The Simple Life
by Michele Meier Vosberg
Give My Regards to Broadway
I have recently returned from Manhattan, and as always the noise, commotion and never ending whirlwind that is New York City leaves me exhilarated. It sounds a bit crazy, I know, that of all the places in the world I would choose to go to New York in August. Everyone who actually lives there is trying to get out of the city in the oppressive heat of summer, but if the natives are gone I do not notice or mind, I have an agenda.
Some would consider this a personality flaw. You’re not supposed to have an agenda on vacation. I can’t help it. I am a chronic list maker, constantly planning and checking. I am a person who likes to accomplish things. The highlight of my day (it’s pathetic, I know) is crossing off things on my “To Do” list. Sitting on a deserted beach doing nothing sounds lovely, but it really isn’t suited to my personality. There is nothing to cross off at the end of the day.
New York City, on the other hand, is an active person’s dream world. If you want to feel like you’re accomplishing a lot, go to New York. The city offers a myriad of opportunities; I find it impossible to be unproductive in New York. I want to drink it all in, to see everything and go everywhere. Consider this two and a half day agenda my friends and I completed last summer.
Day one we take the subway down to lower Manhattan to get the early boat to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We take pictures of the skyline as we sail towards the great green lady. A few months later our pictures would seem eerie…the World Trade Center Towers are prominent and unmistakable. At Ellis Island we get off and tour the facility. We watch a play and look up our ancestors on the Ellis Island registry. Back to Battery Park, we walk around until we find an interesting looking Indian restaurant. The workers speak very broken English. We eat lunch, though we have no idea what we are eating. We just point at the things that look good and our primitive communication system provides a very satisfying ethnic dining experience. To walk off lunch we wander lower Manhattan. We marvel at the World Trade Center. We walk by Fraunces Tavern where Washington said farewell to his troops, and peek into the historic St. Paul’s Chapel. Then we take the subway back to the hotel, dress for dinner and a show. Dinner is at a deli, we don’t want to spend a lot of money on food, this trip is about seeing shows and Broadway shows are very expensive. Deli’s in New York are better than most of the restaurants back home anyway.
The first of our shows is Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida. Tony winner Heather Hedley is Aida. We are in the center of the theater, five or six rows from the orchestra. We are close enough to see the sweat on the actor’s bodies, and to be able to hear them take a breath. At one point I realize that I am holding my own breath. I’m sitting next to my friend Mary and when I look at her I realize that she is holding her breath too. The music is so compelling, the voice so powerful, the emotion so strong we can’t breath. Later I stealthily reach for a Kleenex to dab my tears and notice Mary is crying too. At one point Hedley reaches for a high note. She hits it and the audience applauds wildly. Then, unexpectedly, she takes it up again. The conductor, who is right in front of us, stops. He is ecstatic, jumping up and down in a very unconductor like manner. The rest of the cast is trying to stay in character, but they are largely unsuccessful. It is a magic moment. It is a moment I will remember forever, right up there with marriage and childbirth.
We are too enthralled to return to our hotel. We walk around, looking at buildings we recognize from TV and hamming it up in front of Radio City Music Hall. We walk by Carnegie Hall and joke. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice! We head to Rockefeller Plaza for a drink at the famous ice skating rink, which in the summer, sans Christmas tree, becomes an outdoor café. Finally, we head back to the hotel, walking along Fifth Avenue, window shopping at Henri Bendel and Tiffany, stores where we could not afford to shop. We are star struck and fulfilled.
Up at dawn, we walk from the hotel back over to Rockefeller Center for the taping of the Today show. We get a cheap thrill out of watching ourselves on TV. We wave wildly with the other tourists when the camera moves our direction and generally make fools of ourselves. We shake hands and get our pictures taken with the hosts. It is not yet 8:00 and we’ve met some celebrities and been on TV! From there we hop over to Times Square and get in line for half price tickets for that afternoon’s matinee. After lunch and a matinee, we get tickets for the evening’s performances. We stop at The Museum of Modern Art and view the van Gogh’s and Monet’s. MOMA is near F.A.O. Schwartz, and we cannot resist a quick stop. We emerge with bags of toys. We take a cab up to Lincoln Center, where we attend an art show before the evening’s performance. In the Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center we are once again awe struck. We’ve sent his place on TV. In my mind I can imagine the neighborhood just behind Lincoln Center as it was in West Side Story.
We head home early the next day, but not before a trip to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We are surprised by the body guards, men in black types with big muscles and dark glasses. After the mass, a body guard stops us from leaving. The Cardinal will be exiting in front of us; we are asked to stay in our seats. There are several thousand people in St. Patrick’s and as he exits, the cardinal chooses to stop at our row. He greats us warmly, and talks about his mother, who was born west of Dubuque. Such a small world, I think, here I am in New York talking to the Cardinal about Dubuque.
We catch a cab to the airport, but not before a walk in the rain and a quick trip to Bloomingdales. It has been just sixty two hours, sixty two very full hours. Over the same period of time on a weekend at home I would have cleaned the house and finished the laundry with a trip to the grocery store thrown in for excitement. Instead, I wrap up the weekend feeling excited and alive. I promise myself that I will return soon.
It is a promise I kept. This trip was equally exhilarating. In two and a half days my husband and I saw three Broadway shows, wandered around Times Square, stopped by the set of Good Morning America, visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Frick Art Collection, wandered all over Central Park, and had lunch in Chinatown. We hadn’t planned on it, but somehow couldn’t help ourselves from visiting the World Trade Center site. St. Paul’s Chapel, which we had casually viewed last summer, has become a shrine to the victims of 9-11. The fence surrounding the church is covered with pictures and wreaths, flags, poems and letters. There are T-shirts from police and fire departments all over the country and all over the world. We found shirts from Baraboo and Rock Springs and posters and letters from several Wisconsin Girl Scout Troops. We looked at the baseball hats, quilts and teddy bears. It is heartbreaking. Once again I found myself breathless and teary eyed. This too, is a moment I will remember forever.
We left New York and headed home, and as always, I am enriched by the things I have seen and done there. I respect and admire those whose idea of a vacation is to sleep in and do nothing for a few days. But I know that when I need to be recharged the energy of New York is like a fuel cell for my brain. I promise myself that I will come back, and whenever that happens it won’t be soon enough. If you get there before I do, eat lunch at the deli on Lexington and 57th. Take a subway downtown. Hang out at a really great bookstore, and until I can get back there, give my regards to Broadway.
Michele Meier Vosberg is a teacher, consultant and freelance writer. She’s doing her best live a simple life in a complicated world. When all else fails you can find her in the backyard reading a book.