One of the adults on the bus, presumably an official with the State Thespians, was doing her level best to give us final instructions before we disembarked. Her exhortations were falling on deaf ears. We were finally at the Hotel Edison and we were like a bunch of three-year old fillies and colts in the starting gates at Churchill Downs. When the annoying adult finally shut her yap and the bus driver opened the door we let out a deafening cheer and pushed towards the front of the bus.
We entered the hotel lobby with our bags and separated into our respective groups. Terry gave us our room assignments then told us where and when to meet for our introduction to New York City. Lloyd, Jeff, and I learned that we were going to be rooming with a kid from county rival Wes-Del High School. We were disappointed that Mike wouldn’t be sharing the room with us but were more than pleased that the kid was from Wes-Del and not from Delta High School.
As our group compared our room assignments the three of us noticed something peculiar. All of the group from Yorktown would be in consecutive rooms with one exception. The three of us were separated from the rest of our group and on a different floor. Terry spoke with a concierge who then did a little investigating on our behalf. It turned out that the hotel had made an error in booking enough rooms and later had to add the separated rooms. Terry wasn’t all that keen on the situation. We, of course, weren’t bothered by this fortunate turn one bit.
We got to our room and picked out the sleeping arrangements and met our roommate from Wes-Del. I excitedly opened our curtains hoping for a spectacular view of the city. Instead of seeing even a “minor” skyscraper such as the Pan-Am Building, we had a lovely view of the northwest wing of the hotel.
We attended our little “Getting to Know New York” meeting which was held by a lovely and friendly lady whose knowledge of the city was most impressive. She explained how the streets and avenues were numbered and laid out and assured us of how “easy” it is to navigate the city. She suggested numerous places to visit during our free time, putting special emphasis on Greenwich Village and SoHo. The lovely lady also warned us against the seedier aspects of New York, specifically the street hustlers running games of Three-card Monte. The meeting lasted about an hour, covering everything from taxis and subways to the historic sites to be seen. We were ready to leave the meeting feeling that the lovely lady had fully prepared for whatever the city could throw our way. Before we could leave, though, Ray Casey had a few words for us.
“Ladies and gentleman, I am sure you know that you are here as representatives of the state of Indiana,” Ray began. “You are expected to behave in a manner that will not bring great shame down upon our great state.” The hint of a grin he had let us know he wasn’t trying to be a dick. “Curfew is eleven o’clock. You are to be in your rooms – not your friends’ rooms, not your girlfriend or boyfriend’s rooms- by eleven o’clock. Period. Furthermore, as some of you are no doubt aware by now, the legal drinking age in New York is eighteen. However, you are expected to abide by the laws of Indiana. There will be no consumption of alcohol in any form by any student, whatsoever.”
I scratched my forehead to conceal my eyes as I looked over at Jeff and Lloyd. They were both grinning as big as I was. The gauntlet had been thrown.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Following our meeting we were left with an afternoon to do whatever we wanted before our first stage show that night. Terry rounded up our group to discuss the things to see and do during our journey down to the theatre in Greenwich Village. Everyone agreed on the first order of business and that was getting something to eat. While everyone discussed the many nearby options available to us, I knew exactly what I wanted and it wasn’t going to be found in some fancy-ass restaurant. My mind was set on a Sabrett krautdog from a street vendor. I was prepared to eat one or two for breakfast, lunch, and dinner the entire week.
After much deliberation the group couldn’t come to a consensus on one place to eat so it was decided to split up on Broadway, get something to eat wherever we wanted to, and then meet at the corner down from the hotel.
When we finally set foot on the street for the first time I took a long pause to drink it all in. I had finally made it to New York City and was now about to experience it with more freedom than an eighteen-year old Midwesterner should be allowed. The nerd in me forced me to look up through the concrete and steel canyon hoping to catch a glimpse of Spider-Man swinging by on a web or Iron Man flying back to Avengers Mansion. Grinning, I gave a slight shake of my head at my goofiness. I then noticed that the rest of the group continued on without me so I ran to catch up with them.
The group was stopped at the corner of 47th and Broadway and scoping out the location. Terry poked her head around one side of the group and motioned for me to get a move on and join the rest of them. As she did so, I stopped dead in my tracks after seeing a most unexpected sight – the giant Coca-Cola neon sign of Times Square. We weren’t just staying near the heart of Manhattan. We were staying in it. This was shaping up to be the best week ever.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Our first stage show was The Fantasticks. The production was at a teeny-tiny Off-Broadway theatre, the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich’s South Village. Everyone else in our group seemed excited to see the musical. Knowing nothing about the show, I couldn’t have cared less. The only thing that impressed me was that the show had just celebrated its twenty-first anniversary at the playhouse and was the longest-running show ever.
The musical ended up being pretty good given the size of the theatre, the size of the stage, and the minimal set design. Still, though, I couldn’t wait to get out of there and explore the neighborhood.
Our group of Yorktowners left the playhouse and separated from the main group of students and adults. We roamed the area around Bleecker Street and 6th Avenue until we turned a corner and found what appeared to be an Italian street fair. Food vendors lined the street. The aroma of Italian cuisine filled the air. It was far too tantalizing to pass up.
We walked the length of the fair taking in all there was to see and smell. A few of us bought something to eat. Jeff, Lloyd, and I each bought our first beers of the week. Things were going great until one of the girls asked, “Did I just feel a drop of rain?” We all looked skyward then at each other and realized that none of us were prepared for this. A couple other people said they felt it too. We quickly made a beeline for the nearest door opening to get shelter. Only a few of us made it there before the sky cut loose on us.
We stood there huddled in the doorway trying like hell to stay dry. People were running every which way seeking shelter as the rain began coming down in a torrent. We all stood there laughing at our misfortune until we heard something smash in the street. We looked around a minute or two to find what was amiss before we saw an object hurtling through the air. It was a beer bottle and it smashed just a few feet in front of us, glass and beer flying everywhere.
“Oh, my God!” one of the moms yelled. “Are you kidding me?”
Jeff started laughing. Lloyd started laughing. I started laughing. Pretty soon the entire group was laughing as the next bottle came flying from directly above us. It was followed by a fourth bottle across the street then a fifth one two doors down in rapid order.
“Guys, we need to get out of here,” said Terry, “and we need to get out of here NOW.” One of the moms pointed out a subway station up the street from us. We waited for a pause in the rain of beer bottles and then made a mad dash for the subway station while Mother Nature continued to pour it on. At the top steps of the station, the moms and Terry did a quick assessment of the group to determine nobody was hurt or missing before breathing a huge sigh of relief. We stood there in the rain like a bunch of idiots looking around at each other. Water was dripping from hair, dripping off of noses, covered eyeglasses, and soaked our clothing. We were quite the sight to see. We shared a good laugh as we walked down to the station.
The laughter lasted during the entire trip from the Village to Times Square. The locals paid us no attention as we dripped all over the subway car. They had surely seen everything before and saw nothing special about a bunch of laughing and rain-soaked rubes.
We emerged from the subway station a few blocks from our hotel relieved to find that the rain had stopped. Taking our sweet time walking back to the Hotel Edison, we were amazed by the neon lights of Broadway and Times Square and the way the lights reflected off the rain-soaked streets and vehicles. It was quite the sight to see.
As we entered the lobby of the hotel shortly after eleven o’clock one of the girls asked, “Do you suppose every night will be like this one?”
“Good God, I hope not,” answered one of the exasperated moms. The laughing fits started all over again.