I’m Lookin’ Out at Blue Skies; I’m Lookin’ Out at a Home

The hardest part about posting trip blogs about New York City is that it makes me miss it, and wonder when I’ll get back. In this case, though, I know when I’m going back, since it’s in less than two days from now. So, before I start packing (hello, procrastination), I thought I’d recap my last trip to the Big Apple, November 3-5, 2012.

I’m going to employ a conversational tactic passed down through the generations of my family and say, “wait, wait, let me back up.”

The year was 1998. I was a junior in high school, and Joie Lenz got a two-week gig on Guiding Light. She made a good impression on more than just me, because a year later, she got a contract role… playing a different character, taking over the role of longtime Springfield resident Michelle Bauer from another actress, which is always dicey in daytime television. It’s been quite a few years, and I’m getting old, but as best I can remember, one day the previous Michelle was killing a dude in self-defense, and the next day, Michelle looked a lot different and she needed to keep the mob from finding out she was the one who offed their guy. Naturally, she was found out, but the mobster sent to kill her married her instead, and they eventually fell in love. Man oh man, daytime television. It was awesome. I’m sorry you missed it. But, for old time’s sake – feast your eyes on Danny and Michelle Santos:

Joie Lenz left Guiding Light in 2000, and Danny (Paul Anthony Stewart) got yet another new Michelle. I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Paul on a few different occasions after that, but I never got to meet Joie. In 2003, I read in a magazine that Joie Lenz had landed a starring role in a new show, and I knew I’d have to see it. She had gone back to her real name, Bethany Joy Lenz, and adopted a new character named Haley on The WB’s “One Tree Hill.” And I think we all know how I felt about THAT show.

As it would happen, in all the times I visited Wilmington and watched filming and met most of the One Tree Hill cast members, I never met Joy. I passed her once on Front Street. She was among friends for a girls’ night (I’m guessing), and in addition to not wanting to intrude, I was too stunned to have said anything, anyway.

In addition to being an actor, writer, and director, Joy is also a musician, so after One Tree Hill finished, I just hoped that she’d release an album and tour, and I might get a chance to see her that way. Therefore, after 15 years, I hope you can understand why, when I read that she was scheduled to headline a benefit concert for Rock the Schools in New York, I immediately bought a VIP ticket, without even being sure that I could attend.

While I was trying to figure out how I could afford to make the trip on my own, my BFF Jessica mentioned to me how much she and her daughter, Thai, wanted to return to NYC. I mentioned the weekend, Jessica jumped on it, Thai was excited, and we were off and running.

Then, a week before we were supposed to go, Hurricane Sandy hit the northeastern coast, and parts of New York City were devastated. After making sure my loved ones were safe and sound, I started waiting and watching, wondering if our trip would go on, or if we’d have to chalk it up as a loss, with a lot of non-refundable expenses paid. The news media is, of course, no help on such matters, and we had a chorus of well-meaning naysayers, but Jessica and I were in agreement: “Even if we have to walk there, we’re going.”

The key concerns specifically pertaining to our trip (and most New Yorkers) were the power outages, including all of lower Manhattan thanks to a blown transformer, and that the flooding had knocked out the subway system and vehicle tunnels, which would be akin to all of the highways closing down in a mid-size town.

New York, though, has a will of iron and they know how to get back on their feet. Jessica and I were planning our walking-intensive (walking-exclusive!) itinerary when I saw the announcement that partial service had been restored on the subway. Mere days after the greatest devastation the subway system had ever seen, and almost half of the lines were back up and running. New lines were added every day, and by the time our plane landed on Saturday morning, every subway line we needed was operational again. Also, Saturday morning, power was restored to most of downtown, including to the Gramercy Theatre, where I was going to the show that night. In the words of Fiona Apple, “I can’t help it; the road just rolls out behind me.”

We stayed in Queens at the same hotel where I stayed in May. And, feeling relieved that we no longer had to walk across the 59th Street Bridge (aka the Queensboro Bridge) to and from Manhattan every day, we took a walk to the river to have a look at it before hopping on the subway.

The subway took us to Roosevelt Island, and Thai and I had railroaded Jessica into taking the tram from there to Manhattan if we at least let her get there in one direction without testing her fear of heights. Before hopping on the tram, though, we took a walk around the southern end of the island, which afforded a nice view of Manhattan.

And we could look across the East River back toward Queens, from whence we came.

Tram time!

Thai was a big fan of the tram. She may have even loved it more than I do. Jessica didn’t freak out even once. I think she rather enjoyed herself, even.

Once we were back on the ground on the Upper East Side, we repaid Jessica’s tram generosity with two of her requested stops: a deli and a Sephora. As we walked, I got reacquainted with the city in my usual way – camera in the air:

We made our way to Central Park and found a pedicab driver to ride us around. I teased that I was going to post this photo and say I took it while I was running by, but I knew you’d be on to me, because the Marathon was cancelled in the aftermath of Sandy.

Pedicab is such a nice way to see Central Park. Someone else does all the hard work, and lets you off at key points for photo ops.

I worked it out with our driver to change the route a bit and drop us off at mid park on Central Park West, so we could continue on foot and see a place I’d never been to before: Belvedere Castle! On the way, Thai terrified us by climbing atop a huge rock. And then made us come up, too.

Doggies in New York actually pose for the camera! (At least, this one did.)

Leaving the park, we parted company for the night. Jessica and Thai were going to tour the Times Square area and see a few stores before going to see Wicked on Broadway, and I was headed downtown for my show!

VIP ticketholders (including myself) were attending a pre-show party and gaining early admittance to the concert, but when I arrived at the theatre, I found folks were already lined up for general admission! I was pretty happy to get to head inside ahead of the crowd. Before going in, I saw one of the acts, Matthew Perryman Jones, headed into the building. I don’t think anyone else recognized him (though they learned later that they did recognize his music), so I could go over and talk to him without starting some kind of frenzy. Then, it was time to head inside for the party.

The party was held in a cute space in the basement of the theater, and there were mini cupcakes waiting on all the tables. I probably would have appreciated this more, but I had one thing on my mind. Luckily, I ran into some folks I was acquainted with through my trips to Wilmington, so I had some solidarity as we waited for a chance to talk to the woman of the hour.

All things considered, I think I kept it together pretty well. I’m grateful that it’s my chest that usually flushes when I’m experiencing any kind of extreme emotion, so my face doesn’t betray me so much. One of my cohorts, Tray, knew that it was a particularly momentous occasion for me, so he sent me up first and broke the ice a bit – thank you, Tray! I pretty much rapid-fired all the things I had wanted to say, because I usually forget things, so I told her that I was a fan of hers since Guiding Light, and having given her my name, I said that I was one of the three writers she chose to feature on her blog last year, and named the piece I had written. The only thing that could have beaten the day that I logged on to her blog and saw my own words there was the moment that I related that to her and saw recognition cross her face. She had posted my entry on her blog, yes, and she remembered it still, and pulled me into a hug, saying that it was great to finally meet me. She signed the back of my lanyard, Tray took our picture, and I walked away with a big smile and a wonderful memory. I’ve met a lot of celebrities (famous by varying degrees), but the ones that I really admire, and careers I’ve followed for years on end – those are the hardest ones to meet. There is always that fear of a bad encounter; the fear that, in person, they’re haughty or mean or they’re neither, but they’re just having a bad day. I’m happy to say that Joy was warm and kind and as delightful as I could have ever wanted her to be. It meant a lot to me.

Shortly thereafter, they opened the doors upstairs for the VIPs to go ahead and claim a spot in front of the stage. I was the first person to walk in, and being very early, I took a seat in front of the middle of the stage and waited for the show to begin.

There was a long list of performers for the evening, and I didn’t know most of them. Amongst those unknown to me was Thomas Ian Nicholas, of American Pie fame. I never saw that movie franchise, but I’m sure some of you have, so I included a photo of him.

I was excited to hear Matthew Perryman Jones again, as he’s put out a new album since the last time I saw him, so I had some new songs to sing along to. He also played my favorite, “Feels Like Letting Go,” which I had requested when I saw him outside. He was even kind enough to call out to me from the stage, and say he was playing it for me.

Since both Joy and Mike Grubbs (of Wakey!Wakey!) were performing, other One Tree Hill cast-members who were in town turned out for the show, including James Lafferty and Robert Buckley. When the hosts called Grubbs to the stage, out walked James Lafferty instead. Dressed in Grubbs’ signature cardigan, James sat down at the keyboard as if he was ready to put on a show. In a cute skit that the audience loved, Grubbs came out and told James that was his piano and his sweater and this was his moment, and James couldn’t have it. He then called Robert Buckley out to remove James from the stage. I must say, I enjoyed it.

I have seen Wakey!Wakey! a few times before, but this was my first time seeing him with a 99% One Tree Hill crowd. Such screaming! He was overwhelmed by the reception. He played a fantastic set which got me pretty excited about the next album.

Joy even came out at one point to sing a song with him, which certainly got the audience psyched. I would have flipped over to video for that, but I was too busy, well, getting psyched!

Finally, the only performer remaining was Joy. My feet were not thrilled about how much time I’d spent standing, but finally getting to see Joy perform was enough to take my mind off of that. She brought down the house! AND… she brought CDs!!!

Joy said she had just written a new song, but it was a duet, and Grubbs reappeared to sing it with her. I flipped over to the video setting for that! And… since trying to get my blog to embed a YouTube video makes me want to jump off of a cliff, just click here if you want to see it, ok? (It will open in a new tab.)

Here is a photo of Joy, taking a photo of the crowd, which she immediately posted to Twitter. I’m visible in her shot, so I’ll post that below as well!

I was exhausted and happy as I made my way back to the hotel Saturday night. Jessica and Thai had beaten me there by 30 minutes or so and had already had our bags brought up, and had a Caffeine Free Diet Coke waiting for me, so I could unwind before getting some rest.

Sunday morning, we decided to go to Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum in Times Square. On our way, Thai stopped for a photo op with Mickey and Minnie.

Also, it is just me, or is there something wrong with this picture?

But then, here’s the cure, because there is nothing wrong with THIS picture!

I usually doze off at the mere mention of a museum, but Ripley’s was actually pretty fun, and Thai loved it.

I did not fare very well in this “black hole,” but Thai thought it was awesome.

The best part was this room that recognized our movements and projected them in a colorful way via a screen that covered one entire wall. We stayed for way too long in here, and I inevitably got dizzy from all the dancing and twirling, but it was worth the price of admission, right there.

Our next stop was another museum of sorts… THE MOST AWESOME MUSEUM IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND… The Harry Potter Exhibition!!! I had just missed it when it was in NYC last year, and I was so bummed about it. When we saw a sign advertising it as we walked around the day before, I was afraid that it was an old sign, just teasing me. It turns out, the exhibition had just reopened on the day of our arrival. All three of us looked like kids in a candy shop when we walked in. The employees manning the photo camera actually chuckled a little when they saw the three of us, wide-eyed and pointing and gasping around the room. And we hadn’t even entered the actual exhibit yet.

Unfortunately, photography was not allowed (Warner Brothers and all their copyright business), but when we walked in, they took volunteers to be sorted (Thai got Gryffindor and I got Slytherin and Jessica got to witness us geeking out), and then we proceeded to walk through rooms filled with props and costumes from the Harry Potter films. We got to pretend to pot Mandrakes and play Quidditch, and I found great difficulty in moving away once we came upon the replica of Snape’s Potions Closet. We all took turns sitting in the enormous chair in Hagrid’s Hut, and the tour culminated in the Great Hall, which was magnificent. We had a blast!

Back out in Times Square, we saw some more strange sights. What do you suppose they’d be discussing?

And is this some sort of convention?

Thai wanted to go into Toys R Us, and she really wanted to ride the ferris wheel. We’ve already covered Jessica and her heights, so, what can I say? I stepped up and took one for the team. Which is to say, the only person who enjoyed the ferris wheel more than Thai… was me.

In case anybody ever wonders what bonds Jessica and I together, here she is, holding her Harry Potter bag, grinning like a fool in front of a Disney Princess display. Yep. I’d say that clears things up.

Next, we made our way uptown so we could be at the Top of the Rock by sunset.

As always, the view was spectacular, and as always, it is so stinkin’ cold on top of that building!

I caught Jessica and Thai warming up in the light room. Ooooh, pretty!

Once the sun went down and we were all pretty frigid, we walked back to the Theater District to see Mary Poppins! The show was great, and Mary Poppins even flew right over our heads!

Broadway Cares was raising funds for Hurricane Sandy victims, and Jessica made a donation, which resulted in us being invited backstage for a tour and to meet the cast.

These are fishing reels, used for the kite-flying scene.

After the show, we were all hungry, so we went down the street to Dallas BBQ. Thai was amazed at the size of her drink. The caffeine had no effect, though, because she fell asleep on the table as soon as she finished eating. Clearly, it had been a long day.

Monday was our last day, and we started it off right with a big breakfast at Court Square Diner in our little neighborhood in Queens.

Jessica thought, since it was vacation and all, it would be appropriate to order an appetizer before breakfast. She settled on this lemon meringue pie. Even with three of us, we didn’t quite get to the bottom of it.

From there, we made our way downtown, visiting Old St. Patrick’s cathedral and then walking downtown, catching sight of the Williamsburg Bridge and the buildings that scrape the sky down in the financial district.

I wanted to see the South Street Seaport, which I knew had been badly damaged by Sandy. I love that area, and it was sad to see so many small businesses boarded up. I hope they’ll be back on their feet soon.

We continued to walk along the river by the seaport down to catch the ferry over to Brooklyn.

When we reached Brooklyn, we walked along the parks which had been completely submerged only a week earlier. For instance, here is a photo of the carousel that sits at the edge of the water on the Brooklyn side. It’s one of the higher points along the parks.

And here is a photo of that carousel on the night of the storm.

But, the water had all receded and if we didn’t know it, we wouldn’t have been able to tell Hurricane Sandy had even come through the Brooklyn Bridge Parks.

We made our final stop at Front Street Pizza to get some lunch. The food was amazing and cheap, and I uttered the phrase, “Excuse me, but y’all are hot and I’m a tourist, so smile for the camera.” Good sports, these ones.

Once we left Brooklyn, it was back to Queens and then on to the airport for the trip back home. I’d say we had a fantastic time!

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We Are Laughing, Breaking Up Just Like the Waves

Somehow, I’ve fallen behind on blogging my adventures. I used to write a blog a day, and the photo recaps of my trips came here and there in a sea of other material. Now, I seem to only post when I’m recapping a recent trip, and here I am six months behind on that. So, I’m going to catch up with an abbreviated recap of my summer adventures.

Holden Beach, NC – June 20-23, 2012

I don’t go on beach vacations, much to the chagrin of my friends who make week-long visits to the sand and surf an annual tradition. I usually decline invitations for these trips for a few reasons. For one, I rarely take off work five days in a row, because that just creates more stress in the long run and burns a lot of vacation time at once, and I like to stretch my days into as many little adventures as possible. Additionally, I can sit on the beach for one day, but after that, I’m bored and ready to move on to something else. I guess, for some people, everyday life is a frenzy of over-scheduling and endless obligations, and the one week per year spent sitting under a beach umbrella is the only escape, whereas I make room for relaxation at home, and go on vacation for adventure.

Even so, I surprised even myself and said yes to a beach trip this year. I drove down just for the end of the week to join Jessica and her family at Holden Beach. To mitigate my itch to “do something,” after spending one day lounging on the beach, reading, we took a day trip to Wilmington to shake things up before returning to the beach the following day. I also seized the opportunity to meet my Myrtle Beach-dwelling friend Terri for dinner, so we met in the middle for some Calabash seafood.

I didn’t take very many pictures, but Holden Beach was nice:

There was also a lovely sunset view from the back porch of the beach house:

In Wilmington, we beat the heat by ducking into Blue Post Billiards in the middle of the afternoon and lit up the jukebox and the pool table:

We headed out as the sun came up Saturday morning, so there was a lovely view on the way out of town:

Since I was driving on my own and had the whole day, I stopped in Wilmington again for breakfast and the farmer’s market downtown.

I broke up the drive and made the most of my time by also stopping in Durham to have lunch with my friend Christy at The Cheesecake Factory, and then in Graham to visit Purple Penguin and see my friends Jeremy and Tiffany. The drive home was six hours, but by making it a twelve-hour trip, it felt like I’d hardly driven at all!

Boston – August 3 – 6, 2012

I had a great trip to Boston in July 2007, and had been thinking of returning ever since. My friend Karen lives there, and while technology keeps us connected day-to-day, five years is a long time to go without seeing someone’s face! I’d said a few times that I needed to come visit, and that kind of thing can get pretty easily stalled at “someday,” so it was great when the stars aligned so nicely this year. One of my favorite artists, Josh Ritter, released some tour dates that included a weekend date in Boston, so I asked Karen if she’d like to go. She said yes, and within a matter of hours, I had tickets purchased and a flight booked.

Josh Ritter ended up adding a show to his schedule for the night before my flight to Boston. I decided it was worth only getting 3 hours of sleep to get a double dose of Josh Ritter, so I saw him in Charlottesville on my way to Richmond to stay with family before my early, early, early morning flight.

Karen picked me up at the airport Friday morning, and we were soon joined by our mutual friend, Ruff (yes, a nickname), for a day of lively chatter and historical touring:

Karen and I continued our touring in another area of Boston the next day, marveling at the architecture, which for me, always includes at least one church!

We kept strolling along through the park (with swan boats!), by the Capitol, and on to Quincy Market and the shorefront:

Saturday night was our concert, and the venue was beautifully situated right on the water, so we had great tunes with a lovely view and a nice breeze.

Josh Ritter was co-headlining with Brandi Carlile for that show, so we got two full, fantastic sets. I was familiar with Brandi Carlile before, and had even seen her perform on a previous occasion, but she was so brilliant at this show that she won me over completely and found a new fan in Karen, too.

One of the most famous places in Boston (and in baseball) is Fenway Park, and I’ve always wanted to see it, if only for the history. Karen did me one better than that, though, and got us tickets to a game on Sunday afternoon (tip of the hat to her hubby, Charlie, who secured great seats for us)!

I don’t follow pro baseball closely by any means, but sit me in front of any kind of sporting event and I get invested quickly. It was so cool to be sitting in the stands at Fenway Park on a game day, so I was plenty excited by the experience.

The Red Sox played the Minnesota Twins, and though they hadn’t had the best season, they extended me the courtesy of winning since I’d come so far to see them.

I also ate a Fenway Frank (best hot dog of my entire life), drank lemonade from a souvenir cup, and sang Sweet Caroline with the Boston faithful.

Right down to hopping back on the T amidst mobs of Red Sox fans, it was a gloriously authentic Boston experience and I loved every second of it.

Alas, I had to go home on Monday, but I was booked on a late flight, so we still had time to enjoy the day. So, we got our beach gear together and rode up to Crane Beach for the day. The weather was absolutely perfect. I had never been to a beach in the northeast before, so I enjoyed wiggling my toes in the sand and dipping my feet into the waters in a new territory.

Karen had warned me that we’d have to move our chairs to another spot as the tide came in, and said it would sneak up behind us. She moved her chair in advance and went to pick up some lunch, and by the time she came back, there I was, sitting in a chair on a little island in the middle of the water. I picked up my things and waded through the water behind me to dry land.

I got a kick out of watching these two kids who stayed on “the island” until the last bit of sand was covered, at which point they screamed and laughed and ran through the water back to the beach.

It was a wonderful trip. I certainly won’t let five years pass by before I go again. And since one of the most important “attractions” I wanted to visit in Boston was Karen, the trip had a perfect balance of adventure and relaxing as we chattered away.

Wilmington – September 21 – 23rd

Florence and the Machine had been at the top of my “shows I need to see” list since I heard the album, Lungs. I never got a chance to go to a show on that tour, and had all but given up on the Ceremonials tour, too. The closest show was in Raleigh, and by the time I knew I could go, all but the crappy seats were sold out, so I was disappointed, but I figured it wasn’t meant to be. About the time I had given up entirely, my friend Jessa called to ask me if I was interested in going, because she wanted to go, too, and we could make a weekend of it. I said that if we did, we’d have to resort to Stubhub for tickets. She was game for that, and she’d told me a few times that she wanted to go with me to Wilmington sometime. It seemed like a pretty good two-for-one special to me, so we bought concert tickets and booked hotel rooms.

She met me at work that Friday and I left a little early so we could get down to Raleigh in time for the show. Kelli was also at the show, so I got to visit with her briefly, and I found out on the day of the show that Ryan and Julie were driving down as well, so I got to see them in Raleigh when I hardly ever get to see them at home. The outdoor venue was lovely.

The concert was great. Jessa and I had a great time singing and dancing along. I also had a concert-long romance with the adorable (and presumably gay) man who sat in the seat next to me. Sadly, we lost each other in the rush to the stage at the end of the show, and I forgot to check “Missed Connections” on Craigslist for his declaration of love.

Jessa and I had booked a room just outside of Raleigh for the night, so we didn’t have too far to drive before we could get some sleep. Then, we just got up and headed for Wilmington early Saturday morning.

Our hotel had a continental breakfast, so we’d had a little something to tide us over until we made it to Wilmington (and therefore, The Dixie Grill), but we made it to Wilmington before our appetites did, so we detoured and made Airlie Gardens our first stop.

We were able to check in as soon as we got to the hotel, so we left our bags and went to a late breakfast at Dixie Grill (where else?) before spending the afternoon walking around downtown Wilmington.

Dogs are plentiful in Wilmington, and I couldn’t resist stopping to find out about these two Bernese Mountain Dog cousins:

We ducked into Blue Post Billiards and racked up high scores on the skee ball (aka “Beer Ball”) game inside. I emerged victorious at that, but Jessa showed this game who was boss:

We (of course) had dinner at Front Street Brewery, which was amazing as always, and then took in the sunset from the Riverwalk.

We had booked an evening cruise down the river, and when we arrived to find the neon lights shining, we nicknamed it “the party boat.”

After we docked back into downtown, Jessa was ready for bed, so she went back to the hotel, and I went up the The Calico Room to see my friend Ali, who recently moved to Wilmington. I hung out there for a while, and got the musician who was playing there that night to sing a Ryan Adams cover for me, and then I made my way back to the hotel as well.

Sunday morning, we got up at dark-thirty to drive out to Fort Fisher for sunrise. I hate getting up early, but I’ve done it quite a few times to watch the sunrise from my favorite beach. Once again, it did not disappoint. It was the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen, and the water was still warm enough to play in.

We returned to Dixie Grill for breakfast before going back to pack up the room and check out. We made our last stop at the USS North Carolina battleship and did some touring around before hitting the road for home.

Will I ever get tired of Wilmington? It doesn’t seem likely.