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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Breaking Barriers

Going to New York City was outside of my comfort zone. Forty-five years ago, our family had done a little sight-seeing there, but since then, I had only read about the Big Apple, or seen its images on TV. Going back was on my to-do list. Yet, to be honest, this small town boy was a little intimidated when I talked of Broadway or other city attractions.

Last week I was to attend a wedding in the Bronx, and in order to make sure I arrived on time I decided to drive down the night before and stay in a small, safe neighboring suburban city.

I arrive in the area around six p.m. “I’m going to conquer this fear downtown New York,” I said to myself. “I have my GPS!” Recently, I listened to an audio-book, entitled Hometown, that told the story of how Manhattan was developed—from the Battery to Harlem. In my mind, I had a little idea of how the streets were laid out. “I’m going in,” I thought.

In the Bronx, I passed Yankee Stadium—both of them (the new and the old). As a boy in the backyard, I was always Mickey Mantle and played center field in my imaginary Yankee Stadium. Soon, in a misty rain that persisted off and on all evening, I crossed The RFK Bridge into Manhattan and followed FDR Boulevard south along the river. My goal was to get to the southern tip of the island, find Broadway, and follow it north—uptown--the way that the island had developed. What I didn’t know was that much of Broadway was now one-way going south.

I passed the Staten Island Ferry terminal and then Battery Park. As I zigzagged my way north, I came to the Brooklyn Bridge—one of the engineering wonders of its day—I thought, “There is no way that pictures can do it justice. You just have to be here to understand its majesty as it spans the river. All of the other places on my list are probably the same way. Seeing them in person far outweighs pictures and videos.” I was reminded of my friend, Becky Storms’, Facebook statement, “I haven’t been everywhere but its on my list!”

It was dark and misty—hard to see—as I wandered around, what I thought was, the financial district. One building said Wall Street Plaza, but I never did actually see Wall Street, so named, I had learned, because in its early days a wall had been built across the island to keep enemies out. Looking upward through the skyscrapers, I saw the top of the Empire State Building.

Driving north with the Met Life building in the background, I saw a huge building with the road running right to it—and around it. GRAND CENTRAL STATION.

Nothing prepared me for TIME SQUARE. Neon lights and more lights; mammoth signs! Broadway musical theatres and people, people, people. I drove through that section three times. Went by Carnegie Hall, saw the Late Night With David Letterman building, NBC News and Radio City Music Hall.

“Heaven is going to be like this,” I thought, “only hundreds of times more grand. And I’m going to get to spend eternity there in the ultimate Facebook environment. Wow!”

Continuing north, I soon located Central Park and drove most of the way around it. Upper East Side and West Side came alive. Soon the landscape began to change. The sign on the subway station read 125th & Harlem. I was in the home of the Harlem Globetrotters. My GPS lady guided me a half mile to the RFK Bridge and I was on my way off the island.

Fears were conquered. Doubt gone. I had spent three hours in Manhattan, in the dark, in the rain, with hundreds of taxis, rickshaw boys, and horse-drawn carriages. I had been honked at, yelled at and narrowly missed by aggressive taxi drivers, but I had survived and thrived. I will do this! I’ll go back, walk the streets, see the sights, take my family, be the tour guide.

I had broken a barrier—where most barriers need to be broken—in my mind.

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