Anyway you slice it, the Big Apple earns an A+ for energy, diversity and a host of choices. Let’s talk host. On my most recent visit I was guest to the Harlem Grand. Yes, that Harlem. The lodging is a Brownstone. Up two flights of stairs to my spacious room. An eclectic grouping of furniture greeted me. Six nights in this home-away-from-home and I was sold on this place. I will do this again. Down the street is a bodega — small market — where I payed $7 for a delicious breakfast sandwich, hot coffee, 3 bananas and two bottles of water. What? And this is in one of the most expensive cities! I pulled this coup more than once.
When I boarded the plane bound for adventure I did it with a list of twelve free sights/things to do in NYC. It was my goal to squeeze as much out of my travel dollar. I had to pass on two items on my list as they required night hours to maneuver through and I was advised to not do night on my own. Okay, so that left ten items to plan for. Included in my successful excursions was the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum. What a great surprise when I discovered a Wizard Of Oz exhibit complete with costumes that didn’t make it to the final cut. The UN was a must see, with all of its flags on display outside. I opted out of the tour (admission charge bumped it from my criteria for free status) but managed quite a self-guided look along the many education-filled photos and descriptive ways in which the UN has responded to need in many nations. Made a bee-line for their giftshop and walked out with a few notable treasures. The free-of-charge Brooklyn Bridge, where I snagged a $15 (okay, not entirely free) pen and pencil drawing from a Russian artist, positioned there at the foot of the bridge ready to greet me. Gorgeous art that is now graced with a custom frame and hanging in my home.
I achieved a level of satisfaction in keeping with my gratis goals. Of course, subway fare is an essential, can’t get around that. I gladly fed my bills and change into the ticket machine that held promise for my adventures. Harlem proved to be a congenial atmosphere. A couple blocks in one direction and I was met with the famed Apollo Theater. Regrettably, I did not make it to the performances that week. Next time.
The sampling of New Yorkers from whom I asked navigational support were forthcoming and friendly. I walked, and I walked, climbing untold staircases and developed shin splints that didn’t diminish until I returned home. Well, the term “home” is relative. One day the Big Apple will be my home. Permanently.
Mine come from a nearby farm stand. Run by Cambodians (see, The Players — Rain Or Shine) this sweet marketplace of all things fresh is the site for the best berries, ever. I know because I have purchased strawberries at seven different farm stands up and down the state of California and none can rival these. But, I will attest to the fact that a variety of exceptional produce can be found at my (I like to take credit) farm stand. Squash, broccoli, asparagus, avocados, onions, blueberries, raspberries and even bundles of purple, pink and red sweet peas to grace your table with a splash of color. Oh, and did I mention strawberries?
Each year in April the stand re-opens after its 4-month hiatus for the winter. Re-opens to splendor and the most welcome circumstance. Strawberries.
In Antioch, CA exists a mall — emphasis on the word “exists” — that has seen better days. I do not know for certain what the age is of this particular mall, but the facade screams dated. Maybe 1970s. I have taken the opportunity to walk and shop this space on a few occasions. At Christmas one year. Sad looking. There was Santa, center mall, with not a child in sight. So, feeling sorry for Santa, I sat on his lap and they snapped a picture of this moment heralding my adventure to this shopping venue.
First off, one can not help notice just how empty this mall is. I had an occasion to visit one anchor store at this mall, Sears. Looking for a bar-b-que grill, I spoke to the clerk. “This place is bad,” he said. I responded with, “What do you mean, the mall?” He replied, “The mall…Antioch…it’s bad.” Okay, so we had a consensus. Once upon the early 90s a store by the name of Gottschalks (popular department store chain in Northern California) closed. The sign bearing the store name is still on the outside wall. Announcing some ghost store of yesterday as empty and forlorn as brick and mortar can get. What a depressing scenario. And what a depressing claim that young Sears clerk gave to the present day condition of the area.
Antioch has gone by the wayside if we are to believe the young clerk’s testimonial. I have to agree with him. Antioch and its solitary mall Santa. The empty storefronts. Well, there is a nifty shoe repair outfit in the mall. They seem to do a brisk business and proved quite useful when I took some tap shoes in for repair. I walked out with a pair of new dress boots (exotic leather) and my tap shoes. Fun! But this was the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal shopping atmosphere.
In the retail world nothing summons up more enthusiastic response in shoppers than a collection of stores, eateries and services all gathered together in one spot. Malls are climate controlled and they offer one-stop shopping adventure. A cornucopia of modern-day convenience. That is unless you are in Antioch, CA. If you are thoroughly depressed you may want to drive a little further north to take in all that the Westfield Center in Fairfield can offer. A theater complex, Forever 21, H & M, Firestone car service, a food court and in the center, a shiny, two-tier carousel for kids of all ages. Life and liveliness and the space seems vibrant. Antioch and its mall, may you rest in peace.
More problematic than going back to school at 51? Debatable. The two grandest adventures I have ever embarked on was giving birth (twice) and returning to college as a very mature student in my fifties. Giving birth came with “challenges” (God, I hate euphemisms) and resulted in the final product…a baby to enjoy. The return to college was stressful (learning how to navigate the Internet) with all the papers due and research to complete the task. The final product was the culmination of 35 years attending classes and my B.A. in Communication Studies. A degree to enjoy viewing on the wall.
Writing and submitting papers was not insurmountable, I like putting words together to tell a story, and the date due for my work was always relatively easy to attain. The very first professor I misspoke to learned that I hated computers. “Get over it”, she said, “You will be using a computer A LOT.” Ugh.
So my childbirth experience was not without mishap. Complications, medications and life-altering passages. Discomfort (acne all over my back) and mental anguish — trust me, not too strong a word– accompanied me in my transformation to motherhood. Outcome? In spite of everything, I delivered two healthy babies. Well, I delivered with the assist from the doctor because, of course, I had to go the hard way and deliver by c-section. Ugh.
Once I had delivered my last presentation in my final college class I was 53 years old. One other classmate possessed the tell-tale sign of advanced age. Gray hair. I was clever enough to hide mine under a cover of Naturtint Wheat Germ Blonde 9N. Yes.
Loved college education even with all of its potential for difficulty. Loved my children once they had arrived. The achievement process of both endeavors was full of birth pains. The outcome was welcome and much anticipated.
Any time a person begins a statement to me with the word “unfortunately”, I know it is going to be a disappointing venture. That word is the universal term of impending discontent. Car repairs come to mind. “Unfortunately, we will have to keep the car a few days longer, so, you will need the rental vehicle for xxx amount of days until further notice, at your expense…of course.” Never mind the disappointment attached to the repairs that have now reached a sum of $2,000 beyond the initial quote…unfortunately.
A round-trip drive to Lodi to pick up the painted bumper needed for the complete assembly of the car repairs…the bumper comes in white, the car is black. One day additional to compound the timeframe. Two days total missed work, $$ gone.
It can not bode well to hear the word “unfortunately” in any context. “Your infection has disappeared. Unfortunately, lab results show mixed outcome with…” “You have earned 213 credits, unfortunatlely, after 35 years of attending classes (and reaching your 52nd birthday) you are 6 credits short of graduating this term.”
The term ” unfortunately” means “brace yourself.” No immediate relief in that word.
There is nothing better than a beach town. Nothing. Especially the one I come from. I was born in Santa Monica but I lived there only a brief moment in time as my nomadic parents switched allegiances and headed a tiny bit further inland. Did you know I was born in Santa Monica Hospital? The same hospital Shirley Temple was born in twenty-six years before. Serendipity.
The beautiful, tony town on the coast is replete with tourists and the mostly senior citizens who have healthy enough financial portfolio to sustain the lifestyle. Hmm. I didn’t get in on that. Still, I do have a few photos taken by my parents showing me enjoying the sandy beach, the sunshine and the joy of being near the surf. I love beach sounds. Waves and the fragrance of the water is calming. The gulls that populate the area are aggressive and quick to benefit from scraps of food left in the sand. The smaller, less aggressive birds scamper along the wet stretch of sand that serves as the line left behind by the ebb and flow of the tide. What’s not to like?
Now that I have spent 36 years living inland, I appreciate the uniqueness that the gem of a town named Santa Monica represents. I go back when I can. I travel to Los Angeles to visit my actor son (I have to make that distinction) every few months. Never do I leave the visits feeling satisfied unless I have gone back to my birthplace. We walk the famous pier. I indulge in cotton candy and we ride the Ferris wheel. What’s not to like?
There exists a condition called Post Traumatic Stress. This is what can be attributed to people in the military who come back from combat (typically Vietnam) never the way they were before they were dispatched to fulfill their duty in war. I have a vestige of combat, of a different kind. There I was in rural America, living beside a washboard gravel road with two babies to tend to. No diversions, no entertainment beyond what a baby beginning to walk can provide. The mail service arrived in his old VW to place our mail in the roadside box. I looked forward to it each day thinking it would hold some surprise for a lonely, young mom. Generally, it didn’t. Bills, notices and freebie ads occupied space in the box. Living is a relative term. Languish is what it seemed.
So, my combat surfaced in the country side. Battling unforeseen circumstances and unseen danger. Remember those television commercials about how a mind is a terrible thing to waste? It is. Events and inescapable circumstances kick in to conspire against and assail one’s thought process. Like the vestige of horrors in combat that remains after one has completed their battlefield obligation of the military type, one can do combat in a completely different venue & come away from the experience with symptoms akin to PTS. See, Not Wired Like Me.