Who Will Illuminate the Days, New York?

I love New York. That probably seems a little backwards for someone whose favorite place in the world is Bedford, Virginia. All the same, even though my rural town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge will always be home, there is something about New York City that makes me feel alive. Every time I go, I find something new to love, and this trip (my 16th?!) was special in several ways, not the least of which was these three beautiful ladies:

Most of the time, my trips to NYC happen solo. I’ve always met up with other friends once I arrived, but aside from a day trip with Andrea, I’ve never taken a friend from home with me into the city. This time, however, I got to share the experience with some of my very best friends. (I know they are my best friends by the way they willingly handed over all control to me so that I could plan everything down to the minute and print out color-coded itineraries for them to follow.)

We set out for Richmond bright and early on Thursday morning to hop a JetBlue flight to JFK. Our flight was listed on a 30-minute delay when we checked in, but we still landed in New York earlier than scheduled. On a tip from my pro-traveler friend Matthew, I had arranged for a car service to pick us up at the airport, and I freely admit to feeling quite impressed with myself when a van pulled up bearing a sign with my name on it.

The first sight of the city is always a rush:

We checked into the Wyndam Garden in Chelsea and marveled at the very tiny hotel room. Of course, everything in New York is tiny and pricy. The hotel room, while smaller than the living room of my apartment, costs as much per night as my apartment does per month. Once again, I must tip my hat to Matthew, since thanks to him, we were able to stay for 4 nights for the cost of one. (Matthew – you are our hero.)

With not a moment to lose on the itinerary, we set off on our first mission to find the birthplace of Theodore Roosevelt. Jessica has a small obsession with presidents (and anything historical), so we added that to the to-do list for her. That is not to say that we didn’t all enjoy the tour. It was quite informative, and what our tour guide didn’t know, Jessica certainly did. She was right in her element.

From there, we proceeded toward SoHo, Chinatown, and Little Italy, stopping in one of my favorite places in New York – St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. It is spectacularly beautiful, and pictures cannot do it justice.

Around the corner from the church, we found Kelli’s first itinerary stop – the Pinkberry yogurt shop. Jessica and I opted for fresh fruit toppings (which were delicious), and Kelli and Jessa went for decadence with chocolate and strawberries.

We continued walking and checking out shops – Kelli, Jessica, and Jessa each bought $5 scarfs, and Matthew came to meet us in the city. It was wonderful to see him again, and he was certainly pleased to meet the other ladies I brought along. We spent some time walking around with him (making him look like the luckiest man in New York to have such an awesome entourage) until we had to go back to the room to get gussied up for our trip to the theater Thursday night.

We went to see Wicked at the Gershwin Theater and we had fantastic seats overlooking the stage. The show was incredible. I can’t say enough good things about it. It was full of great laugh-out-loud moments, and the production was truly magnificent. If you’re planning a trip to the city, make sure that show is on your schedule.

After the show, we met up with Matthew again, and he took us to a diner where we had a very late dinner. Afterwards, Kelli and I decided to go with the mentality of “the city that never sleeps” and stay out with Matthew until the wee hours of the morning. He showed us a wonderful time, wooing us with jukebox selections to cater to his ladies, including New Kids on the Block for Kelli and Ryan Adams for me. We all tuned up in a passionate Journey sing-along when he played “Don’t Stop Believin.’” (And we weren’t the only ones!)

Friday morning came a little early for all of us, so we got a bit of a late start. We hopped a subway uptown to see Riverside Church and Grant’s Tomb, located within a few blocks of one another near Columbia University. Riverside Church was another breathtaking display of carvings and stained glass.

When we tore ourselves away from the sanctuary, we encountered some light rain outside. The ladies put their scarves to good use, and I got wet and snapped a photo in commemoration.

Grant’s Tomb was also a sight to behold and another historical stop for Jessica. We all pledged our allegiance to the Confederacy, of course, but enjoyed a respite from the rain outside.

By the time we took a subway back down to Columbus Circle, the rain had cleared away and we didn’t see anymore of it throughout the rest of our trip. We had lunch inside the Time Warner building adjacent to Central Park and did a bit of shopping as well.

We wanted to tour Central Park and had considered taking one of the traditional horse-drawn carriages. We planned to compare prices against the pedicab drivers, and we opted for the latter. For one thing, the pedicab tours cover a lot more ground and last three times as long. For another, the drivers had great accents and were a-dor-a-ble.

Jessica and I climbed in one cab and Kelli and Jessa took the other. The boys drove us alongside one another (in and out of traffic!) and gave a great commentary on park history as we went along.

They stopped us at three different sections of the park and gave us time to get out, walk around, and take pictures. One of the drivers even volunteered to come along and take group photos for us. Our first stop was at the Bethesda Fountain, where we saw a man playing guitar and another one blowing bubbles for passers-by.

The next stop was at Bow Bridge:

We had time to go walk across the bridge and then we did the “Friends” pose by the fountain in the courtyard.

Our last stop was “Strawberry Fields” which pleased our Beatles-loving Jessica greatly. We even happened upon an impromptu Beatles jam-session and stopped to listen and sing along before continuing on our way.

When we reached the park’s edge (and the end of our tour), I think we all thought about pooling our money to see if we could talk the boys into driving us around the rest of the city (or the rest of our lives), but we begrudgingly bid them adieu.

Instead, we set off on foot to see a bit more of the city, including the Trump Tower, St. Patrick’s Cathedral Rectory, Rockefeller Center, and the NBC store. Matthew joined us again to make a stop dictated by our cupcake-connosieur Kelli – the Magnolia Bakery.

We parted ways for the first time on Friday night, as Jessica, Kelli and Jessa headed out to see Jude Law in Hamlet (and believe me, they were more interested in the actor than the story), and I headed to a benefit concert at the American Red Cross. This was my 5th year attending the show – hosted by Bradley Cole and his band – to raise money for the Red Cross. It is always a raucous time as various multi-talented actors take the stage to perform anything from ballads to show tunes to classic rock and roll. Before the show, I had the pleasure (*wink*) of meeting Zach Conroy (below) and seeing a lot of old friends again.

I had a nice chat with Alex Cole (he is absolutely delightful), Bonnie Dennison (who said she was busy with auditions), and Lawrence St. Victor (few men are that gorgeous while also being so sweet and kind). I was especially glad to see the always-charming Trent Dawson backstage. He later rocked the house as I knew he would.

From my seat, I saw David Andrew McDonald slip in towards the end of the show. He had been performing several blocks over in Mamma Mia, but stopped by to see everyone after his show. I was fortunate enough to get to talk with him for a few minutes, and I am also very jealous that my friend Candace (who was in NYC at the same time that we were got to see him light up the stage on Broadway.

I caught up with the rest of my clan where they were having a very late dinner. Food becomes an afterthought to me when I’m in New York City, because it just seems to take valuable time away from everything I want to do, but I certainly could not do the late night dinners. As a group, we weren’t so great at the late night anything, opting instead for much-needed sleep to get through the next day. Kelli turned out to be the adventurous one, and she went out every single night. I was very proud.

Saturday morning, I got up first (the horror!) and left everyone fast asleep to head uptown to the Renaissance Hotel for breakfast with Bradley Cole. I also got to see my dear friend Shari again! It had been way too long. We had a delicious breakfast (I was actually starving from missing dinner the night before), and the Renaissance Hotel was swanky. We had a lovely view of Times Square from the dining room.

The sign for Wicked was level with the window on the other side of the dining room, so I got Shari to snap this picture of me on our way out.

From there, we went to the Marriott Marquis to check in for the Guiding Light Fan Club Luncheon. I have never seen so many people there! The luncheon had been sold out for months, and that was after arrangements had been made to open the event up to several hundred additional people. We saw many familiar faces and a lot of first-timers as well, who had made the trek to say goodbye to our 72-year-old show. There is always a raffle for props, wardrobe, scripts, and photos, but I normally don’t participate in those. The exception was the year I won the Company sign (which is an especially treasured memento now). This being the last year, I decided to try for another coveted item. They had several scripts up for raffle – both signed and unsigned – but perhaps the hottest commodity was the signed script for episode 15,762 – the very last episode Guiding Light ever aired.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear my number called to win that piece of television history. On my way back to the table after claiming my prize, I met Shari who was waving her ticket and heading toward the stage. She had won one of the other scripts from another episode in the last week of shows. The cherry on top came when I was deciphering all the signatures and found one I didn’t recognize. I had almost written it off as a mystery until I had an epiphany and realized that the signature belonged to Justin Deas. The man is brilliant (and has six Emmys to prove it), but he is very private and never does fan events, which makes his signature very rare indeed!

Scripts in tow, Shari and I made the rounds together to various actors’ tables. We started, of course, with Tom Pelphrey. We both adore him and he is one of the best actors I have ever seen. He also added his signature to my script.

John Driscoll (a fellow Virginian and all-around lovable guy) flew back to New York from L.A. to share the day with us. Hopefully I will get to see him again soon.

We saw many old favorites and even got to meet Fiona Hutchison for the very first time. I was delighted to get to see Mandy Bruno and Rob Bogue again. Let it be known that if there is ever a movie about my life, she is the one I want to play me! I had forgotten that, last year, I gave them some mix CDs that I made. They had not forgotten, however, and raved to me about my music taste (always my favorite compliment to receive) and said a few of the CDs have never left their car CD player. I am always happy to broaden someone’s musical horizons!

After the luncheon, we upheld another long-standing tradition and went up to the Broadway Lounge on the 8th floor to unwind. Jessica came to join us and we kicked back, got a bite to eat and listened to the selections from the lounge singer plunking away at the piano behind us.

While I was at the luncheon, Jessica, Kelli and Jessa had (finally!) gotten up and made their way downtown to catch the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. They were very pleased with themselves for successfully navigating the subway system (no small feat right now, while the subway system is basically in chaos!) and they had a great time. I snagged some of their pictures for your viewing pleasure.

They also used their Amanda-free time to grab a burger (I don’t like burgers) at the world-famous Parker-Meridian. I heard mixed reviews, from “It was WONDERFUL!” to “It was just like any other burger. Except it was $14.” So if you’re headed to New York, you’ll have to decide for yourself about that one! Either way, they had their burgers and walked through Times Square while I was otherwise occupied at the luncheon.

Our whole group met back up at the New York Waterway for a 90-minute City Lights Cruise in the New York harbor. Long-time readers will remember that I took that cruise (in the rain!) last fall and loved every second of it. Our tour guide this time was not as good as the one I had last year (not that anyone could top him, truly), but it was still enjoyable.

It got a little chilly out on the water, but it was worth it just for the views. None of us had a camera that could quite capture the city lights from a moving boat, but you can sort of get the idea:

When we got off the boat, we saw this debonair gentleman on the side of a bus. I think Kelli speaks for all of us:

(Incidentally, I was certain I recognized him, but it wasn’t until I got home that I was able to confirm that he is, in fact, Matt Bomer, who once played a beloved character on none other than my dear Guiding Light.)

We hadn’t quite had enough of the New York skyline, so we proceeded on to Rockefeller Center, where we bought tickets to the Top of the Rock.

Unlike going up into the Empire State Building, we did not have to stand in a ridiculous line for two hours to make it to the top. Also, since we weren’t on the Empire State Building, we could actually see the Empire State Building! We took our time at the top, enjoying the city views and even the cold breeze that accompanied it.

Our next stop was The Rum House, where we once again met up with Matthew and some of his friends. As a special treat, Matthew took to the microphone and serenaded us with a few tunes. We felt like very special guests, and everyone enjoyed his animated performance.

Sunday morning, we woke up to our last full day in the city. We had packed so many activities into our first three days that we were able to take Sunday at a leisurely pace. Still, we covered a LOT of ground.

We took the subway down to Wall Street, where we were greeted by church bells emanating from Trinity Church. We had lunch at another fantastic deli (Jessica noted that New Yorkers know how to make a sandwich!) and toured Trinity’s sanctuary and grounds. Alexander Hamilton is buried at Trinity Church along with several other notable historical figures (which I only know from asking Jessica “Who’s that?” every five seconds).

From there, we walked on to St. Paul’s Chapel, which is part of the Trinity parish. It is the chapel where George Washington attended during his presidency, and it also gained fame after 9/11 by escaping completely unharmed from the destruction all around it. Since it was right across the street from the World Trade Center, it became a place of refuge for survivors and mourners and still houses many memorials to that day, including an altar with pictures of the fallen, and letters that poured in from school children across the U.S.

From there, we walked across to Ground Zero and stopped into the Memorial Preview Site. The walls showed a timeline from that fateful day, and a TV mounted on the wall played moving interviews from some of the people affected by that tragedy. It is painful but important to remember those events.

Our next expedition was to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. As we walked towards it, we happened upon the Stage Deli, which Jessa had hoped to find, so we slipped inside for some cheesecake and a place to rest for the trek ahead.

Our walk also led us through City Hall, where we stopped and took some pictures before proceeding onto the pedestrian access of the Brooklyn Bridge. I am not sure why, but I didn’t expect quite so many people to be walking across the bridge. We just blended in with the crowd, since we were all marveling at the triumph of architecture and the views on either side of us. I remember being told that it is the one place in the world where you can have a plane flying over pedestrians, walking over cars, driving over boats, floating above a train (the subway).

The bridge is over one mile long, but we walked the full length of it and ended up in Brooklyn. We walked down to the Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park and seized the perfect photo opportunities with a clear view of the Manhattan skyline, the Hudson River, the East River, and the Manhattan Bridge.

I had read online about Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, which is considered the best pizza in the state of New York. It was near the park, so I figured we may as well check it out. We were surprised to see a long line of people waiting outside just to get in. I walked to the front of the line and asked the locals if the pizza was worth the wait. They assured me that it was and estimated the wait time at about 45 minutes. That 45 minutes turned out to be about twice that, but we figured we may as well wait since we were already there. The pizza was indeed amazing. The ingredients were fresh, and the pizza was cooked in a bona fide coal oven, which cooked it to perfection. We were even able to watch the pizza being prepared, which was an impressive sight – and serious business! Papa Grimaldi himself (I’m just guessing about his name) was there seating people and making sure that everyone was enjoying their food. I got the feeling there may have been dire consequences for the chef if anyone was not enjoying their food!

After dinner, I dragged my freezing comrades up a very steep hill to reach the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. They obliged me and the reward for all of us was perhaps the most beautiful city view I have ever seen. We found ourselves looking right at the Manhattan skyline in all its glory. I felt like I could have stood there forever, just drinking it all in. All of the walking we did that day (and all of the waiting in line for pizza while the sun went down) was worth it for that transcendent moment.

We hopped on a subway not far from the Promenade and made it back to our hotel before 10:00. It’s probably blasphemy to go to bed in New York at such an early hour, but that it what we did. (Of course, by “we,” I mean me, Jessica, and Jessa. Kelli rocked the New York nightlife once again in our stead.)

Monday morning, we got up, packed up, and went back to Times Square for a few more photo opportunities and a little shopping.

We stopped into some of the standard places like the Hershey Store and Toys R Us. Any place that has Reese cups bigger than my head or a lifesize Barbie’s Dreamhouse is a place that I need to be!

We capped off our trip with lunch (and cheesecake!) at Junior’s before meeting our car back at the hotel.

All in all, I’d say the trip was a great success. We all made it back home still friends (which doesn’t always happen, you know!) and I think they’d all be willing to travel somewhere with me again in the future!

Sure, it was a little bittersweet to say goodbye to Guiding Light, but my greatest memories of the show are wrapped up in the last 7 years of going to New York, meeting other fans and the actors themselves, and forging friendships in both groups. I have built many strong and lasting relationships on that foundation, and no network cancellation notice can ever take that away. In my mind, Rev. Rutledge’s candle is still burning in the window.