Saturday, November 19, 2016

NYC 2016

In November of 1976 (my senior year in high school)I went with a group of friends to a seminar at the United Nations sponsored by Friends United Meeting, a national organization of Quakers. That was my first trip to New York City. Over the years that followed there would be 15 more trips (We think this made 11 for Marilyn) to the Big Apple. I took small youth groups and large ones. I went by myself to plan trips on 3 occasions. I went with a group of friends once, and with my parents and Marilyn once. But the last youth group trip was in March of 2005, and I had not visited since- and had never been able to take our now 21 year old son, Will. Last week (Nov. 10-14) we fixed those two problems with one glorious trip. It was a triumphant return! The city keeps evolving- the old Milford Plaza is now called Row NYC and looks like a boarding home for hipsters (even the spiral staircase and chandeliers are gone!)- but it is still so familiar. It was an interesting time to be there, with thousands protesting our new President-Elect and disrupting traffic, clogging 5th Avenue in front of Trump Tower and filling Times Square and Central Park at times. It is sign of how universally disliked Mr. Trump is in the city he calls home that the cabbies were complaining about him- not the traffic problems. New York is a city like no other.

My years of planning trips and my knowledge of the city allowed for us to do some incredible things, as did having set aside a LOT of money (shout out to my Mom in heaven!) to spend! After flying to Newark, we surprised Will and his girlfriend Michelle with a limo ride (see picture at top) in to the city and our room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, located at 47th and Broadway- the heart of midtown Manhattan. Our 29th floor room, complete with a view of Times Square, set a great tone for a fabulous few days together. We began our adventure with lunch at Planet Hollywood and an exploration of Times Square.

Thursday evening featured dinner reservations at Carmine's, a classic family-style Italian eatery so authentic you expect to run into Don Corelone most any moment! The restaurant was long a favorite with the groups I traveled with over the years. A long, leisurely meal was followed by front row seats to see The Lion King, one of two shows chosen by Will and Michelle. It felt like Ed the Hyena was laughing at us- personally! And yes- that's us with the actors who played Mufasa and Sarabi. So cool!

On Friday we did a Movie/TV On Locations Tour, visiting famous spots around the city. We saw the apartment building used for outside shots on Friends, the Ghostbusters firehouse and a variety of other great sights. Our guide was an actor and stuntman who really knew his stuff.  The tour ended at McGee's Pub, the real life version of McClaren's Bar from one of our favorite TV shows, How I Met Your Mother. We had a great meal there, with Will proclaiming the McClaren's Steakburger one of his all-time favorite hamburgers.

That night we had VIP passes to the Empire State Building, which allowed to skip as 2 hour wait and head straight up to the observatory levels (TOTALLY worth the extra bucks!). As many times as I have been up there, the view never ceases to amaze me.

Saturday morning we had breakfast at Ellen's Stardust Dinner, where Broadway bound servers serenade you with show tunes while you eat- and they were awesome! Four of them even did an amazing version of One Day More from Les Miz- it was like they knew I was there! We then took the new and improved NBC Studios Tour, which was great fun and included Will and Michelle being filmed as part of a make-believe talk show. After boarding a doubledecker tour bus and seeing Central Park, Harlem and the Upper West and East Sides while nearly freezing to death, we grabbed some pizza before heading to our second show of the weekend.

Show #2 was Aladdin, which none of us had seen before. The music was wonderful, and once again being on the front row made us feel very much a part of Agrabah. James Monroe Iglehart, who won a Tony for his portrayal of Genie, was simply a tour-de-force. The rest of the cast was stellar as well, and the changes to the story from the animated movie worked very well. There was even an actual flying carpet. And just as a bonus, Jonathan Freeman, who voiced the villainous Jafar in the animated version, played Jafar on stage! It was an incredible night for all of us.

Sunday was filled with more sightseeing, shopping and adventure, including seeing Battery Park and the Freedom Tower. The day ended with a fabulous meal at Michael Jordan's Steakhouse in Grand Central Station, followed by one final visit to Times Square. It was a perfect ending to a nearly perfect trip.

We flew back to Tampa on Monday, tired but ready to do it all again as soon as we can! It was truly a blessing to get to share one of favorite places with Will and Michelle, and to share it again with Marilyn. And it also reminded me of the hundreds of others that have shared that adventure with me over these past 40 years. What do you think, old friends? Reunion trip? I'll buy dessert...

Have a blessed day!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Meet the Deplorables

You may already know that imagining Donald Trump as our President scares me. He has zero experience in government or in leadership outside the dictatorships that are his businesses. He is morally bankrupt, as shown through his business practices, his attitude towards women and his total disdain of anyone who is not white. He is not a true Republican, has never been anti-abortion (and is certainly not pro-life- he a self-confirmed lover of war) until it became convenient, and could not be a worse example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus (Think I'm being too harsh or judgmental? Go to Matthew 5, read The Beatitudes and tell me when you get to one that describes Donald Trump. Just one. I'll wait. And while you're at it, find a Fruit of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control- that he exhibits. Again, just one. Still waiting...). In the big picture he has failed at everything- marriages, his University, businesses gone bankrupt, treating other humans with respect- he has ever done, if you don't include looking out for himself. But most of us, myself at the top of the list, make mistakes and have personal failures. My fear of a Trump presidency goes beyond his own failings. You see, as much as The Donald scares me, over the past few weeks I have been reminded that some (although certainly not all) of those who are supporting him actually scare me more. Witness the following accounts. 

* My wife works in downtown Tampa, and a few weeks ago there was an afternoon rally for HRC  in a nearby park. One of the women she works with attended. This lady is a well respected attorney and one of the sweetest people you could ever hope to meet. She is also of Asian heritage, although she was born and has lived her entire life in the the USA. As she left the rally, she was approached by an elderly Caucasian couple wearing Trump buttons and carrying protest signs- as is their right. As she passed them, they begin to call her names, using the ethnic slur "Chink" and questioning if she was here legally. Their language became foul as they screamed at her, and by the time our friend returned to the office she was in tears. Deplorable is too kind a word for such people.

* I sat in the food court of an Orlando mall eating lunch and people watching. A father and son walked by my table. The father- approximately 35 years old- was wearing a Trump hat and button. On the front of his blue t-shirt was a picture of a rifle. The back of the shirt read, "George Zimmerman is a Hero!" His son- around 10 years old- wore a red t-shirt with a target logo on the front pocket area and the following inscription on the back- "Shoot first, ask questions later!" I knew these people existed. My fear is that a Trump presidency will bring them out of the shadows and empower them. And that is horrifying.

* I sat alone in the local Dairy Queen eating lunch as four men talked at a table close to me. They were white men in their 30s or 40s, clearly on lunch break from a job that required them to work outdoors in the hot Florida sun. At first they talked about sports and especially the Buccaneers early season woes. I tuned in, always curious to hear the opinions of others. From football they moved into a discussion of the Black Lives Matter protests currently being raised during the national anthem at various sporting events. They were offended by the protests, as is their right. In fact, they were very angry about it. The conversation then turned to politics and how much they hate...and I mean HATE!- Hillary Clinton. They were confident that Trump will win, because who in their right mind would "vote for that lying bitch." President Trump will turn things around, they declared. And then they revisited the Black Lives Matter issue. "When Trump is elected," the best dressed of the group declared, "he'll send snipers to ballgames and shoot those f***ing ni**er bastards. Let's see 'em protest then." There are so many parts of that statement that offend me I don't know where to start.

Donald Trump did not say or do any of those things. But as we keep seeing over and over, the things he says INSPIRE his supporters to say and do those things. He seems to want them to say those things, and creates an atmosphere where such things are perfectly acceptable. And that is why this election scares me so badly. If he wins- and that could happen- that mentality wins along with him. And everyone who does not think like Trump and his Klan (yes- intentional!) will be caught in the cross-hairs. 

Donald Trump is unfit to be President. He was fired from his job hosting a reality TV show, for Pete's sake! I wouldn't vote for him to be dog catcher. And for those of you who support him, please give me a rational argument that doesn't begin with, "But Hillary..."  You say HRC is liar and a crook, yet Trump is caught in a lie nearly everyday and has actual court cases awaiting him. Hillary has none, and she has been investigated for the past 25 years. She's a long way from perfect, but she is qualified, experienced and ready to serve. DT is none of the above. Recognizing that Hillary has issues and that Trump is a madman are not mutually exclusive positions. It's just that one is far more significant than the other! While on our Hawaiian vacation 2 months or so ago I overheard our election being discussed by two men, one a Brit and the other an Aussie. They were both very confused as to how someone like Trump could be a finalist for the most important job in the world. The Australian gentleman asked, "You don't really think he could be elected, do you?" The Brit pondered the question a moment and replied without much certainty, "No. Not even the bloody Yanks are that stupid." I pray that my British friend is right.