A Second Date With New York

Trip Start Dec 26, 2012
Trip End Jan 15, 2013

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Flag of United States  , New York
Thursday, January 9, 2014

Reader warning...this one's an epic!

The following morning, I was up early to catch my 9.50am international flight to the US. Julie arrived soon after 7am to drop me off at the airport on her way to work, which was so kind of her, thanks again Julie! It was a lot earlier than she'd normally have had to leave. We hugged goodbye, and I was on my way.

We flew over a snowy Montreal, and I had a great view of the partly frozen over St Lawrence seaway, a cargo ship breaking a path through the icy waters. I had a few hours to kill at Montreal airport, I was only due to arrive in New York at 6pm that night. Time to relax and reflect on the incredible year I'd just experienced.

The lights of Manhattan were soon underneath me, and I felt the thrill I do each time I fly in, it never gets old! I love picking out the landmark buildings and bridges, and with its unique shape, it all looked like some giant Christmas tree. I'd never flown into La Guardia before, only Kennedy and Newark. I'd chosen this one mostly because it was closest to Manhattan. Arriving in the early evening, I found out which bus connection I needed to catch to get the subway line into Times Square. I could have just caught a taxi, or shuttle bus, but the number of tourists pouring into the city prior to New Years Eve meant that the wait for this was over 90 minutes long. It was actually quicker to take public transport, even if the down side was having to lug the suitcase up a couple flights of stairs. I bought a week unlimited pass, for $30, which meant I could travel on any buses, ferries or subway connections as many times as I wanted.

New York, New York. The city I just seem to keep being drawn back to time and again. I'd first visited in November of 2008, when it was Thanksgiving, the end of Obama's first election campaign, and just beginning to get cold. My second visit had been this summer, for 4 short days in between visiting Boston and Niagara Falls, when it was hot and humid during the day. Now it was winter, and although snow was not on the ground when I arrived, it certainly was, with a vengeance, before I left!

My Metro Apartments accommodation was on West 41st street between 9th and 10th avenues, which puts it only a short walk away from the famous razzle dazzle of Times Square. Not quite so fortunately, it also happens to be right next to a massive structure known as the Lincoln Tunnel. This feeds out from the Port Authority Bus Terminal just down 42nd street. Hundreds of buses roar through this day and night, and if your room happens to be on that side of the hotel, well, you get the picture. This aside, I was very happy to arrive in my room on the 5th floor, and find it clean, decently decorated, nice big TV, desk, office chair, kitchenette with all the basics and a comfy queen sized bed. Since it was close to 10pm by this time I headed out for a short walk, found a local supermarket on the next street over, and bought some basic breakfast supplies. I had arrived in time to still see the Christmas decorations everywhere, as only New York can do them. Every hotel foyer and apartment complex is decked with lovely trees, whole streets of trees are covered with lights , and some banks and big corporations create special displays. After a long day of travel, it was so nice to finally chill out in my little apartment-like room, I could almost feel like a local!

After allowing myself a bit of a sleep in the next day, it was off to rediscover the city. I caught one of the subway lines that travel towards Central Park, found a cool local bakery on 6th avenue and fortified myself with coffee and a croissant before heading in. The sun was shining and the local kids were out in force enjoying the skating rink and playgrounds with their families. It was time to sit on one of the huge natural rocky outcrops and soak it all in. It looked so different to how it had in Summer and of course Autumn, and it was to completely transform once again when it snowed the next week. I headed up towards The Ramble and outdoor theatre, and saw some ice had begun to form at the edge of several ponds. After several hours exploring the park I worked my way over to the west side.

The next thing to explore was the Museum of Natural History, dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt, and of course the setting for the first "Night At The Museum" movie. Just a travellers tip, for those who don't already know. The entrance fee is "suggested" as $25, but you can pay whatever you can afford, so if you only have a few hours, then there's no way you're going to have time to see everything. Why pay the full amount if so? You need a day to explore it, and I'd only allowed myself a few hours. The foyer was so crowded you couldn't even see the floor, there must have been hundreds of people crammed in there!

I found the hall of animal displays the most fascinating, but had the chance to experience a unique event which I hadn't even been aware was happening. A young African American film maker by the name of M.K Asante had won a number of awards for his film "The Black Candle", on the history of "Kwanzaa" which is a celebration for people of African descent that is recognized around the world. The genesis of the festival was during the Black Power civil rights movement during the mid 1960's. It was recognized that while many cultures had a celebration that unifies them, such as Christmas, or Hanukah, Chinese New Year, etc, those of African descent did not. The film explores how Kwanzaa is recognized by African communities, and the fact that many young African Americans are not aware of it. I certainly wasn't, but know lots about it now. The film is narrated by Maya Angelou, an African American author and poet, perhaps most known for her work "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings". It was she who quoted "People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.." And another one I really like, and need to remember myself at times, is "I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catchers mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back." Words to live by, eh? So, having the opportunity to sit in an auditorium and hear a question and answer session with the director after watching the movie was pretty awesome (I wasn't the only Anglo Saxon person on the audience, but I was definitely in the minority!)

After this it was almost time for the museum to close, so I raced around to try and see as much as I could, including the most amazing Christmas tree that must have been at least 5 metres tall, covered with beautiful origami of any design you could imagine. I made sure I photographed a close up of the dinosaurs for my nephew!

I had bought half price tickets at the tickex booth in Times Square to see the musical "Matilda" that evening at 8pm, so it was time to start moving back that way, find something to eat, and hang out in the Square before the show. Matilda is based on Roald Dahl's book, and the show has a really cool Australian connection that my friend Andrew Clucas will probably already know about, since he's a big Tim Minchin fan. Tim wrote all the music and lyrics for the score, and of course it's brilliant, although less colourful language is involved than in his usual compositions, which is just as well, since most of the cast are children! The performances just blew me away, especially the lead actress. They have four different girls who rotate performances, and the girl who was Matilda on this night was Milly Shapiro. She is only 10 years old, and this is her Broadway debut. This girl was incredible, and had some challenging solos where she's the only actor on stage, and several duets with adult actresses which she just knocked out of the park. She was such a confident, professional and talented kid, without coming over as cloying or unnatural. She also had to learn a British dialect to perform the role. All of the kids were brilliant, as was the staging. I could only sneak a photo of the stage pre curtain up, as of course they're incredibly strict in enforcing this, but even that was so clever, and if you look closely at the photo, you'll see lots of hidden words all through the seemingly random letters. I enjoyed this so much, and came to the conclusion that most of the shows I'd probably choose to see this time would be musicals, because they are just so uplifting and entertaining and require that extra special talent from the casts.

It had been a big day, lots of walking and exploring, so I decided to cap it off with a quick visit a few streets uptown again to see the Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree on 50th street. Get ready to see lots of photos of this, because I revisited several times to marvel at its beauty, especially after it had snowed, because that changes the look once again, it truly looks Christmasy then! It was after midnight by the time I had walked back, contemplating what I'd explore the next day, and switched out the lights in my "apartment".

The next day was Sunday the 29th, and I decided to be quite lazy and enjoy sleeping in again, after all, I was on holidays after working 16 straight weeks without a break! Today was the day I jumped on the subway again, as it was raining steadily and overcast and miserable. I planned to spend the afternoon exploring my favourite New York museum, The Metropolitan. It seems lots of other people had the same plan (who could blame them?) and there was a massive long line stretching down the block, with opportunistic food vending carts lining the sidewalks to smoke us out while we waited patiently. Forget a day to experience this place, I'd already visited it twice in 2008 during my stay with my friend Carolyn, and still haven't seen everything! I think it's confirmed that I have a Christmas tree addiction, because I was very excited to discover they had a huge one displayed here too, all with beautiful Nativity figurines. I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story, but it's an awesome museum, and I recommend it to anyone who likes that sort of outing if you are lucky enough to get to New York. Their Egyptian collection is particularly amazing.

That evening I hung out in the busiest square in the world (not to mention the craziest, and probably one of the dirtiest at times!) before getting a half price ticket to see another Broadway musical. This time it was Cinderella, one I'd been considering going to see last time I was in town, but had opted to see First Date instead. It was wonderful and had a nice twist to some of the humour which tip toed along the edge of making fun of itself. The stage opened to a forest setting with massive trees, and the rest of the production was just as magical. At times the costume changes happened right before our eyes, with clever dress designs that allowed the actress to transform from servant to princess in seconds. It certainly had the audience gasping in amazement. I loved the puppets they used, the human operators of which became the coachmen once Cinderella's godmother transformed them. The godmother herself was a new character who was billed as the "crazy old Marie" rag lady that only Cinderella showed respect for. She revealed herself in all her glorious array just when it seemed the heroine would never make it to the ball. So the theme of not judging others by their outward appearance was expanded upon in a way that gave the story a lot more depth. Even if I had been allowed to take photos of the production, it in no way would have done justice to the beautiful sets and costumes. I headed home on a musical high once again, after stopping in at my favourite Starbucks in Times Square and making a Skype connection with my bestie, Rose, in Australia.

Day three in New York was the Monday, and the setting up for the News Years Eve celebrations in Times Square the following night was full steam ahead now. A huge stage was being constructed right in the centre, on which artists such as Miley Cyrus were due to perform. I could only assume she was planning to wear more clothing than she had at the AMAs a few months ago, or she wouldn't be having a butt to "twerk" at anyone! The temperature had fallen once again, and I was so glad I hadn't sold my Sorel boots and had brought all my warmest winter coats, they would prove lifesavers before my visit was over.

I decided to head downtown to visit the 911 Memorial sight, not to do the actual buy the ticket and walk through bit, but more to see the building again close up and see what progress they'd made since summer. The place was absolutely crawling with tourists, and even if I'd wanted to buy a ticket, they had completely sold out for the day, and most of those had been purchased on line. I bought a new pair of the survivor tree earrings, as I'd lost one in the snow in Winnipeg, and they are my favourites. At least I have a spare now!

Jumping back on the subway, I headed up to 33rd street to do something a bit iconic that I'd promised myself I wouldn't miss this trip, visit the Empire State Building. As it was already past midday, I took the chance of purchasing an "express" ticket from one of the sprukers on the sidewalk, because there was a line that was 2 and a half hours long to get tickets, and this saved you time, plus included the New York sky ride experience, whatever that was. You'll see why I used inverted commas around the word express soon enough. I entered on the opposite side of the building to the long line, and found my first line, which eventually herded a small group of us hapless ticket holders to a dark room with lots of TV screens, showing a short clip on the history of the building, that was fine, we'd only waited about half an hour.

We then went into what looked like a small theatre, but with tightly packed seats. Once we were jammed into them, a thick metal bar, such as you might have on a crazy ride at a theme park, was brought down across our waists. That should have been my first hint that something weird was about to happen. Actually, no, the warnings posted outside about women who were pregnant, those with bad backs and people with heart or other potentially serious medical conditions not participating should have been the first! When I spoke with the British tourists next to me, we were all confused as to what was about to happen. Was this how we were going to be transported up to the observation deck? No. Actually it turned out to be a moving experience in every wrong sense of that phrase you could imagine. What followed was a nausea inducing short film, with condescending and corny commentary by someone who should have known better than to attach his name to this nonsense...(shame on you, Kevin Bacon!) We were shaken, jerked and buffeted around in our seats while exposed to footage of New York shot from a helicopter piloted by someone who'd either been shot or wanted to make someone shoot him! We dived in between buildings and plunged around so much you couldn't possibly enjoy or appreciate the wonder of the city. It hadn't been showing for two minutes and it was obvious everyone wanted out of there. What a horrible experience! When it was finally over, we stumbled out, still not sure if we'd actually been transported to the top or had been tortured for nothing. Turns out the latter was true, and we found ourselves....right back where we'd started, except roped off from the new line of victims by about a foot. "Should we warn them?!" I asked the people behind me. They grinned, it was too late to save them...

We had all stopped grinning by the time we'd stood there for an hour, not moving anywhere, as hordes of tourists from the line outside streamed past us. You know, the ones who hadn't paid twice as much for an express pass. We expected to be let in, even if in increments, but no dice. We continued to wait, another hour passed, and we knew for sure now that we'd been taken for a ride, both literally and figuratively. People at the front were getting really annoyed with the staff, who were trying to reassure us that we'd be let in "soon." Yeah, whatever. We'd stopped believing that line a while ago. If it'd taken Tom Hanks this long in Sleepless In Seattle Meg would have given up on him for sure! Anyway, finally, after hundreds of others had been past us, we were let through, and moved into a line that this time actually led somewhere, the elevator, hallelujah! Once up there, the space is surprisingly small, and it's a wonder that as many people could even fit. It was, as expected, bitterly cold, but, yes Rose, the views were wonderful, and because I'd had to wait so long, I actually got to experience sunset colours. A really nice British couple named Jules (Juliet) and Adrian and I got to chatting, and they invited me to have a drink with them at the bar of their Hyatt hotel the following night, as they had a great view of the ball in Times Square from there. They took a really nice photo of me, and we parted ways. I stayed up there as long as I could handle the cold, and then headed back to get ready for my third Broadway show.

This was one that I'd actually pre-purchased tickets for a few weeks ago, as it was closing that weekend, and I knew it'd probably be impossible to get them once in New York. Billy Crystal was reviving his "700 Sundays" autobiographical one man production, which he'd first performed back in 2004, and taken on the road in 2009, for a strictly limited run. It had received rave reviews, so I knew it was something I really wanted to see. It was brilliant. He's 65 years old, but moves with the dexterity and energy of someone half his age, dashing about the stage.

He entertained us effortlessly for two and a half hours, and one moment had us roaring with laughter, the next trying not to tear up as he shared with us the stories of his all too brief time with the man who is a big hero in his life, his father. That's where the shows title comes from, Billy's dad died when he was only 15 years old, and he calculated that's how many Sundays he got to spend with him. Sunday was the only day in the week when his dad didn't have to work, and could relax and spend time with his family. Billy's dad helped run the Commodore music store which then existed in Times Square, when Jazz was king, and names such as BB King, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were not just incredibly talented musicians, but family friends. Jack Crystal produced regular concerts for many of these musicians, helping to showcase their talents.

One of the greats used to call Billy "face" because of his talent for mimicry and being able to make the most amazing faces doing so. It was to be a talent that made a career for him, especially with his Saturday Night Live characters many years later. He told us one memory he had of Billie Holiday taking him to the movies and him sitting on her lap, he was no more than 6 years old at the time. The movie they saw was the 1953 "Shane", with none other than Jack Palance in the cast, which if you're a Billy Crystal fan you don't need me to remind you that the two of them worked together in the movie City Slickers decades later!

His show was peppered with such amazing tales, but most of what he shared was concerning his early life, his large and colourful Jewish family, and most importantly, his own immediate one, in which he was the youngest of three brothers. His maternal grandfather's optimism was described as a..."the glass is half full....with something that'll kill you.." kind of guy! He used to regale Billy with tales of how he'd arrived in America at the age of 9, made his way up from nothing, arriving with enough money to buy a piece of material, which he tore in half, then sold to make a profit, and bought more which he then sold and so on, and he had Billy believing that he owned half a street worth of stores before he was a teenager!

Billy himself is a master of storytelling, and held his audience spell bound the entire time. After a 20 minute intermission, we arrived back to find him sitting there in an outdoor deck chair, which was part of the set, to his greeting "where the hell have you guys been? I've been waiting here for nearly 20 minutes!" And so with a roar of laughter from the crowd, he launched into the second half of the show. The set itself was a slightly scaled down exact replica of his childhood home in Long Beach, New York, and the windows at times became movie screens to show pictures of his family or home movies his father had shot. His latest book (yes, he's also an author!) is titled "Still Foolin' 'Em, Where I've Come From, Where I'm Going, And Where The Hell Are My Keys?" One of things he claims in the synopsis is.... " I'm 65 years old, and I can do all the things I could when I was 35...if I could remember what they were..." That kind of self deprecating humour characterizes his brand of comedy, which is one of the reasons he's so funny. He knows how to laugh at himself and loves to have an audience to laugh along with him.

Billy has one of the longest lasting relationships in showbiz, and has been married to only one woman, Janice, since 1970. After the show a group gathered outside the stage door, and after quite a while, and other people emerging, several of whom we thought may have been his daughters, Billy himself bounced out, spoke quickly with a few people, signed a few programs, and then jumped into a large black four wheel drive. The weather was pretty horrible, so I'm not surprised he didn't stay long, but I did manage to snap a quick photo. Time to walk home once again, and try to remember as much as I could of how fun and entertaining the night had been as I knew I probably wouldn't be getting to the blog for a while. I really want to read his book now!

Tuesday dawned, with slightly less cold weather, and I wasn't in a rush to get up and out, because I knew I wouldn't be getting to bed early with New Years Eve to experience that evening. When I did go, I decided to explore Times Square shops and stock up on future birthday gifts for my niece and nephew. I thought it'd be funny to get some pictures of Ben enjoying it too, and that since it was Times Square, no one would think it too weird to see someone whipping out a puppet to take random photos. After all, there's a cowboy walking round in nothing but his underwear, and adults dressed as everyone from Woody in Toy Story to Elmo! I did manage to make a couple of people do a double take and tell me that they thought I was carrying a real kid around when they saw me from a certain angle!

After I'd visited M and M's World, Hershey's, and Disney in Times Square, I decided to go and watch a movie I'd been wanting see ever since it came out, Saving Mr Banks. Instead of standing around in Times Square freezing my butt off, or worse still, sitting on a damp piece of cardboard to avoid the filthy street, as some were already doing from soon after midday, this seemed a much better option. It was fantastic, and had a surprise Australian connection I was not even aware of. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson were fabulous, as was the rest of the cast, and it gave a rare insight into the effort Disney went to, to be able to bring the story of Mary Poppins to the screen.

This killed a couple of hours, so it was dark by the time I emerged from the cinema. It was about then that I realized I wasn't getting back into Times Square so easily. The police were beginning to barricade off all the streets leading up to it, and many local businesses were closing early. I decided to start walking up towards Central Park when I heard a police officer telling people that they'd have to walk up a few streets if they wanted to get in....by the time I reached 53rd street, I realized that I wouldn't be getting anywhere near the place from this side. I decided to make the most of it and turn it into a Christmas lights tour, walking all the way up to 59th street to Columbus Circle and the western corner of Central Park. From here I walked over to 6th Avenue, and began to go down that way back towards the square. People were forming long queues to be security screened by police, and once you went in to the area, you wouldn't be allowed back in again if you left. I didn't want to be stuck in there, and planned to go and find the nice British couple I'd met up on top of the Empire State Building the other day, which was way down at their hotel on 41st street. I took lots of photos along the way, and filmed a wonderful sound and light show at the Sax's Fifth Avenue store. Then I took more photos at Rockefeller Centre. After several hours of doing this, I finally arrived at the hotel, only to find that they weren't letting any outsiders into the bar, so there went that plan.

It was close to 9pm now, so I decided to join a queue heading into the nearest area to the square on 40th street. A big crowd of us stood patiently (it seems I spent half my time standing around waiting in queues this trip!) for over an hour while the painstakingly slow police check point patted everyone down before letting them into the area. We got as close as we could, and stood several more hours waiting for the fireworks. We couldn't see the ball, couldn't see the stage, could barely hear the commentary, let alone the music. Lots of loud horns blaring out sporadically were the only indication that something exciting may be about to happen. It was SO cold, especially when you couldn't move about much. We kind of did the Emperor Penguin thing and huddled together for warmth, not that it helped much! Finally, some blasts of fireworks went off on the building up ahead of us, several streets away. A lot of smoke, cheering, and horn blasting later, it was all over, and the dash was on to get into the Square to witness a closer look at the fireworks going off all along Broadway. People were not even waiting for police to move the metal barriers before jumping over them, or moving them themselves. It was like "we've been held back for long enough, now try and stop us buddy!" All in all it was a bit of a fizzer if you ask me. Sydney does it way better, I guess they do have a lot more open space. But I learned later that some of those people in the square who'd waited all day, and half the night to witness the concert, save their place by wearing...adult diapers...that's right, they literally pee in their pants so they don't have to worry about having to leave their space to go and find a washroom. Gross, right? I really don't think its worth doing that! I can say I was there, I saw it, took photos before and after, and certainly wouldn't bother buying the t-shirt. I'd rather put my money toward a Broadway show any day!

I was just glad to make my way back to the hotel as quickly as I could and climb into my nice warm bed. Welcome 2014, I better make sure I watch the YouTube clips to see what I missed!

The first of January dawned colder than ever, and it was time to take it easy once again after a massive day before. I didn't stray too far from home base, just explored a few more shops, and enjoyed a long leisurely late lunch at The Olive Garden in Times Square, before heading back for a quick rest in preparation for that evenings show. Yes, I'd booked another one, Pippin, which had intrigued me in the summer, but I hadn't enough time to see it. The show is a musical revival from the 1940s, and has won numerous awards, including a Tony for Best Musical Revival in 2013. It was brilliant, and a bit out of the box, so to speak, in that it has a quirky and funny storyline, which often heads in directions that you don't expect it to. Set in a fictional France, but with a king who actually existed as one of the characters, Charlemagne, Pippin is his oldest son, a dreamer who wishes to find his place in life. Pippin's story is narrated by a circus troupe, and they weave in and out of his life as he returns home from being a scholar, then tries his hand at being a soldier, circus performer, and then leading the simple life of a farmer with a slightly older woman when none of these things fulfil him. There are amazing circus feats performed throughout the show, everything from fire juggling (which makes you hold your breath when there are curtains just a short throw away!) to trapeze artists and incredible acrobatic feats, several of which are performed high above the stage, and some by the lead actor himself. It's also a musical, so the main role also calls for dramatic and comedic abilities, as well as being able to sing, dance and perform challenging acrobatics. The lead was super talented, to say the least!

Before the show began, I overheard an amusing conversation taking place behind me about the night before by two older ladies, in a distinct "Neu Yourk" drawl. It went something like this..."...I can't believe it, we've got no room to cook and they're closing the restaurants, it looks like the city that never sleeps decided to take a nap..."

Pippin was an incredible production, and I could see why it had won the awards that it did. I slept the sleep of the throughly entertained that night, and it had been so much more fun than standing around for hours in the freezing cold to witness lacklustre fireworks!

Day 7 dawned....and it was snowing! This was exciting, I'd always hoped to experience the city in snowfall, and I was looking forward to getting out and about to capture some great photos. It was fairly light at this stage, and with my Kathmandu coat and Sorel boots I was plenty warm enough to spend the day outside. After posting off a parcel of gifts, (huge lines in the post office meant this took well over an hour), I caught the subway down to Central Park again and got started. Lots of photos and walking later, I stood in Strawberry Fields on the West side, at the John Lennon memorial. I found it hard to get a photo of the famous Imagine mosaic, there were so many tourists who were deciding it would be a great idea to squat down right in the centre of it! Created just across from the Dakota Building where his wife still lives, it remains a moving experience in a beautiful setting, surrounded by fields, now dusted with snow, and rocky outcrops among towering trees. If it wasn't for the never ending stream of tourists, you might almost forget you were in the middle of a crowded, busy city, which is its purpose, I'm sure. I walked across to the nearest subway, and got off at 42nd street near the Public Library. There was the most beautiful Christmas market and huge skating rink just behind it, which I had no idea would be there. I bought some snowflake earrings, the only snow I planned to be bringing home with me, and marvelled at the half frozen fountain. I still wanted to visit the special Lego exhibition, right next to Madame Tussaud's, before heading back to the hotel to get ready to go to my final Broadway show, which didn't begin until 8pm.

I was so glad that I managed to fit it in, because I remember how much I loved playing and building things with Lego when I was a kid. The man who had created this exhibition had originally trained as a lawyer, and built a successful career in the profession. But it did nothing to fulfil his creative side, and he found an outlet, and then a growing interest in what he was doing that allowed him to make a huge career change, from lawyer to artist. He has now exhibited all over the world and finds that his works are a way to get young people, particularly children, to appreciate some of the great works of art and sculpture in history, from the statue of David to Van Gogh. The Lego must also be glued together, since the works are sometimes of a delicate nature, and would break when the exhibition was shifted.

Returning to Metro Apartments I rested up for a bit, then showered and got ready to go and see the show I had most anticipated this trip, First Date, because having seen it last July I already knew it was great fun. I got to the theatre just as everyone was pouring in, and it looked pretty full, apart from 5 or 6 premium seats in the very middle of the second row. Maybe some people had been unable to make it because of the weather. It seemed unlikely that they hadn't sold, because there were only 5 shows left in the entire run, two the following day, another two on the Saturday, and the final show, a matinee, at 3pm that Sunday. I'd booked a ticket on line weeks ago, and was lucky enough to get a great seat, in the same row as I had in the summer, but at the other end of row E. I loved it just as much as the first time, more, actually, because I knew how it turned out. It was fun to see how they'd added or changed lines to make the characters their own, and everyone was soon hooting with laughter at the antics of the cast, particularly the supporting actors when they appeared as people in the leads imagination. I love the soundtrack, and had managed to buy it on iTunes a few months after I first saw the show, because it didn't exist until then. I guess the producers wanted to make sure it was going to be a success before they invested in an album. After the show, the snow had in no way let up, and was slightly heavier if anything. Despite this, all of the cast members made appearances at the stage door, even if only for a short while. Zac Levi, as is his reputation now, bounced out with his portable music player wrapped in a plastic bag to protect it from the weather, so the crowd would be entertained while waiting for him to sign everyone's program. After he'd done this, all those who still wanted to brave the cold hung around to have a photo taken with him. I wonder if he's sorry he began this practice, because he'd been doing it every day, sometimes twice a day, 8 shows a week, for nearly 6 months. He certainly gave no indication of being anything other than friendly, enthusiastic, and so grateful to all of us for coming along to see the show. I know he's an actor, but you can't fake that, and that's one of many reasons why he has such a strong fan base. After this wonderful way to finish the week, it was time to make my way back through a heavily snowed over Times Square, and finish packing for leaving the following morning.

My flight was due to leave at 1:20pm, so I knew I needed to get to the airport before 11am. It had stopped snowing by the following morning, so I made the decision to take the subway line and then the bus link to get there. Because of this, I allowed myself plenty of time, but as things were to turn out, that wasn't going to make any difference...when I finally arrived, after rolling through mucky, snowy streets and down stairways, I tried to use the machines to check in and get my boarding passes, because they don't give them out when you check your bags in, you have to go and stand in a separate line for that. Well, the stupid machine wouldn't print out my pass because it would accept neither credit card I tried to feed it to pay my bag fees. I was told to go and stand in a line for Air Canada enquiries. This was long...and not moving anywhere near fast enough for my liking. This line was also where people who had had flights from earlier in the day cancelled, and were hoping to be able to book onto a later flight. The staff, who didn't appear to be doing anything useful besides move around to no apparent purpose, told us to stay where we were and be patient, we'd be seen "soon". After this things went downhill fast, flights kept getting cancelled, the line grew longer, people more frustrated. A woman came along periodically shouting out for ticket holders of certain flight numbers. I didn't hear mine being called. (I was later told that they'd announced my flight a number of times and had come along the line looking for me. This was complete rubbish and blatantly untrue, did they think I'd stay in the line if I didn't have to?! I was listening with careful attention every time an announcement was made.) The time came and went, and so did my flight, one of very few that did make it out of there that day.

Two o'clock came and went, then three. We'd hardly moved, but when we finally rounded the corner, we kind of wished we hadn't. The line stretched on, at least 50 people in front of us, and only two people to deal with the passengers. I got to talking to people around me, one guy, Harold from St John in New Brunswick, had had his early morning flight cancelled, so he'd been there a lot longer than me, trying to see if he could get on a later flight. If you were on your own you didn't want to leave the line, to get anything to eat, drink, even use the washroom. No one wanted to be going to the back of it, because it'd taken us hours just to move a few metres. Thankfully Harold was happy to watch my bag when I couldn't wait any longer, I'd talked with him long enough to feel I could trust him, and was happy to to return the favour. At one stage, I know because I checked my watch, we stood in the exact same place for 3 hours, and didn't move an inch. Countless people were pouring through the doors and painfully slowly, being booked in to the flights still leaving. It seems as if we had been forgotten about. An older gentleman we started talking with, Frederick, was finding it particularly difficult to be standing around on his feet for so long. Finally, he decided he was going off with a New Zealander there with his young family, to find a manager and someone who could tell us SOMETHING, because not a thing had been told to any of us for hours now. Was there any point in still standing in this line? Should we try calling Air Canada direct? Their communication at the airport was terrible. Frederick came back after a long time, and said they'd been told most people wouldn't be getting out of the place today, or tomorrow either, but they'd put him on a standby flight that he might or might not get on. He'd been polite but unyielding, and only when he'd made it clear he wasn't going away until he got some answers one way or the other did he meet with any help.

One of the other ladies standing in line using her mobile phone gave me the toll free number for Air Canada. I made a decision then. If I was going to be stuck here, I needed to find out how long, or I wouldn't be able to book accommodation, or try to re book a new date for my flight to Vancouver. Once again I asked the nice Harold to watch my suitcase while I went and found a public telephone. After I managed to call Air Canada, they had me on for quite a while to find the earliest possible flight out of La Guardia. They got me one for Monday at 7:30pm via Toronto now instead of Montreal, which wouldn't get me back to Winnipeg until after midnight. I took it, because I was getting no joy elsewhere. Back to the line again, and several more hours of waiting. We saw some Japanese girls jump the line and go and stand in the priority boarding lane, and they got served by customer service. As you can imagine, this action wasn't viewed without comment from those who had been waiting just as long, and longer...

I've decided to include a couple of personal emails I wrote at the time, because a week later, so many things have happened that I forget some of the details, and I guess it gives you some insight into how I was feeling at the time. So just skip the next bit if that's not your idea of fun!

Email to Jennifer Cobb on Friday 3rd Jan 2014..."Hi Jen, you have no idea how wonderful it is to hear from you. I could cry I'm so thankful! I'm still standing in line, 7 hours later, and waiting to see if it's gonna be possible to get a flight tomorrow. It'd be a miracle if it happened today, believe me. I have contacted Air Canada when a nice guy from St John looked after my bags so I could step out of the line to find a pay phone. The next flight they could book me on is....wait for it, the 6th at 7:30pm, via Toronto, which means I wouldn't get to your place until after 1am, disaster! It's after work has begun for you too, I know, which would be really inconvenient. I'm really hoping it won't come to this, but it's not looking good....and I still don't have any accommodation organized here either, so I'm praying I can get a room at the same place in New York if I can't get a flight tonight (doubtful, but God's been looking out for me so far, so you never know) or if I can get one early tomorrow I just might consider staying here overnight, if that's allowed. Either way, it's not a great situation to be in, I can tell you. Please hold on to that bag, and I'll do my level best to get back ASAP, otherwise I've also missed the flight to Vancouver tomorrow as well, not to mention stuffed up the hotel booking there, sigh....there are so many "if only's" going through my head at the moment, think of me! From the girl with very sore feet and tired eyes," Tania.

I'd worked out early on that it was going to cost me $5 an hour, or I could sign up for less than $8 for a month, to use Internet at La Guardia. If it wasn't for this, I wouldn't have been able to re book to stay at the Metro Apartments for another two nights so easily. I was able to book on line, (they only had a couple of rooms left), without having to leave the line. Also keeping my friend Jen informed, since she was supposed to be picking me up at the airport that evening, was vital. I had no cell phone, so this was my only way to keep in touch.

After I'd finally gotten to the customer service counter at La Guardia I stood there for over half an hour while they tried to sort out an earlier flight time for me on the Monday. This they did, a flight leaving at 6:25am on the same day, 13 hours earlier, via Montreal. This would get me to Winnipeg in reasonable time for Jen to meet me at the airport with my other bags. I raced around to the public phones again to call West Jet and Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel in Vancouver to change my dates. It cost $200 to change the date of my flight from Winnipeg to Vancouver, which was fine, I'd been expecting to pay the entire air fee again, as it was non refundable and I hadn't bought insurance with it, when I'd booked it weeks ago. While waiting in the phone queue, I sent the following email to Jen in Winnipeg..

Jennifer Cobb, around 7:30 PM that evening...."Thanks Jen, you really are a total gem! I stood in line for 8 hours, and all I managed to change was the flight to a much more reasonable arrival time in Winnipeg of just before 5pm, instead of 12:37 am! It's better than nothing....so, I'm on the phone on hold (naturally) to West Jet to see if I can rebook my flight to Vancouver, I'll try for Monday night if I can, but after this experience, I might opt for the 7th so I don't have the nightmare of missing connections again. I was supposed to stay in Vancouver for 7 nights, from tomorrow night until the 10th, my flight home is on the 11th, so hopefully I won't miss all my time there. I'm just so bummed out about our time not working out tonight and tomorrow. But everyone's in the same mess here, so I really shouldn't complain too much. At least I got a flight. Because it leaves so early, I've decided I'm staying at the airport Sunday night, I'll have to check in at 4am, so there's no way I'm gonna rely on public transport to make it! The flight leaves at 6:25am, via Montreal, and is due in to Winnipeg at 4:37pm, so if it works, maybe you could come direct from your work, I don't care if I have to wait a while, God knows I'm used to that! I'm just calling West Jet at the moment to see if I can get a flight out to Vancouver that same night, late evening, in which case I'd get you to just bring my suitcase to the airport (I'll happily, happily pay any parking fees should you need to park, which you probably will) and we can meet to say goodbye, and I can give you Chuck, not the real thing, unfortunately, he still has a show to finish in New York, ha ha! I need a good laugh right about now, so hopefully that gives you one! I'm so so tired right now, all I've eaten since 9am is a half dozen tic tacs, must be having the most ridiculous sugar low...hopefully I get this flight sorted soon so I can then call the Fairmont in Vancouver and change THAT booking, it's never ending! Anyway, I'd better sign off again now, and I'll email you again tonight to confirm anything I need to, sorry to cut off my earlier email, I had to get off of hold to talk to the operator! More news when I have it...." Tania

Email to Jen after calling and changing the flight, hotel in Vancouver and re booking accommodation for the next two nights in New York. 3rd Jan 2014
"Ok, yes, it's me yet again, 8:26pm here now, I've been able to rebook my flight to Vancouver, on the 6th, I didn't want to inconvenience you when you're working by staying overnight, besides, we wouldn't be able to have that Chuckathon, which is already disappointing, gaaah! What I will have time to do is say goodbye to someone who has become such a special friend to me while in Winnipeg, which is much more important. Besides, we can skype and chat via email or phone about news anyway. I'm so sorry, and bloody annoyed it's worked out this way, yes, it is the snow here, an amount that wouldn't even cause Winnipeg to clear its throat, and almost the entire city gets shut down, so much for the city that never sleeps, I guess it does come almost to a standstill with a relatively mild snowstorm! Maybe I'll just have to go and see another Broadway show to make up for all this craziness....the rebooked flight to Vancouver, which I'm still on the phone awaiting confirmation for, is at 8:45pm on Monday Jan 6th, and I fly via Calgary, arriving in Vancouver at 11:30pm. What a day that'll be, but I think I'll just wanna get it over and done with by then. Anyway, I hope that makes your life a little easier, that way you can let me know what time it's best for you to arrive at the airport, by the time I get through customs and get my bag, it'll be after 6-6:30pm I bet, so how about I give you a call when I'm done? As long as I'm booking into my Vancouver flight by no later than about 7-7:30, that should work. Heavens knows what I'll look like (or smell like!) by then, but I'll be so glad to see your friendly face no matter what I look, feel or smell like! Ok. Gonna call the Fairmont now, then find something to eat and get the chuck out of here, if I could be forgiven for using his name in such a manner (I think he would forgive me, considering what I've been though the last 9-1/2 hours!) Signing off for now, I'll try emailing you again if I need to at the hotel, I guess New York wasn't ready to let me go just yet...and I did manage to book two more nights at the Metro Apartments, in case I didn't tell you earlier, thank goodness, wouldn't wanna be homeless in this city tonight..." Cheers, Tania xx

So, after waiting since 11am that morning, I'd missed a flight, stood in line or waited on the phone for over 8 hours, hadn't eaten anything besides tic tacs and barely had a drink, and I wasn't going anywhere. On the bright side, I had successfully booked accommodation for two more nights (I planned to just go to the airport late on Sunday night, and stay there, since I had to book in soon after 4am, there was no way I wanted to miss that 6:25am flight to Montreal!), and I now had two more days in which to explore New York. If anyone deserved to go and see another Broadway show, that person was me! That was my justification anyway, as I stood in line (again) waiting for the Q70 bus to the subway. I figured the day had been a write off anyway, why add an expensive taxi fare to the pain? At least I knew how to get where I was going, and I was moving, knowing I had a warm bed to sleep in that night cured any ills. I wasn't homeless, begging for money to buy a meal, not hurt or injured or sick, it's amazing how that day helped me to be more grateful for the things I did have, rather than whine about what I wasn't getting.

I finally arrived at Metro Apartments at about 10 PM. They booked me into a room that was bigger than my previous one, on the quieter side of the building too. I was costing me less to stay the next two nights than it would have to stay at the Fairmont in Vancouver anyway, so another positive. To say I slept well would be an understatement. I was so exhausted I slept until 8am, then decided I could do with a bit longer and only woke up at 12pm! I wasn't ready to go anywhere until after 1pm on the 4th. When I finally did emerge, the day was clear, the sun was shining, and I decided I might as well go and experience the Rockefeller Observation Deck again, as I had on my first trip to New York in 2008. To see the city covered in snow would be a unique opportunity. The most wonderful thing about doing this, apart from the view, was that I didn't have to wait in any line for more than five minutes, and it cost less than half what the Empire State Building did. If you go to New York and only have the time or money to go to one, I'd recommend Rockefeller any day. The views are better, you see the whole of Manhattan, and get a great view of the Empire State, more room once up there, you wait less, it costs less...where's the competition!? Anyway, I took some wonderful shots, particularly of the park, and stayed for sunset from 4:30 onwards. Then I went down and took more photos around Rockefeller, because it was covered in snow this time!

I forgot to mention that before this I'd visited the tickets booth in Times Square, but they only had discounts for shows I'd seen or didn't want to. I decided to visit the box offices of two and buy direct from there instead. I knew that tomorrow would be the last ever show of First Date, and the chances of getting a ticket were pretty minimal, but I was going to try. Again?! I hear you say. Well, why on earth not? After all I'd been through, I needed a guaranteed laugh, and once I'd experienced what was yet to come, I was so glad I took the chance to check. Not only did I get a ticket, but the best ticket I'd bought so far, in row C, can you believe it! These kind of seats, I was to later discover, are the ones they often save for important people such as producers. Meant to be, I say! The second one from the end as well, which was right in front of where Zac and Krysta spent at least half of the play. This was Sunday afternoon and evening taken care of, but tonight was still free, so I walked two streets up to 50th and the Gershwin Theatre. My friend Jill Dryburgh had been raving to me in Chicago about how amazing "Wicked" is, and I'd put off seeing it. It's been on Broadway for 10 years now, and they never offer discount tickets on it. I got a seat in row Q for $172. Which is a reasonable distance from the stage, but the whole production is so huge that no seat is a bad one. After this my inner theatre nerd was rejoicing, and this just made the rest of the day even better.

I visited the NBC Shop in the Rockefeller Centre after this, and found that they had heaps of merchandise on current and highly popular past shows, such as Friends. From here I walked down to Gershwin Theatre, stopping briefly in at the Magnolia bakery, pretty much just so I could say I'd been to one of the New York stores. It wasn't nearly as classy, nor clean, as the one in Chicago had been.

Wicked has a huge foyer, and escalators to ferry people up to the theatre on the second floor. It is massive inside, nearly twice as big as most on Broadway, and probably more than 3 times the size of the Longacre where I was going tomorrow. A huge dragon was poised above the stage, and as you can hopefully see from the photo I was able to sneak in, I knew I was in for something special before I even sat down. The singing was superb, the two leads were the ones with the most challenging singing roles, and it turned many of the theories from the 1939 movie on their head, and certainly made you look at the two witches in a whole new light. The story was really clever, and lots of questions, about Dorothy, the Wizard, the Lion, Tin Man and the Scarecrow in particular were explained. I loved it, and was so glad I'd gone to see it. I liked the message that resonated most strongly throughout it, which was actually one of the damage that bullying does, of not judging a person by their outward appearance, and the power of a second chance. This was a great way to start my extra unplanned time in New York!

The 5th of January dawned, and it was very cold once again. I didn't have to check out until 11am, so I made the most of sleeping in and taking my time to get ready. I'd be really glad later on that I did. Once I'd booked out, for what I fervently hoped would be the last time, I got Metro to store my suitcase, letting them know I wouldn't be back until late that night to collect it. I then headed downtown on the subway to 14th street, to see a bit of the area around Greenwich village where I stayed with my friend Carolyn for 2 weeks five years ago. The streets were very icy and treacherous to walk on, and even my sturdy Sorels were slipping. I took a few photos, but it was wet, cold and dirty everywhere, discarded Christmas trees and garbage bags lining the already yucky footpaths, there was no good reason to spend time here, so I headed back uptown. I decided hanging out at Bubba Gumps in Times Square was the best option. I had a yummy late lunch here, ordering a dish called "Lieutenant Dan's Drunken Shrimp", laced with bourbon whiskey sauce! I stayed here until it was nearly time to go to the theatre.

When I took my seat, an elegantly dressed older lady, with one of her arms in a sling, took hers beside me. She was friendly, I just talk to anyone, you know me, it was about 15 minutes before it was due to begin. She was a New Yorker, I only had to hear the first few words out of her mouth to know that. She said she just loved going to Broadway shows, and got to most of them, but couldn't believe it had taken her so long to come to this one. She sounded a bit unsure as to if it was her cup of tea, but I assured her it was funny, great singing, the chemistry between the two leads was amazing, get ready to enjoy yourself etc. She then revealed, once we'd been talking a while and she knew I was a teacher, that she was a Broadway producer, and had been for over 20 years! She and her company were currently mounting a show called "All The Way", the story of Lyndon B Johnson's presidency after the death of Kennedy. It has none other than Bryan Cranston in the lead, which if you've heard of the hit TV show, Breaking Bad, you'll know who I'm talking about. I'd seen a big billboard in Times Square advertising it just the other day. Once the show began, she was chuckling along at regular intervals, and I could tell that Zachary Levi had won her over with his charm and talent long before it ended.

First Date, for the third time. Could it possibly be even better after already seeing it twice in the last 6 months? The answer to this, ladies and gentlemen, is unequivocally, absolutely, YES! There was that extra buzz of excitement in the audience, many of whom had been more times than I had, and some people who had rushed to book their tickets as soon as the closing date had been announced nearly a month ago. I'd never been to a final Broadway or West End performance before, some of them are legendary. I don't know if it's true or not, but I remember hearing about a final show Sir Ian McKellen performed in the West End where he turned up naked on stage! Thankfully no one was going to be doing that in this performance... People know that the cast often do something a little extra, the whole show is heightened because everyone's emotions are. The actors know it's the last time they'll perform it. That was certainly the case with the last First Date. Because I'd seen it so recently, I knew the lines pretty well, and there was a certain amount of ad libbing going on that night, especially from Zac! I could see at times the background cast, who had to pretend to be talking as other customers in the bar while this blind date occurred, were trying not to react to Zac's antics. Or were trying to make each other smile out of character. It was a lot of fun, and you could clearly see the bond that had developed among this cast over the last six months. Everyone received a huge round of applause when they appeared on the stage for the first time, none so loud as the roar that filled the theatre when Zac bounded out. You could tell it was really hard for him not to break out of character and react to that wave of support and appreciation that was happening. Finally, he was able to speak his first line, and the show went on.

Every time a song was finished, the audience erupted into loud cheers and clapping. The play actually went quite a bit longer than the 90 minutes it was supposed to because of this. It came to a particularly poignant song duet between Sarah Chase and Zac, where she was playing his mother who'd died when he was a teenager. Between them they sang the letter that her character had written her son before she underwent heart surgery, and the lyrics would make the most cynical heart feel something. Zac certainly did, and we could see him tearing up before he'd gotten halfway through the song. By the time Sarah handed him the letter, his voice was cracking, and tears literally were running down his face and dripping onto the letter. I'm sure many of the audience wanted to rush up on the stage and give the poor guy a hug! The emotion was very much linked to the fact that this would be the last time he was going to sing it, I'm sure. He couldn't even manage to get the final word out as he finished the song but considering the line was "I never said", this just made it all the more powerful. I wondered how he was going to pull off his next song, which is a belter when he dances around the actress playing his cruel ex fiancÚ, jumps up on the bar, runs all over the stage while singing the entire time. I needn't have worried. He'd pulled himself together like the true professional he is, and just killed it, that got the biggest round of applause yet.

At the end, it was the quickest I'd seen people stand to give an ovation I've seen in all the shows I've seen, ever. The whole cast was overwhelmed and not trying to hide it as they all came on for their final bows. Finally, as everyone began to quiet down a bit, it was obvious Zac wanted to make a thank you speech. It was heartfelt, and included everyone from the orchestra to the ushers to the spotlight operator, but most of all, the audience. I managed to whip out my iPad and film the last minute or so, which I was sure I was going to get told off for doing. No one stopped me, they were probably all too busy listening to Zac! Lots of people ended up taking photos, and with the entire cast, writers, producers, lyricists and choreographer on stage, it was a great opportunity. I've since found out that someone else who was filming it that night for the whole ovation has uploaded it on You Tube. I was just so glad I actually got to witness it live.

It was super cold outside again, but that didn't seem to bother anybody. The music was pumping out, there was a sense of celebration in the air, and all the cast appeared at some stage to sign programs and thank people for coming. I got talking to one lady who'd come to see the show all the way from Florida with her daughter. She told me that her daughter had been through difficult health challenges in the last year, and as she was recovering, she discovered Zac's TV show "Chuck", and this was a real life line and something to cheer her up. She'd created a book for him, with his major roles drawn as cartoon characters, and was planning to give it to him that night. Lots of people were sharing stories like this around me. I don't know exactly how many people were waiting outside the stage door, more than I'd seen yet, that's for sure. Zac stayed, and reassured the crowd once again that he wouldn't be leaving until everyone who wanted an autograph and/or photo had one. A large group of girls with Comic Con Nerd Headquarters t-shirts from last July, when the show was still in previews, asked if they could all pose for a group photo. He was only too happy to oblige! The Nerd Machine is a company Zac founded with a friend who worked with him on Chuck, and they do a lot of fund raising work for the children's charity, Operation Smile, of which Zac is also an ambassador. All I know is it was nearly 7pm by the time I spoke with Zac, and he remembered that I'd been there a few nights ago. "You came back!" he exclaimed. I told him that I wasn't supposed to be there, and that I'd stood in line all day at La Guardia after a missed flight. He was sympathetic, and asked if I'd just managed to buy a ticket the day before, and was amazed that I'd been able to get one. I said he must be exhausted after all those shows, and that I hoped he was going to get a bit of a rest for at least a little while. He then told me that he'd like to do some travelling. I told him how much I love the TV show Chuck. We posed while one of his friends, professional photographer Eric Blackmon, (who was kindly taking everyone's cameras and mobiles for photos), snapped a great shot with my camera, so much better than the grainy one taken with my iPad last July! How ridiculously lucky was I to get to meet Zac more than once, when so many who'd like to haven't had the chance yet. It's a moment I'll remember for a long time.

So, this was an absolute highlight, if it's not already obvious, to my time in New York, and I went back to collect my luggage on a high. Back through snowy Times Square one last time. I'd been to see two more Broadway shows, and managed to save the best until last. Yes, I'd chosen to stay at the airport all night, but I had plenty to do, and a flight to catch early the next morning...onwards and upwards people!

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