The Young Traveler: My High School Trip to New York

memoirs, usa travels

It’s been a busy time being back on the ol’ homefront, visiting friends and family, celebrating holidays, and keeping the child occupied. There’s a lot to process in being home and, honestly, I’m not ready to unpack on these pages, yet. I have, however, also been unearthing boxes from storage at my Mom’s house. These things have made it through my numerous moves and purges, so if it still exists at this stage, I know that there’s some value in it for me. To honor these things I see so rarely, I thought I’d do some “throwback” posts here featuring a few of the pieces from the past that are normally tucked in boxes, collecting dust and time.

photo 1 (10)Today, I went back to my hometown to visit a friend from high school. So, let me remain on that theme and “throw” all the way back to (I think) 1995 when my high school drama department took a Spring Break trip to New York City. This trip exists for me in these loose scrapbook pages, which must have been tucked in a notebook, at some point.

This collection is so earnest you can almost feel the teenage sense of importance radiating from the photocopied flyers, ticket stubs, and dreadful photographs I deemed worthy of saving and carefully preserving under plastic cover. Nowadays, I save nothing. These pages make me feel a little like I’ve lost something, my enthusiasm for absolutely nothing in this world is so high as to be preserved in 3-hole punch.

photo 4 (5)The pink page on top is the itinerary, and so I know that our week in New York included tours of all the biggies, including NBC Studios, Radio City Music Hall, Ellis Island, and stops at Rockefeller Center, St Patricks Cathedral, Trump Tower, F.A.O. Schwartz, Hard Rock Cafe (I’m sure I got the t-shirt), Greenwich Village and SOHO, the Met, South Street Seaport, Chinatown (I still remember the instruction to not buy any watches that “just needed a battery), and Little Italy. We saw Broadway shows almost every night – Tommy (that will blow a high school kid’s mind quick smart), Phantom of the Opera, Crazy for You, and Miss Saigon, and we did a musical theatre workshop where we learned a dance to “Magic to You” from Pippin. On an off night, I remember getting tickets to the Radio City Easter show and watching the Rockettes from the very last row.

The photos in this scrapbook are so painfully terrible, which I adore because they say so much about a different time in the world and in my life. The focus of almost all of the photos is uncertain, at best. I was a young high school student – what a metaphor for someone who didn’t know where to put my attention or make a bold statement. The only photos with a clear subject are the ones of my friends and me. And, some of the things I chose to photograph now just seem such arbitrary and funny things to select. I’m also reminded that this was an era when digital photography was ages from coming into common usage, so you got one shot, and you didn’t know if it worked until you picked up that packet of 3×5 magic from Eckerd drug store a week later. You certainly didn’t have Instagram to help you make works of art from your every snap. The page below is the perfect example of my 1995 photos. The top two pictures are me, and then my two best friends standing in front of the Plaza Hotel. Because the Plaza Hotel is, you know, fancy, am I right? The third picture is the marquee for the David Letterman show. Or, rather, about 2/3 of the marquee and the head of one of my classmates.

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This picture is my favorite one in the book:

photo 2 (11)I don’t love it because I think I look smashing, but because I remember that it’s the night we went to see Phantom of the Opera, and I’m wearing my Homecoming dress because going to a Broadway show was that special. This was also the night that our teacher, Ms Pev (what we all called her) loaded us all into taxis after the show (taxis!) and took us to Tavern on the Green where she treated us to dessert, which we thought was the most decadent extravagance. It was my first taxi, first coat check, and my first taste of creme brulee. Years later when I lived in New York City and I’d often decide on a whim to get rush tickets for a Broadway show, where I’d end up post- library studies in my jeans and stuffing my big backpack under my seat, I’d remember this trip, going to my first Broadway shows in the fanciest things I owned, and I’d give myself a little scolding for having lost some of that etiquette.

photo 4 (7)We had a couple of other experiences with Broadway that made that New York City trip very special for a group of young theatre students. First, as part of our tour, we had an afternoon seminar with a performer from Crazy For You. I know now that this is something that is pretty commonplace for Broadway performers, especially those who are in the supporting roles, but then it did seem otherworldly to be sharing space with the street clothed performer we’d seen tapping, singing and otherwise all shimmery and huge the night before. Our cast member was Beth Leavel, which didn’t mean a lot to me, at the time, other than having just seen her on stage, and that she was really nice to us, but the lovely Ms Leavel has gone on to an illustrious career, including winning a Tony for The Drowsy Chaperone in 2006. Here I am with her and her castmate Jill Matson, who she’d invited to join her for the talk.

The other special Broadway experience we had was after seeing Miss Saigon, which we were so blown away by (the flying helicopter, I mean come… on…). Someone in our group had the idea to stand outside the stage door to greet the cast as they came out. They were wonderful sports, especially as we told them that we were drama students. They signed autographs and gave encouragements. One of the cast members, however, went above and beyond, and invited our little group to come backstage for a tour. She took us around and introduced us to any straggling cast members who hadn’t left yet. She took us on stage and showed us the car and the helicopter, and we all got to see the view that Broadway performers had looking out into the audience. She even showed us her dressing room. I’ll never forget how dear that experience was to me. I had to do a bit of Googling to remember which cast member it had been, but found her name is Emy Baysic, and she played Kim three shows a week. Here she is in the blue sweatshirt in the middle with our group. Her kindness elevated the entire trip for me.

photo 4 (8)Aside from the theatre adventures, I remember everything about New York City being eye opening. This was pre-Giuliani days, and I vividly recall all the porn theatres and homeless on the streets of Times Square outside our Howard Johnson hotel, which is an experience of Time Square I’d never have again in subsequent visits. I remember being overwhelmed by the $14 pastrami sandwich at Carnegie Deli, which was very rich for my blood, as well as larger than any food I’d ever seen (and I was coming from the South, so that’s not for nothing). I recall being terrified when a panhandler asked us for money on the Subway. I remember finding every familiar site from movies and television something almost too astounding to behold.

I remember the first sight of this view (and there’s Ms Pev scolding someone in the front):

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And, I remember this view:photo 3 (6)

photo 1 (12)I also recall how silly we were, such typical high school girls, missing things that we should have paid attention to. My friends and I developed a crush our our amiable tour guide, whose name I still recall was Terry. We absolutely wasted a trip to Ellis Island by trying to chat up Terry and gain favor with him, which in hindsight, was probably barking up the wrong tree in more ways than one. We spent the whole trip to the South Street Sea Port following some guy who we thought was cute from one shop to another. On Wall Street, Terry surely told us important things that might have come in handy in the ensuing decades, but we were mostly interested in the attractive traders in fancy suits. Oh Terry, may I humbly apologize that you had to put up with us.

This high school trip to New York City was one of the first trips I took without my parents, and would prove an eye opening look at a place I’d previously only known in my mythology. It would be at least five years before I came back to visit, and more than a decade until I moved there, by then my viewpoint was far more jaded and worldly. I’d never see New York City or, in fact, any place with the big eyes and wide open heart I had on this trip. I love this loose leaf scrapbook with the off-focus pictures, typewritered itinerary, and treasured playbills for the story it tells about my grandNew York adventure.