A Big Turkey in the Big Apple

1 Dec

A few summers ago I was a Recreation Coordinator for a company that provided international students an alternative summer vacation—a chance to live, learn, and explore the city of Chicago. I spent my days with high school students from mostly Spain and Italy, guiding them around the city so dear to my heart.

            On the day one of my favorite Spanish groups was set to depart, their travel leader left me a note. In it, she wrote that while traveling and seeing new places is an amazing feat, nothing compares to the people you meet and who touch your heart on your travels. That, she said, is why she travels, and why she loves it so.

            This year I spent 15 of Thanksgiving’s 24 hours roaming around the streets of New York. My pals and I hopped on a Greyhound in Pittsburgh at 10:30pm Wednesday night, arriving in the Big Apple at 5:15am Thanksgiving morning. After brushing our teeth in the bus station we booked it to the parade route, securing our front row seats for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

            The great part about something as magical as a holiday parade is that as time passes and you look back on the day, you remember the confetti, the floats, the cheer, the music. You don’t remember the numbness of your toes and the wind blowing across your face. So even though, when we calculate the grand total, we were on 42nd and 7th for nearly 7 hours, the cold is a passing thought in my memory bank when I think of all the joy that the parade brought. There’s just something about being right there in the middle of the magic that makes your spirit fly—everyone was jolly and full of life, rosy cheeks and all.  

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After the parade, we grabbed some New York pizza and defrosted our feet, then set off and explored all that we could in the next few hours: Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Public Library, Grand Central Station, 5th Avenue and Rockefeller Plaza. We then booked it through Central Park to Upper Manhattan, where three strangers had us over for a Thanksgiving dinner. After dinner we hopped in a cab, went back to Rockefeller Plaza, walked to Times Square where we wobbled right in the middle of the madness, then kicked it back to the bus that carried us home all through the night. A whirlwind indeed—but a magical one.

Despite the utter joy that the parade and the excitement of the city brought, I think my Spanish friend was right. The people I was with and who I met along the way were the real meat and potatoes (turkey and mashed, if you will), of the trip.

During the four hours we waited for the parade to begin, I struck up a conversation (naturally) with the man standing next to me. His name was Gary, and he was there all the way from central Canada. Watching the parade was on his bucket list, and he decided to get up get out and just go. Gary and I chatted about all kinds of things—from his grandchildren, to his 3D television, to traveling, to his love for all things Snoopy—and  he was a delightful man to share a parade with. And after hearing we are volunteers, he even offered to give us a little cash to support the rest of our trip. After much reflection, I’m convinced that Gary just might be Santa Claus, and he’s from a little farther “up north” than central Canada.

Speaking of good people, let me tell you about a few more we met. Thursday afternoon our Thanksgiving feast was prepared  by a hostess that not one of us knew personally. Her brother is Amy’s co-worker, and they discovered in a conversation last week that they were both going to be in New York for the holiday. So he, his sister, and their friend—no questions asked—invited the four of us to a delicious dinner. We walked in the door as strangers, became friends, and by the end of the meal were snapping group photos—just like family.

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I would be remiss, when discussing the goodness that surrounded me on Thanksgiving, if I failed to mention my wonderful traveling companions. Words fall short when I try to comment on what my community means to me. Our theme for the day was Up for Anything (“UFA!”), and we were. Spirits were high, happiness was in the air, and two overnight buses didn’t slow us down. Those kids make me a better person, and they were the real Thanksgiving gift to me this week.  

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One Response to “A Big Turkey in the Big Apple”

  1. Annie Hayes December 2, 2013 at 4:43 am #

    Wow, sounds like an adventure. Wait, sounds like Ligas. Naturally 🙂

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