Days 16 & 17 – The Big Apple

Sean’s Journal: I’m headed down Interstate 95, which must be one of the most important and busy highways in the country, if not the world. My three major destinations are New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. I know it sounds trite to call New York City “The Big Apple,” but it’s clever. So, how did this nickname come about? There are many theories and much folklore surrounding this nickname.  After much research on the Internet and elsewhere, I find it hard to pin down one source of “The Big Apple.” The one that sticks in my mind has to do with horse racing that has held such prominence in New York City over the years. Apparently, jockeys and stable hands saw the opportunity to compete in the city’s races as a gleaming, tempting, and delicious prize—perhaps even a literal prize that their thoroughbreds would relish. Anyway, it’s a friendly nickname for such an intimidating (and magnificent) metropolis. 

See It to Believe It. How can someone possibly describe a place like New York City with all its colorful and complex boroughs and neighborhoods. I invite every reader of this blog to get a Rand McNally Road Atlas like the one I’m using and to sit and study the two-page map of the city. Doing so makes me feel puny. I live in small rural town in Utah. There are more people in the vicinity of Queens Center Mall than there are in our entire county. How can I say I know the United States or New York City or Queens? There are a hundred cultural enclaves in Queens. I visited the mall today and had lunch at a small delicatessen nearby. I paid a visit to the Queens Botanical Gardens. The park benches are such great spots for connecting with people. The people of Queens are so diverse, so interesting, so busy. I loved it.  To do justice to this part of our nation, I’d have to live here for the rest of the summer and do nothing but stroll about, sit in the parks, and chat with people from every corner of the world. 

A Grand Metro Adventure. My general NYC itinerary has been this…. I came down I-95, crossed the Bronx Whitestone Bridge, and spent the afternoon in Queens. On my second day, I got up early and headed to Manhattan. (Unfortunately, I didn’t do Brooklyn—it’s about too much to see in just two days.) I took the Queensboro Bridge across the East River to drive by the United Nations headquarters, then find my way to Central Park for a late morning stroll. I’ve seen so many TV specials about this amazing park. It took such vision to commit to such an oasis in such a densely populated metropolis–exactly why the park was needed. Late in the afternoon, I made it to the September 11 Memorial. (I saved my most eagerly anticipated visit to The Statue of Liberty for the morning of Day 18 as I will then take the tunnel under the Hudson River into New Jersey to reconnect with I-95.) These few days did a number on my budget, but this is “metro living.” The cost of everything here is why I’m not staying longer. I will come back in 10-15 years when I can spend a week. Okay, here are the highlights in a nutshell…

1) The City / The Memorial. The bridges here are crazy-cool. I drove past the Brooklyn Bridge. What a landmark. What a history. Read about it. As for the September 11 Memorial, I was just a toddler when those terrorists destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center. My sense of this national tragedy comes from my dad and Vince. I watched the news videos. The memorial and museum are magnificent works of architectural art, truly a fitting remembrance of the many lives lost. I walked to the shiny new World Trade Center—magnificent. 

2) The Statue of Liberty. I finished my day where Vince and his youngest son had such a memorable experience: The Statue of Liberty, which must bring a lump to the throat of any American who sees it for the first time and to those who lives were changed as they initially sailed into New York Harbor over the many years. 

3) New Yorkers. What can I say about two days in Queens and Manhattan? My head was nodding, rocking, and swaying as I looked up at the skyscrapers, into the windows of restaurants and neighborhood shops, and as I attempted to determine where a thousand sounds were coming from. There was the vroom-vroom of traffic, the regular sirens, a constant mix of languages being spoken, and the background noise of a million feet shuffling along the sidewalk. It was a unique experience for me. There are two words: “human energy”–echoing off man-made canyon walls. I compared this to my solitary echo bouncing off the red canyon walls of Utah where I love to hike. …two extremes of the grandeur of America. 

American Minestrone. And, finally, what did I learn from the dozens of New Yorkers I met briefly or with whom I had such awesome conversations? I learned this, we nobly strive to be one nation, but we are a complex blended family. It is a colorful, beautiful family whose members have such diverse backgrounds, perspectives, needs, and goals. We can seek to be indivisible, but we must seek to be tolerant as well. All of us have heard of America as a “melting pot.” This would imply that we will somehow melt down into one common element of Americana. Perhaps a better analogy would be that we are a “stewing pot” where many delectable ingredients are mixed and simmering together to create a delicious minestrone broth with a rich, common flavor that binds us together, but where each individual slice of carrot, potato, tomato, or onion; and each vital herbal nugget is appreciated. God bless us all.    

Vince’s Response: I have traveled across NYC by car and by taxi. Wow! My favorite sandwiches in the entire world are only available at Jewish delicatessens on Manhattan’s East Side. I have not been to the September 11 Memorial. I can tell you that seeing that horrific event “live” on TV was the most emotionally jarring thing Marie and I have ever witnessed. I wrote a small book entitled Patriot Dream to help me and my clients cope with the aftermath of this event. It was eerie to stand in our back yard and to not see or hear a single airplane passing overhead for about a week. I know that all Americans felt the deep loss. Both our nation and its citizens had been violated. We came back together magnificently. Such tragedies are too vivid reminders of our need as fellow citizens to unite to protect our homeland and preserve our liberty. And, then we tend to forget.    

The Crowning Experience. About 25 years ago, I took my youngest son with me on a business trip back east. We ended up in New York City. We stood near the former World Trade Center towers and looked up. The cloud cover prevented us from seeing the very tops of the buildings, but we were awestruck by their immensity. We took the ferry across the harbor to Liberty Island. In those days, visitors were allowed to climb up into Lady Liberty’s crown and torch. Those last stairs and ladders were intimidating, but my son and I seized a once-in-a-lifetime experience to reach the top of the statue and view America’s harbor. I believe he is the only one of our children to visit the statue and be able to look back across the harbor at the original World Trade Center towers.     

Bookends: (1) Ours is a grand land. (2) The Statue of Liberty is a testament to the fortitude of so many who have come here from all the nations of the earth to cherish liberty as Americans do. (3) Our national brand of minestrone soup is rich with a multi-cultural flavor and the nourishing qualities of a land that is free.