“I’ve been trapped in the bathroom!” My mother was hunched over me, laughing hysterically.
“Are you drunk?” This was an honest question. How else could one get trapped in a bathroom?
“No!” she said in disbelief. “I just told you — I was trapped in the bathroom!”
It was true, she wasn’t drunk — and I could tell that now — but that still didn’t answer my intended question. Then again, it was my mother and she tends to get herself into odd situations, which is probably where I get this uncanny ability too. I decided to let this go as she, still in hysterics, joined my father on the train seat.
We were heading to New York City, a surprise my family and I had plotted for my father’s birthday.
There is one thing I would like you to know about my father: He is the reason I have a roaming heart. Since growing up as a little girl, I can remember my father talking with a fiery passion about all of the places he craves to go and what he yearns to do: Venture to the Burning Man in Nevada, see the Grand Canyons in Arizona, stroll in Saint Augustine, Florida — and his dreams balloon further. Travel up the world’s tallest building in Dubai, wonder through a vertical forest in China, walk the Pilgrimage Trail in Japan, hike to the base camp of Mount Everest — The places and sights and adventures explode from him in a bright fireworks display, dreams bursting forth in elaborate detail and color — one after another and another. As a child, I would sometimes close my eyes when he talked, picturing these places as magical kingdoms built upon his passion. I would repeat each place and location until they were committed to memory so that now, my heart beats to explore too, my mind races to get out.
But here is the difference in my father and me: My father is also content to stay. Call it what you want it — misfortune, contentment, comfort — Whatever it is, it has kept him here so that while his list of places grows, he grows older too.
It was one day — months before his April birthday — that I began to contemplate my own life. What was I doing? Why was I not taking every opportunity to follow my heart? Why was I still here, with a routine life and a routine job? For me, I’ve written often of how I ask these questions mostly after stumbling in my swirling vortex of multiple sclerosis thoughts. It was here I realized — again and again — that life is short; and in that moment, I saw not my bursting dreams escape but my father’s, and I became emotional thinking about the moment when he would no longer be with me, the moment I would look back at his list of places and realize all he did not see.
That’s when the plan started. Because he and my mother have never been on a train or in a plane before, we decided to take the plunge and cross off multiple Bucket List items. My mom, my sister, her husband, Andy, and me booked six train tickets up to The City That Never Sleeps, reserved three hotel rooms, and booked a flight for six back. Coming from my sweet Virginian parents — who can claim only a few states away to be their farthest trip — this would be an epic adventure to say the least.
And so this is why mother became stuck in a train bathroom for who knows how long . . . and why my family was packed onto a train headed north to New York City.
Swishing past Washington, DC we saw glimmers of the blooming pink and white-petaled Japanese cherry trees. In our nation’s capital, there is a Cherry Blossom Festival every spring, which commemorates Japan’s effort to build a friendship between the two countries, seen in the gifting of these trees.
After an about six-hour train ride, we were finally in The Big Apple and ready to bring our suitcases to our hotel.
Our hotel was mere blocks from Times Square where people hustle on the sidewalks faster than the cars on the roads and the sounds of horns, exhausts, advertisements, music, more explode in the air.
And this is New York City, an alternate fairytale where the skyscrapers are enchanted and stretch so tall that they become invisible in the clouds.
Even though it was April, temperatures were freezing and I cuddled into Andrew for warmth before pulling him into me for a kiss while the people, the taxis, the billboards, the colors — all bustle and blur around us in the vibrant energy that can only be felt in NYC.
After a walk around Times Square, we decided food was in order. Being in New York for the first time, we decided the only way to give my parents a true NYC experience was to eat at the oldest US pizzeria: Lombardi’s.
Continuing the Big Apple experience after, we stopped at Junior’s for their famous New York-style cheesecake . . . and well, a milkshake because why not?
With stuffed bellies, we slipped underground for my parents’ first subway ride back to our hotel. Oddly enough, my mom later admitted the subway was her favorite part about New York City — seeing the fluster of excitement as people bristled on and off with determined schedules and plans read in their faces. Anyway, if she enjoyed the subway the most, I suppose it is easy to say Day One was a success.
Following a hotel breakfast, we bundled up once more. Outside temperatures had dropped to a blustery forty-six degrees.Our destination today was Chelsea Market. Let it be known here I’m a sucker for a good market and I’ve yet to find one that beats San Francisco’s. I often say if I could claim a city as a home, without a doubt my decision would be built around that city’s market. . . . That and the city’s ability to grow lemon trees in front yards, but that’s a story for another time.
Ending at the bookstore — because there’s no better place to end a stop — we ventured outside, heading to parks and their surrounding sights, such as where Sex and the City was filmed, the New York Stock Exchange, and more.
Hungry once more, we stopped for food then grabbed a famous Ferrara cannoli and other desserts too delicious-looking to resist.
Day Three brought with it slightly warmer temperatures and another surprise: the throne from The Game of Thrones was seated in front of the Rockefeller Center.
But we were off to a park — the park as in Central Park where surrounding buildings peek through the leafless sycamores, which loom over the sidewalks.
I think this was my father’s favorite place, as is mine, and so we nestled together on a park bench — the six of us — people-watching and talking.
Too soon we were encouraged to see better views of New York and for that we walked to Rockefeller Center where steel shoots from the city, reminding me of the sad contrast seen earlier in a park with trees . . .
With exhausted parents in tow, we split up for the afternoon and that’s when Andy and I admittedly had the best time because we headed to Chinatown . . .It was around here — in an area without many English signs, in an area that speaks more Chinese than English — Andrew’s and my cellphones both died. No directional help, no guide, nothing — we were left on our own.
And the only thing to calm anyone lost? Food.
Welcoming traditional Chinese food, we ordered steamed dumplings and edamame; then I ordered chicken lo mein while Andy felt more of a risk-taker and ordered the house special lo mein . . . only to find tripe and all sorts of other surprises in his. Even so, it was — by far and as expected — the best Chinese food we’ve both ever had.Calmer in body and spirit, we took to the streets of New York again and wandered our way around a massive city, somehow — amazingly — making our way back to the hotel.
I’ll admit openly that I’m not a New York fan. It’s a city and I’m not a city girl. Saying that though, there was one aspect I was clinging too — excited about even — and that was catching the sunrise on The Brooklyn Bridge.
Andrew and I set out alarm clocks and left our hotel when all was still dark. As we approached the bridge, the salty water splashed up towards us, as if excited we were there and then the sun began to rise — bright and quick — in the sky . . .
Once on the bridge, the sunrise’s pastels began to show faintly in the distance . . .We walked the course of The Brooklyn Bridge and it all felt time was moving too fast.
“Hey,” I said grabbing Andrew’s hand, “can we just stop a moment?” and I rushed to set up my camera to capture a quick kiss. At the time, I didn’t intend for this to be a blurry shot but it is now my favorite from the trip. It looks like a watercolor — romantic, sweet, light — and that’s exactly how this one brief moment felt . . .
Meeting my family at the hotel, we prepared for our last day in the Big Apple. Here, my father wanted to visit the World Trade Center site and pay his respects to those lost . . .
When I first went to New York City, the area around the World Trade Center was blocked off. Rubble was still piled and there were no specifics on what would happen. To visit now — It was incredibly emotional and humbling, to say the least. I felt overcome with sorrow for all involved — both directly and indirectly — and then I walked by this.
I still don’t have words — only feelings to sadness and apologizes and somehow it will never be enough. In the end, the least I can hope is that those affected have found some type of solace, love, acceptance, and hope themselves . . .
We spent hours here, all quiet and thinking, before moving on once more . . .Hungry again, we strolled to one place we hadn’t been to yet — a place that filled me with anticipation: Little Italy.
Here, large Italian men stood outside their restaurants with waving arms and booming voices to beckon you inside. We followed our noses — the scent of the best Italian food leading the way — and found ourselves inside a restaurant that opened it’s large door-windows to the area. With a red wine sangria in one hand, I leaned over my dish as Andy reached over his to let me taste his pasta, which felt like it melted in my mouth. Italian food, undoubtedly, is my favorite . . .
On the way back to the hotel, we visited Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, a Neo-Gothic-style church that took twenty-one years to build.Inside was just as stunning and we separated, sitting in different pews, to take it in.
Exhausted mentally and physically, we roamed through the first places we explored together — stopping in Times Square to take in the madness.
All in all, New York left me as it always has, which is feeling as if I have barely scratched the surface. Maybe that’s because there are secrets here — hidden in buildings, tucked around alley bends, covered by asphalt upon asphalt — so many secrets and changes that even residents rush to catch up. And I know as an outsider, I’ll never get the full story. Each trip back is different. But there is allure here, a promise for more so maybe one day I’ll be back . . . again . . . and again have a different story . . .