pizza and a gyro. Honestly, I didn't have any bad food on the entire trip.
There were 3 different segments of the show at Carnegie Hall that night. The Snead singers sang Vivaldi's "Gloria." It was in a foreign language and I didn't understand a word but it sounded like a choir of angels singing. It was the most beautiful session of the entire concert and the longest with 12 songs.
We all felt a little like "big shots" with a swanky reception after the show at the Manhattan Club. The college students had a ball.
Anna's only disappointment was that she didn't get to see the Brooklyn Bridge. But we plan to remedy that. The Guntersville High Crimson Guard marching band is going to New York and Philadelphia in November. Our entire family is planning to make the trip as our son Kyle will be a senior trombonist.
We will see the Brooklyn Bridge first chance we get on that trip.