When I was in my early teenage years, I took a trip with my father to New York City. I’m not sure if this particular trip incited my lifelong travel itch, but it certainly did not hurt.
As a part of my dad being a college music professor, he had multiple opportunities for professional development each year. At some point, I started to tag along, and I never stopped. An epic road trip to Madison, Wisconsin, a New Year’s Eve in London, and multiple stops in Manhattan top the list. It was something I looked forward to a couple of times each year.
Just prior to this specific trip to New York, I remember seeing a Taco Bell advertisement for a taco and bean burrito for only $0.99. I remember this vividly because if, as a maybe 13 year old, I could subsist on tacos and bean burritos for the week, all of my other money I had saved could be used for whatever I pleased.
During the day, my dad had conferences, and I was free to roam the city. This certainly began my love affair with the city, as I explored every nook and cranny that my Taco Bell-fueled body could find. I preferred to walk, but sometimes I would take the subway or a taxi if my destination was too far away. The touristy places were cool, but I preferred the gritty, off the beaten path spots (still do, #abk). I loved the act of exploring. I loved the way it made me feel. I loved looking up at hundreds of windows in a skyscraper and wondering who was behind them and what they were doing. It was the introduction to a massive, limitless world for a small-town boy.
On one particular day, my dad and I were going to meet for dinner. He had conferences all day and then a meeting or concert that night, so there was only a short window for us to meet. As such, we agreed to meet at 5pm at a very specific location at Rockefeller Center, with one caveat. If either of us got tied up for whatever reason and couldn’t make that time and place, by 5:15, we were free to go our separate ways and simply meet back at the hotel later that evening. Looking back, we must have missed each other by three minutes, but nevertheless, we didn’t connect.
On the one hand, I was devastated. I was looking forward to dinner in the city with my dad. On the other hand, I had money burning a hole in my pocket from my Taco Bell savings, and I had the greatest city in the world at my fingertips.
One of my favorite Christmas movies is Home Alone 2, and many of my favorite scenes happen at The Plaza Hotel (“You know, Herbert Hoover once stayed on this floor. The vacuum guy?”) Just a few blocks up Fifth Avenue from where I was currently standing that night, curiosity and opulence started calling my name. So I turned Uptown and started walking. When I arrived, it was still way too early for the dinner crowd, so I was able to snag a table for one in the corner. I drank free water, ordered a $50 steak with the accompanying four sauces (bernaise, etc.), and chowed down as the staff looked on perplexed. I would have loved to have had a dining companion, but it was a unique and memorable experience nonetheless. I grabbed a box of “The Plaza” matches (which I still have) on my way out, then moseyed back to our less fancy hotel to meet my dad.
Dad, you are not going to believe where I just ate…
To this day, it still fascinates me that a minute here and a minute there would have completely changed this story. Would we have gone to The Plaza together, or would we have done something completely different? Who knows? Thus is the wonderful, mysterious nature of life.
But I do know this. I owe my dad a meal in some shape or another. Hopefully we can do that soon. A fat, juicy steak would be my preference (and probably his), but if that doesn’t work out, I guess there’s always Taco Bell?
(All of my pictures of this trip are hard copies. They are in my scrapbook. My scrapbook currently resides somewhere in the deepest depths of Mississippi.)
Have a great week.-Benj
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