Thursday, April 20, 2017

Surfing A Ten-foot Wave, Sunset Beach, 1988

Larry K. Collins, my husband, co-author, best friend, and cohort in crime is my guest blogger this week.

Having surfed for the past sixty years, I’ve ridden countless waves. Many are forgettable. Still, a few will stay in my memory forever. Even today, I can close my eyes and relive every movement and feeling of the glorious ride.
I decided to describe one memorable ride. But to do it without the surf jargon and clichés normally used to describe the sport and make it accessible to people who have never surfed or even seen the sport. Here is my attempt.

I’m sitting on my board beyond the surf line, facing out to sea. Twenty yards inshore, fifteen or more other surfers, most not even half my age, jockey for position on the incoming swells. I sit farther out, as my ten-foot surfboard allows me to catch waves earlier. They ride the shorter high-performance boards.
Even though I’ve done this countless times, my heart still races as I spot a swell building over the outer reefs, and see the wave begin to take shape. Others see it, also. They begin a hasty paddle out toward me. I turn and start to paddle, arms digging deep into the water. I’ll need speed to catch this one. I glance over my shoulder to position myself. It’s going to be steep.
As the swell lifts the board’s tail, I rise, my left foot forward, my weight pressing the nose down against the wind, right foot steady for balance, knees slightly bent to absorb the bumps and undulations of an ever steepening face.
Before reaching the bottom, I shift my right foot back and press hard on the right-hand rail. The board obediently sweeps right to line up with the wall of water stretching out before me. Two steps forward to the trim spot, the fastest position. I’ll need all the speed I can muster. Behind me, I hear the thunderous roar of the collapsing wave.
My hand dragging on the liquid wall adds stability. My heart’s pumping, mind awake, senses sharp. The wave arches over my head, and in a kaleidoscope of greens, blues, and whites, splashes into the sea beyond my board. I’m in the tube, the barrel. I’m steady in the eye of the storm. Water sheets from the roof above, hitting my face and chest. I blink to clear my vision and crouch lower to urge the board onward.
Then I emerge into the light, out of the tube, and back again on the green wall. Ahead, I see the wave collapse and another tube heads my direction. Time to get out. I sweep a turn to drive the nose up the vertical face, past the lip, and ten feet beyond. I kick the board away, so as not to land on it, and splash on my back into the warm Hawaiian water.
A quick breath, then I feel the pull of the leash attached to my ankle. I’ve made it over the wave. My board did not. I’m pulled backward and drawn below the surface, clawing at the water, struggling against the maelstrom behind me. Finally, the board slips free. I fight to the surface and pull myself aboard.
It’s not over. Another wave looms outside. I stroke for the rising horizon, lungs gasping for air. Oxygen-starved arms feel like I’m pulling noodles through molasses. Offshore winds feather the wave’s crest as I sweep up the wall, over the top, and down the back. Another thirty strokes, and I’m safe outside again. I let out a yell.
It doesn’t get any better that this.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

NYC Part VIII - Cruise and Farewell

This is the final blog about our trip to NYC. (I bet you thought it would never come.)

All day Sunday, we wore our ID tags to identify us as part of the choir group. These are similar to the images on the posters used to advertise the concert.

When I visited Kim last week, she showed me her signed poster. All of the choir members received them as a thank you for participating.

Following the concert, we boarded busses to take us to the harbor. This time, they not only held the choir, but also the orchestra and Michael’s entourage. We heard they had chartered ten of them. We were on the fifth one to leave the city.

We arrived at the dock and then followed the crowd to the far end where the largest boat, the Hornblower Infinity, awaited us. Clearly it was our destination since it was completely lit up.

We presented our tickets and then found seats on the upper deck. Food and drink stations were available on both decks. The buffets included beef, pork, chicken, lots of different salads. Separate desert bars offered a variety of choices (always Larry’s favorite part).

During the cruise, Michael W. Smith once again thanked everyone for their part in creating this fabulous evening.

The views of the lights along the harbor at night awed us. Many of the landmarks appeared different when lit up. The yacht took us to Brooklyn and then turned around and headed back toward NYC while we dined.

As we returned to port, the boat took a detour toward the Statue of Liberty. Even though we were unable to walk on the island or climb the statue, this view of Lady Liberty brought to mind the lyrics of “There She Stands,” which we had heard earlier in the evening at the concert. I confess, I was moved to tears seeing this symbol of freedom in person.

Soon we reached the dock and disembarked. Busses awaited us and conveyed us back to our hotel, tired and euphoric after one of the most memorable days of our lives.

Early the next morning, we met Kim in the lobby. Their flight was earlier than ours, so this was our last chance to see her before we left. After we kissed her goodbye, we asked the concierge to arrange for a taxi to meet us to take us to the airport.

After breakfast, we finished packing and went to the lobby. Our taxi arrived right on time. We had a delightful ride, so different from our arrival. During the trip, we enjoyed talking to our driver, Mohammed. This young man had relocated from Miami to experience the big city. He said he enjoyed meeting people from all over the world.

Once more, we had encountered a wonderful New Yorker—the perfect ending to our NYC experience.

Our flight proved to be uneventful. We were ready to be home, but it will take some time to fully process the whole experience. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

NYC Part VII - The Concert

After a short rest at the hotel, we changed clothes and made our way to Carnegie Hall. This time, we entered through the main entrance while the choir members went to the artists’ entrance.

On the way in, we picked up some of the cough drops we’d heard about during our tour. They use only those wrapped in wax paper rather than cellophane because they don’t crinkle during the performance.

Our tickets were in the center section, fourth row, on the aisle. Unfortunately, we were on the opposite side of the stage from Kim, but we spotted her occasionally behind the harp during the performance.

Before the performance, the church pastor, Jack Graham, made a surprise appearance. All the choir members were thrilled to see him there. The choir was introduced before Michael W. Smith took the stage. “If you have ever wondered what angels sound like, you are about to hear the closest thing on earth.” The director did not lie.

The show started with an acapella version of “Shine on Us.” (All music is hyperlinked to YouTube performances. The only one I could find of the acapella version of the Michael W. Smith arrangement of this song is from a high school choir. Kim verified the arrangement. Since their Carnegie concert was not recorded, I don’t have their version.)

During the rehearsal, the conductor/director, David Hamilton, worked with the choir to change from their usual all-out, full-volume style to modulate this song. As he worked with them, we heard a real transformation. Before the concert, choir members expressed concern about this piece since they would have no orchestra or piano to cover any errors. They delivered their best performance of the night. (Yes, I’m biased, but this is the type of choral music I most enjoy.)

This photo was taken during rehearsal. Kim is in the front row just to the right of the microphone next to the seated man. (I believe he may be the choir’s director.)

Finally, Michael W. Smith took the stage. The program began with the “Glory Overture.” This song made me cry during rehearsal. The actual performance was no different. There followed several songs he has recorded like “Great is the Lord” and “Down to the River.” (Video is with the Prestonwood choir at a performance in Texas. If you look closely, you may spot Kim.) More of his well-known songs followed, interspersed with some I hadn’t heard before like, “The Giving,” “Heroes,” and “There She Stands,” his tribute to the Statue of Liberty following the 9-11 attack. All of these have become favorites. The first half ended with “Gloria from Angels We Have Heard on High.”

During intermission, I made a quick visit to the gift shop. During our tour, I had spotted a few items I wanted to buy as mementos of this special trip. The most famous joke about Carnegie hall goes like this:
A performer (identified variously as Jasha Heifetz, Artur Rubenstein, or Jack Benny) was walking on the street in New York City when a passerby stopped him to ask, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer was: “Practice, practice, practice.”
The joke has become a staple at the hall, and many of their souvenir items feature the words, “Practice, Practice, Practice.” I bought myself a t-shirt and mug with the saying. I also got Kim a different mug, also with the same words.

Back in my seat, I was ready for the second half. It began with several of Michael’s well-known songs. They included a song he recorded with the Prestonwood choir, “We Are Alive.” (This song is available for purchase on the Prestonwood Choir CD Songs of the People.)

By the time we reached “Mighty to Save” and “Breathe,” the entire audience was singing along, whether or not it was the original intention. We looked around us. The hall was packed, and we thought some of the people near us might have come from the Brooklyn Tabernacle—including their choir members. The sound of over 2,000 voices plus the orchestra, choir, and soloist internalized the music. Powerful stuff.

The concert ended with “Agnus Dei.” The video is from a performance at Prestonwood Baptist Church prior to the Carnegie Hall weekend. (Kim is in the front of the very first choir shot as well as several other places in the video.)

Of course, by the end of this one, the audience was on its feet. The applause rolled on and didn’t stop.

As expected, Michael returned to the stage for an encore. Following a charming story and the first encore, he began to play the familiar chords of my favorite of his songs, “Friends.”

For many years, our church had a rite of passage for our graduating high school seniors. One Sunday, either in May or June, the high schoolers took over the worship service. They planned and executed the whole thing. The graduating seniors gave the message. Our high school adviser, Connie Mills, always chose “Friends” as the closing song for those special services. Every time I hear it, I am taken back to those wonderful days.

I sang and cried at the same time, along with others around me. I did not need to apologize.

For years, we had tickets for some of the great performance venues in Los Angeles: the Dorothy Chandler, Royce Hall, Ambassador Auditorium, Schubert, etc. We had a box at the Hollywood Bowl for three years. During those years, we heard many great performers like Itzhak Perlman, James Galway, Jean-Pierre Rampal, the Kings Singers, and on and on.

As we regained our breath at the end of the concert, I turned to Larry. “This is the best concert I’ve ever heard.” This was not an idle comment. He responded with, “yeah, and the second half was the very best singalong ever.”
Indeed, the entire evening was magic. But we weren’t finished yet.

Please enjoy the links to some fabulous music. Unfortunately, the concert itself wasn’t recorded or I would give you the link to buy the CD.
Next week, we wrap up our trip to NYC with a dinner cruise in NY Harbor.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

NYC Part VI - Brooklyn Sunday Morning

Our NYC adventure continues with our Sunday morning trip to Brooklyn.

We assembled in the hotel lobby at 6:45 a.m. on Sunday morning where we finally met our “family” group. As others counted noses and determined everyone was present and accounted for, they headed out. Kim’s group left well ahead of us. Ours was one of the last to leave.

Fortunately, a fellow in our group regularly travels to Manhattan for business. He realized the subway schedule was different for Sundays and holidays. We followed him like ducklings, afraid to make a wrong turn.

We observed another group disappear down some steps into the subway. If I’d been on my own, I probably would have followed them, but our fearless leader looked at his map and determined the entrance we wanted was in the next block, even though we couldn’t see it from where we stood. Sure enough, as we passed the buildings, a large opening at street level revealed the correct portal.

We have used subways in Japan, Paris, and Washington, D.C. All have been clean, bright, and user-friendly. In most cases, the stations themselves featured large diagrams of the subway lines and the stations. In Japan, above the doors on each train we could count on a diagram of the route with all the stops identified. As we approached each, the name was announced. So, even as gaijin or foreigners, we were prepared to disembark.

The New York subways appeared to be well-worn, dark, and a bit shabby. The station yielded no clues as to where to go. (Fortunately, we were each issued a subway map in case we got lost. However, I’d have been hard-pressed to find my way back alone.)

Our fearless leader got us to the right track and onto the right train. By the second stop, all of us found seats. We had a chance to get to know a few of the people in the group during the ride—lovely folks all.

When we reached Brooklyn, a cold mist had begun. I had taken a small umbrella with me for the trip. However, it remained on the nightstand in the hotel. Fortunately, our Universal all-weather jackets were waterproof and provided adequate protection, I wasn’t particularly concerned about keeping my hair dry as the light mist didn’t do much damage.
A walk of about three blocks led us to the Brooklyn Tabernacle where we were to share Sunday morning worship. This wonderful church is large enough to hold their congregation as well as 270 additional souls. We were excited to be there as this Grammy-winning choir had previously sung backup for Michael W. Smith.

We were ushered to the balcony where half had been set aside for our group. We were warmly welcomed and took our seats. We noticed about half our people were missing—including Kim’s group. All had left ahead of us.

Everyone finally arrived in time for the 9:00 a.m. service. Larry asked Kim what happened. She rolled her eyes. “Six trains…” We didn’t get the full story until later. It seems their group—among others—used the daily schedule. When the train didn’t come after half an hour, they switched to a different one. Then, they went from train to train until they finally located the correct one.

The Tabernacle choir sings in gospel style—full volume with lots of energy. (The Prestonwood choir tends to do the same.) The service began with an hour of music, interspersed occasionally with scripture and prayer. We’d been told to leave no later than 10:30 even if the service wasn’t finished. After the offertory—with more music—the pastor began his sermon. Just before 10:30, our group began donning their outerwear. Fortunately, the service ended right on time. When we got outside, the cold mist had turned to sleet. Our Universal jackets have built-in hoods, so I raised mine.

We walked about four blocks to Hill Country Barbeque restaurant. This one was also two stories. For our group, they served a buffet breakfast with lines both upstairs and down instead of barbeque. We found seats downstairs and got into the line. Kim, Maribeth, and some of our “family” group made their way upstairs.
The food was served in square cardboard containers: small sweet rolls, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon, and French toast. We had juice and coffee to drink. Feeding such a huge crowd in a short period of time seemed like a logistic nightmare, yet the planners pulled it off.
After breakfast, we retraced our steps back to the subway. This time, we got off at the stop closest to Carnegie Hall. The choir was directed one way, and we non-singers were asked to wait in a large room. When everyone had arrived, we were invited to enter the auditorium and take seats for the rehearsal until time for our backstage tour.

The orchestra rehearsed for a half hour before the choir arrived. The first number they played was Michael’s Glory Overture. I had no idea he wrote instrumental music. I whispered to Larry, “Hints of John Williams.” Some of the themes reminded me of his music, especially his score for Home Alone. During the concert, Michael told the audience he had been profoundly influenced by John Williams.

I am always deeply moved by beautiful music, and this brought me to tears. The next song, “Heroes,” moved me even more. I warned Larry and the young lady next to me that I would probably embarrass them during the concert.

After the orchestra rehearsal, the choir arrived. Fitting 230 people behind a full orchestra was no small feat! We later learned some of them decided to share music because they were so close, their folders didn’t fit. 
As they began to rehearse, our Carnegie guide arrived to take us on the backstage tour. He shared the history of the hall and showed us everything from the top tier to the ground floor and museum. All the walls in the auditorium curve slightly inward so the sound is focused on the audience. The balconies have no walls to break up the sound. Light comes from wall-mounted sconces rather than chandeliers. This venue was obviously designed for maximum enjoyment of the music.
After our tour, we went back into the hall to enjoy the last of the rehearsal before we returned to the hotel for a rest before the concert. Fortunately, the hotel was only a couple of blocks away—a terrific location.

Next week: the concert. (Spoiler alert: This was the best concert I have ever attended.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

NYC Part V - On Broadway

Our New York weekend adventure continued on Saturday night with our attendance at a Broadway show.

How do you feed a group of 270 people at one time in New York City? The planners of this trip faced this challenge, and they met it well. Since the group was from Plano, TX (a suburb of Dallas) the organizers chose the Dallas BBQ, of course. The restaurant was in Times Square, and since many of us had tickets for a show, the location was perfect.
We took over the entire second floor, packed into long tables. When we sat down, pitchers of water, lemonade, iced tea, and soda as well as bowls of coleslaw were already in place. When most of us were seated, service began. We each received a large plate with a rack of ribs, quarter chicken, French fries and cornbread—far too much for one person to finish. We passed the plates down the table, like a family meal.
We sat with Kim and Maribeth, but we also had the chance to meet a few of the other choir members. When one of the gals discovered we were authors, we enjoyed a long conversation about writing. She said she wanted to read some of our books, so we were pleased.

During the meal, we heard a commotion behind us, and turned to see Michael W. Smith. He had stopped by to welcome the group to NYC. He seemed like to be as nice a guy as we had expected. We were all pleased to see him.

For dessert, ice cream sandwiches were passed down the table. Larry ended up with two since Kim didn’t eat hers.

Prior to the trip, we were given the opportunity to purchase tickets to a Broadway play. We selected Aladdin. We prepaid for the tickets, and Kim picked them up before she left Texas. We had a little time before the show, so we walked down a block, then crossed the street where we could get a good look at the marquee.
The temperature was still just above freezing, so we waited in the entrance until we could take our seats. A stand with a lamp had been set up, so of course, we had to pose while rubbing it.
We had a long wait, but the doors finally opened, and we found our seats.
We had expected this show to be an expansion of the play we had seen several times at Disney’s California Adventure, but it was somewhat different. We were especially fortunate because we saw the original Genie, James Monroe Iglehart, in one of his last performances before he left the show. We enjoyed it very much, and now we can say we’ve seen a real Broadway show!

Next week: Worship at the Brooklyn Tabernacle on Sunday morning.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

NYC Part IV - Holy Ground

Last week, I described our bus tour of the city. This week, our visit to the 9-11 memorial.

The Big Bus stopped about three blocks from the 9-11 memorial. Everyone disembarked with us, and we made our way through the ice and slush and wind toward One World Trade Center in the distance. Because of our tight schedule, we had no time to go up in the tower, nor did we have time to visit the museum. They’re on the list for our next tip.
We heard the sound of water before we reached the plaza. We approached the pools and were moved by the many names engraved deeply into the granite. Here and there, a flower had been placed into the deep groove of a letter—a reminder of the families and friends of those who were lost and who continue to miss them. The footprints of the original towers struck me as enormous. The sound of water cancels out the sounds of the city as it falls from the outer rim to pound onto a second level. Then it flows into a small, square pool, where it finally drops into an abyss at the bottom and disappears from sight. Just as the towers fell and disappeared. Holy ground.

Larry circled the pools while I remembered the events of the day as if it had been the day before. We woke early and turned on the TV as usual to see the weather and traffic reports. Suddenly, the local feed shifted to the national news. Behind the reporters, smoke billowed from one of the towers. They announced a small plane had crashed into it. The incident was believed to be an accident—until another plane hit the second tower. I turned to Larry. “We’re at war.”

I watched as first responders rushed to the scene, and then as the towers crumbled. I remember the ‘ghosts’ who ran from the disaster covered in ash. Specific images of people remain vivid in my memory. I kept waiting for an announcement about a movie being filmed, hoping against hope this was a joke. It wasn’t.

As I stood next to a pool reading the names, it began to rain. Larry said it was just the spray from the falling water, but I was sure God’s tears blended with my own. Sacred space.
We headed back toward the bus stop. As we turned, I spotted an enormous structure next to the museum. From the end, it looked like a giant dove, whose wings consisted of thin concrete ribs. We were freezing and decided to step inside to warm up. The interior resembled a giant cathedral. Between the ribs, large glass panels revealed the surrounding buildings. We have been to the Crystal Cathedral in southern California several times. This space reminded me of the church. The sides of the interior met in a tall pointed arch.
As we looked down, we noticed a stage. We found it easy to imagine a concert in the space. The lower floor was lined with shops and stores. Two more levels rose along the sides. We found our way to the next floor down and followed it around to the exit closest to our next stop. We discovered this building, known as the Oculus, is actually the transportation center for the memorial site. Although no trains were running, this soon will be visitors’ introduction to the memorial. Beautiful, functional art.

Before we left, I wanted to visit St. Paul’s Chapel, George Washington’s church. I had read about this special location. It survived several major catastrophes untouched to become a source of comfort for survivors and first responders. For weeks following September eleventh, those working on the site were fed here. They slept in the sanctuary and found comfort from the congregation and clergy.
On our way, we passed the graveyard. The fence surrounding it was used for memorials in the days following the collapse of the towers. I looked to the right and spotted one of the old headstones in three pieces. I immediately remembered my great-grandmother’s headstone in the old cemetery in Spring City, Utah. We stopped there while on our road trip in 2012. I was moved just by seeing the names of those people from whom I descend. I have inquired a couple of times about having the headstone repaired, but the person who used to do the work is no longer available. Because this is a private cemetery, I assured those I spoke with that we would be happy to pay for the restoration. When I mentioned it to my cousins, they also said they would contribute. The last I heard, it is still in pieces, just like the one at St. Paul’s.

Larry took photos of the old gravestones while I entered the chapel. A preschool class colored on the floor in the center of the sanctuary. I smiled when I realized this was the perfect image for this special place. It isn’t a dead museum. It is a living place where the congregation continues to worship and serve. Testament to faith.

We re-boarded our bus, deeply moved by our short visit. By the second stop, everyone else had left. Once again, we claimed the very front seats on the second level. Our guide turned off the microphone and moved to the seat behind us.

He shared his story of that infamous day in 2001. He lives in Brooklyn. At the time, he was attending Columbia University, just a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center. The school announced an accident in one of the towers. Unlike management in the towers themselves, those in charge told the students to evacuate the school immediately.

As he left, he saw a huge cloud of smoke and ash rise above the city streets. He headed toward the bridge and passed “ghosts” covered with ash. Since no transportation was available, he began to cross the bridge, along with many others. He said he developed a new respect for the bridge. Today he never crosses it without remembering his escape from the city. He said he loves sharing his love of the city and his experiences with visitors. I wish we had asked his name—another friendly and memorable person we met in New York.

Sacred space. Holy ground. Divine locations. We are still processing their emotional impacts.

Next week: Our night on Broadway.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

NYC Part III - Bus Tour

Last week, I continued the story of our NYC adventure. This week, I share our few hours of free time in the city.

We woke early in hopes of seeing Kim before she and her group left for the day. Their choir group (over 230 members) was divided into “family groups”’ of about twelve. For some reason, we were assigned to a different group than Kim. (At the time, it felt like a mistake, but subsequent events proved we were exactly where we belonged. Why am I still surprised when these things happen?)

When I texted Kim, we found she and her friend, Maribeth, were at a nearby restaurant eating breakfast. We decided to get oatmeal at the Starbucks in the hotel lobby so we wouldn’t miss her when she returned.

On her way in, she picked up our envelopes with all our credentials and tickets for the following two days. (Since we missed the meet-and-greet the previous evening, we hadn’t received ours.) Thank goodness, she knew who had them, so we were finally “official.”

Each family group was assigned a mission project before they left Texas. When we signed up, we decided to pass up this opportunity in order to do a few hours of sightseeing. (To be honest, the nature of the projects wasn’t described, and I was afraid of straining my bad knee if too much walking was required.)

After we bid farewell to Kim and the others, we went to the concierge desk to inquire about a bus tour of the city. With limited time, this seemed the best option.

When we got there, another group was busy with their plans, so we had to wait. Within a couple of minutes, we were joined by another guest. I nearly always talk to people when standing in line (to Larry’s eternal embarrassment). So, I struck up a conversation. This fellow bore a striking resemblance to one of our colleagues from Universal Studios, now sadly passed away.

I don’t remember exactly how the conversation drifted to Japan—possibly because of the USJ logo on the back of our jackets. It turned out this man had spent his earliest years in Takarazuka where we lived while in Japan. His family had moved to Chiba where one of our Japanese students lived. He worked for a steel company and now lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Our time in line passed quickly thanks to Nose (pronounced “no-say”). We always enjoy talking about our time as expats, and he was most interested.

When the concierge was finally available, we booked tickets on the hop-on-hop-off Big Bus tour of the city.
Most people aren’t aware of what an architecture junkie I am. Had I not been an English major, I might have studied the subject in college. Manhattan has one of the most amazing arrays of styles anywhere on the planet. And I was in heaven.
As we reached the stop, a new bus arrived. We were able to get the very front seats on the upper deck. All glass in front of us afforded an unobstructed view of the city. Even though the day was a bit overcast, we still had a great view.

I nearly had to pinch myself as we drove the streets and passed famous landmarks. A couple of blocks from the bus stop, I looked down to see the marquee of the Knickerbocker Hotel. I’d read stories of this place, and now we were there.
I have always loved deco style, and directly ahead of the bus, stood the Chrysler Building, every bit as beautiful as its photos.
I recognized landmarks, like the Empire State Building and the Flatiron Building, long before our tour guide identified them. He gave us a wonderful overview of the city and its history. For a couple of history buffs, his enthusiasm and knowledge were most welcome.

We traveled through Chinatown, the neighborhood of iron buildings with their ornate railings (reminiscent of those we had seen in New Orleans and Melbourne, Australia), Times Square, Wall Street, and all the other famous areas of the city. I was actually there, after all the years of wanting to visit! And we had met more friendly, smart, and welcoming New Yorkers.

Next week: standing on Holy Ground.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

NYC Part II - Dining

Last week, I told you about our arrival in New York City. This week, I continue our saga.

During our three-hour wait for a taxi in the cold and wind, I texted Kim to let her know what was happening. She and her friends went on to the meet-and-greet before we arrived at the hotel. She mentioned they had eaten dinner at Bobby Flay’s restaurant, Bar American, around the corner from the hotel. She told us it was expensive but excellent.

We had eaten very little during the day, and the long wait plus the extended trip into the city meant we were starving by the time we reached Times Square.

We checked into the Sheraton and decided to go to the restaurant Kim had recommended because it was nearby. The walk was cold and slushy, but it wasn’t very far.

From the moment we entered, we felt welcomed. The number of staff nearly equaled the number of diners. We were shown to a nice table with white linens (which I love), offered menus, and were asked if we would like to check our coats. We declined because we were still a bit chilled. The waiter noticed the Universal Studios Japan logo on the back of my coat and asked about it.
When he brought our beverages, we began a delightful conversation about Japan and the Universal park. Our waiter, Hector, was originally from Venezuela. He had considered visiting Japan, so he asked lots of questions. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting him.

We ordered our meal, and enjoyed the bread selection while we waited for our entrees. I ordered the spinach salad. I also ordered the sweet potato gratin. It sounded interesting, and I wanted to try it. Larry ordered the blackened sea bass.

The salad was delicious with crispy, thick bacon, feta cheese, and a poached egg on top. The gratin consisted of paper-thin slices of sweet potato layered with cinnamon and nutmeg, baked in an individual ramekin. It tasted a lot like pumpkin pie filling (which I adore). Larry enjoyed his sea bass and helped finish the sweet potatoes.

Of course, he also had to order dessert: chocolate crème brulèe. I was full, but I tried a taste—and it was terrific!

The entire meal was delightful and the perfect end to a stressful day. Once again, we met lovely, friendly New Yorkers and discovered why the city is famous for its food.

Back at the hotel, we didn’t even bother unpacking, but climbed into bed, full and ready for whatever the morning would bring.

Next week: our bus trip around the city.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Welcome to New York City

New York City has been on my bucket list for a long time. Larry has been there on business several times. His first visit was in 1957 as part of the Boy Scout Jamboree held at Valley Forge. But I’d never been there.

Late last year, our daughter, Kim, told us about the invitation her church choir (Prestonwood Baptist) had received to sing at Carnegie Hall accompanying Michael W. Smith. She knew we were in because 1) he is one of my favorite Christian composers and performers, and 2) NYC was already on my list. We signed up to attend as non-singers as soon as we were able.
Before we left home, we checked the weather. Wednesday had been sixty degrees and clear. A huge blizzard blew in on Thursday, bringing between nine and fourteen inches of snow. LaGuardia shut down for most of the day.

We checked the status of our flight on Thursday night, and it still showed on schedule. So we got up at 3:30 a.m. (after an excited sleepless night), showered, dressed, and picked up our friend at five. She had agreed to drive us to the airport before she went to work. Our car would remain at her house until she picked us up on Monday night.

Our 6:55 flight still showed on schedule on the Departure board when we arrived. Thank goodness, we have TSA Pre-Check. We have always had it since it started, probably because we are old and have done a lot of flying.

After an uneventful flight, with a stop in Chicago, we arrived at four-thirty p.m.—a half hour early. Since we were scheduled to attend a welcome get-together with the group at eight, we were certain we’d have lots of time to get there. WRONG!

Before we left the baggage claim area, we donned our Universal Studios Japan all-weather coats. These were issued to the team shortly after we arrived in Osaka. I guess they knew as Californians, most of us wouldn’t have suitable clothing for winter in Osaka. And were they ever right! We debated packing them for NYC, but decided to take them. So glad we did! They also provided great conversation starters.

We walked out to the taxi line. The temperature was below freezing (30 degrees). The line snaked back and forth a few times, but it didn’t appear daunting. We moved very slowly for over an hour until we reached the street. We thought this was the end of the line. However, we were wrong.

We crossed the street to find another, even longer, line. This one went down about three blocks, made a turn and then doubled back, and it barely moved. In fact, we stood in one spot for over half an hour. When we finally made the turn, we saw what the problem was: no taxis. None. Traffic, inbound and outbound, was at a standstill. Only one cab came by every five minutes or so.

After three hours standing in below freezing temperatures and driving wind (the temp dropped as we stood in line), taxis began to arrive, two or three at a time. Even the airport staff said they had never seen traffic this bad. (When we got to the hotel, the news was full of the LaGuardia mess.)

We finally settled into a cab, frozen and exhausted, at close to eight p.m. We watched the driver’s GPS as it redirected him from route to route. The bridges around the airport were blocked. He apologized for the detours. We actually had a nice conversation on the way to the hotel. Our first encounter with a NY cab driver, and he was polite and accommodating. Another stereotype blown away, happily.

During the ride, we thawed our extremities. We have never been so happy to see a hotel!

Next week, our New York adventure continues.