New York City. Is there any other city on Earth that has inspired as many songs? And for good reason. What a fabulous place! Several songs were running a loop in my head on the last three days of the Great Chaperoning Adventure of 2012.
Just to recap, in case you've missed previous entries in the chronicles, 32 eighth-graders and seven chaperones set out for Washington, D.C., with the promise of visiting 50 more memorials every day. After seeing everything, and I do mean everything, we made our way from our nation's capital to the Big Apple.
The soundtrack started the moment the New York City skyline came to view from the New Jersey Turnpike. Over the bus' PA system came Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York," followed by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" belted out by the Enthusiastic Leader as we came out of the Lincoln Tunnel.
Once in the city, we picked up our tour guide, Travis, who imparted new energy into the group. He gave the kids safety tips on how not to get hurt, lost or lose something, as well as how to navigating the city, including how to stop a cab from turning into you at a crosswalk by gently placing your hand on the hood and saying with a New York accent, "Hey, I'm walkin' here!"
I began to feel anxiety creeping in, not out of fear for myself, but because I realized that we were about to unleash a group of 32 small town, meandering teenagers, who don't listen to instructions, onto the sidewalks of New York. Keeping track of them in D.C. was just the warm-up. This was game time.
We emptied out of the bus across the street from Central Park. The moment one of my girl's feet hit the pavement, she was spun like a top when she was smacked in the shoulder by a pedestrian walking at speed. Just as quickly, she was hit on the other shoulder and spun the other way. Game on.
Our first time on the subway was more nerve-racking than any roller coaster I've ever ridden. Miraculously, we had 32 getting on and 32 getting off. Didn't lose a single kid! The group, to their credit, adapted quickly to navigating the city, though we did continue taking up the entire width of any sidewalk we were on.
"New York, New York! A helluva town, the Bronx is up, but the Battery's down ..." played in my head over the next three days. Travis led us through the city, giving us the history and legends with great humor and incredible patience: Central Park, Time Square, Radio City Music Hall, Wall Street, the Statue of Liberty and Broadway and the fabulous musical, "Wicked."
We had dinner at a restaurant in Little Italy where you were encouraged by the musician to get on your chair and shake your napkin while singing along, which we did with great enthusiasm. We went to The Top of the Rock at night and saw the twinkling lights of the city below us. We were at Rockefeller Plaza for the "Today" show, waving at the cameras and wearing our Epic T-shirts (thank you Vail Resorts!).
We shopped in Chinatown, where my girls became fantastic hagglers, bargaining down the prices like seasoned pros. It was so impressive that I'm taking one of them with me to negotiate next time I buy a car.
We saw the 9/11 Memorial and the rebuilding of the World Trade Center Complex, truly bringing home the magnitude and tragic reality of that day.
On Ellis Island, one of the girls sprained her ankle exiting a building. After triage on the ferry and being carried by classmates and the Enthusiastic Leader, she was off to the hospital. The same Teacher Chaperone who spent two hours searching through garbage for a student's retainers in D.C. sat for four hours in a NYC emergency room with the injured girl, clinching her bid for Teacher of the Year.
The inclusion of crutches and a wheelchair for the last days of our trip added an element of adventure. I now have mad skills in navigating a wheelchair on the crowded streets of New York. And I got to bust out a variation of Travis' advice, yelling as we crossed crowded streets along Fifth Avenue, "Wheel chair comin' through!"
Are you tired just reading about the trip? Imagine living it. By the end of the sixth day, my neck ached from craning my head around to keep track of everyone. I felt like I had run a marathon; my entire body hurt. All I could think about was getting a massage when I got home. And I was exhausted, but exhilarated.
I heard Billy Joel singing "New York State of Mind" while we drove away from the city to the airport and vowed to return soon. But with 30 or so fewer kids the next time.
Linda Stamper Boyne, of Edwards, can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org.