Someone gave me a couple of crackers, which helped my stomach, but I was still uneasy about our flight. For one thing, I had no idea what was normal and what wasn't. So when we roared down the runway, I wasn't sure if we had a problem and couldn't take off, or if everything was hunky-dory. After pressing against my seat as we zoomed into the sky shortly after dawn, I heard others on the plane oohing and ahhing. I wasn't next to a window, but my seat mate told me to lean over and look out. Below us, pink clouds formed mountain peaks. With more cloud formations above, we were sandwiched in between pink marshmallow cream dollops. (To this day I regret not getting to snap a picture--I might have sold it over and over.) The rest of the flight was uneventful, but every time the plane turned to the side and the wing flaps moved I thought, Is this normal?
Forty-five minutes later we landed in Charlotte and made our way through the airport to another plane. Still unaccustomed to... everything, I simply handed my ticket and all that went with it to the person standing at the entrance, who took my ticket and handed everything else back. Decompressing in my plane seat with my carry-on properly stowed, I felt I knew all that would transpire during our nearly two-hour flight to LaGuardia. I was wrong.
Once again we taxied down the runway and the plane roared, but instead of taking off into the wild blue yonder, it shuddered and came to a stop. What? This didn't happen last time. We taxied again, roared again, then shuddered and stopped. Certain that wasn't normal, I remained quiet along with the others, wondering what would happen next. Once more our plane went through the motions of taking off, then nothing.
Even seasoned flyers aboard murmured, "This has never happened to me." Not exactly reassuring to a novice flyer. I said to my seat mate, "We're probably having engine trouble." A minute later the pilot spoke to us over the address system. "We're having a little engine problem..."
Our luggage was carted back to the airport, and we were told to deplane. I entered the airport uncertainly, not knowing how long it would take us to reach The Big Apple, and we waited an hour or so before hearing that some of us could board another plane. Part of my group jumped at the chance, getting in line right away. Not wanting to seem pushy, I fell in line when it seemed natural, soon learning that only a few were allowed. My disappointment increased to concern when the rest of us were told to board the first plane. They'd “fixed it.” Was that normal?
My prayer life switched to high gear as we settled into the nearly-empty craft, wondering if it really was air-worthy, but after awhile I relaxed some and glanced out the window. I was over the wing, so I didn't have much of a view, but I looked forward to arriving in New York.
Arrive we did, but not in the fashion I anticipated. I knew the terminal would be crowded, and I'd been warned about people grabbing my luggage or pocket book or... me. I heeded these warnings as I picked up my bags and followed the others to a bus filled with way too many people. (Unfortunately, since our plane was delayed in Charlotte, we had to share a bus with students who would also sing at Carnegie Hall.)
We held our carry-ons in our laps, and some people held people in their laps, since there were nearly twice as many as expected. I didn't mind being crammed in with the high school kids—what bothered me was the fact that their plane left two hours after ours and we arrived at the same time. That meant they got to sleep notably later than we did. Jealous.Crossing a bridge, we received our first glimpse of the city: Old apartment buildings. Not the best view of the greatest city on earth, and I heard groans of disappointment. But I'd seen West Side Story. I knew it wasn't all glitz and glamour.
After an hour-long drive and lots of traffic, we reached our hotel. The lobby was magnificent, with the largest arrangement of flowers I'd ever seen marking the entrance to a restaurant. We heard the first floor had been recently renovated, but I wondered about the rooms upstairs. And I continued to wonder for awhile, since they weren't ready. Our leader informed us it would be a couple of hours before we could check in, so we stashed our luggage in a room off the lobby and went out to explore. "Don't look up," someone said. "If you do, people will know you're tourists."
But who couldn’t stare up at tremendous skyscrapers and all the fanfare that is New York? We were only on the sidewalk a minute or two before someone started yelling at us. Across six lanes of traffic I spotted a man who demanded we buy his hot dogs. Feeling we were at a safe distance, I tried to ignore him, but a little later he got into a fight with another man. (These were pre-Giuliani days, and times were rough.)
We broke off into smaller groups, strolling around the crowded, noisy, scary streets, trying to avoid steam escaping from somewhere deep within the earth. Passing a few more hot dog stands, I felt grateful I didn't buy one earlier, considering the bad odor surrounding the carts, and we were still getting used to the sooty smell that seemed to permeate the entire city.
When we finally reached our rooms, the first thing my roommate did was turn on the television. The Masters was on. Since the tournament was only forty-five minutes from where I lived, it made me feel a little more at home in the strange environment. The room itself was a disappointment, however, with blank, pale blue walls and an old, worn out bath. (Maybe they got around to redecorating the rooms a little later.)
member of our choral group had lived in New York, and he offered to take some of us on a walking tour on that crisp spring evening. As instructed, I wore my shoulder bag under my coat. Nobody was snatching my pocket book! My eyes roved from side to side as we started down the mean streets of New York. Occasionally people spoke to us as we passed by, but we kept our vision straight ahead, not wavering for an instant.
Moving through the frosty darkness, we covered a lot of ground, eventually ending up at Rockefeller Center. We stopped to watch ice skaters, and I held onto my pocket book the entire time, feeling as frozen as the ice looked. Next we stopped at a majestic cathedral. A few people were praying there, but some came in just to escape the cold. A long "Oooh" filled the space, coming from speakers, giving the sanctuary a heavenly atmosphere.
From there we started our long walk back to the hotel, passing a car parked on a dark street where the owners had just discovered that someone broke their rear window. I felt for them.
When we finally turned in for the night, sleeping was difficult, since my roommate insisted on leaving a window open, and we heard the constant beep of horns. About 2:00 a.m., loud voices caught our attention. I wondered, Is this normal? Or is it a riot? The noise eventually stopped, and I later learned it came from ice hockey fans at Madison Square Garden across the street.
During our four days in New York, we sometimes passed bag ladies and people living in cardboard boxes. Even right outside our hotel things were not as they should have been. I remember a man sitting on the sidewalk with his arms stretched toward the sky, and several people near another entrance, scantily clad, hopping about, doing a little dance.
Despite these scenes, much of the city awed me. Fifth Avenue was peaceful and clean—no newspaper sections flying around the sidewalk. I started to unwind, gradually letting down my guard some. Actually, it seemed more . . . normal, except for grandiose attractions, such as the Russian Tea Room and Saks.
Another day we rode the subway to The World Trade Center, sharing a car with a group of youths wearing black leather jackets (not exactly comforting). We arrived at the impressive lobby, which had ornate shops and potted plants all around. It was a long elevator ride to Windows on the World, where we had a 2:00 lunch reservation. Waiting to enter the restaurant, we gazed out at the Hudson River, the Statue of Liberty, and various crafts flying lower than the building.
I never dreamed anything like 9/11 would happen, and it broke my heart when the attack occurred. I believe it’s a victory for our country that One World Trade Center is completed-- the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and the third tallest in the world. I believe we should keep the memory of the Twin Towers alive.
I think Windows on the World was the only restaurant in which I hung the strap of my shoulder bag on the back of my chair instead of on my knee. (I’d been warned about that.) It was a marvelous experience, and I felt torn between getting chocolate cake or New York cheesecake for dessert. I’d heard of the cheesecake all of my life, but I think the chocolate won.
We had one sightseeing day, but our bus wouldn’t start, so we got off to wait for another. Some people stepped into little eateries nearby, but not knowing how long it would be before the other bus would come, I stood by dutifully, breathing in carbon monoxide for two hours. When we finally boarded, we learned that our Statue of Liberty tour was off because of the delay. Some grumbled about getting a partial refund, and I had the impression we might, but it never happened. Is that normal? I’m afraid it is for New York.
As a choral group preparing to sing at Carnegie Hall, we had to practice most mornings, beginning at 8:00 a.m. The other singers weren’t as rehearsed as we were, and the director threatened to leave out a difficult German song if we didn’t get it right (even though it was already printed in the program). But with perseverance and sessions lasting as long as four hours, we finally did well enough to sing the piece.
We continued practicing, but we did take time off to see a Broadway Show one evening. Of course everything was very professional, including the special effects, but the dancers were amazing. I didn’t know anyone could be so smooth, and their legs were almost blurred. When the time came for our concert, we were pleased with the crowd that assembled, and we calmed our nerves enough to belt out the German, Latin, and English words we’d worked so hard to learn. Everything went well, and our audience seemed to appreciate our efforts. (Perhaps the Philharmonic Orchestra and professional soloists had something to do with it.)Next came our celebration for a good performance. Climbing onto a two-story boat, we cruised up and down the Hudson, and I finally got another glimpse of The Statue of Liberty, which was lit up. I made several pictures of the glowing form.
I’d heard New York was a city of granite, and I believe it. With no leaves on the few trees we encountered, everything seemed gray. That in itself made it easy for me to leave the next day, even though I experienced some of the most exciting events of my life in that city, including a great view and photography opportunity from the top of the Empire State Building.
After a smooth flight back to Columbia via Charlotte, my carpool drove through the countryside on a sunny afternoon. The leaves had just finished coming out on the trees, and they looked so beautiful—especially compared with the bare trees of New York. I was glad I went, but grateful to be home and not have to constantly look over my shoulder. However, the first time my husband and I ate out after I arrived, I hesitated to place my pocket book on the back of my chair. Is that normal?
Dale lives in North Carolina with her husband, Rick, and two Siamese cats. A South Carolina native, she holds a B.A. in English from the University of South Carolina, and she’s published articles and poetry, as well as a Post Script in The Saturday Evening Post. An amateur photographer, she has a photo on the inside back cover of Sandlapper, the South Carolina magazine, and she writes television scripts, and fiction for all ages. Her blog is at DaleSittonRogers.wordpress.com.