Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A long and rambling post about our youth group's trip to NYC

First, I would be remiss if I didn’t start this off by saying that Grace and Peace has the BEST YOUTH GROUP EVER! Those kids just thoroughly impressed me- I’ve never been with a group of teens like this: they didn’t complain, they cooperated with whatever we asked them to do, worked hard, and they threw themselves into enjoying our trip. Wow!

So then... NYC. Yes, we drove. Yes, it’s a long trip. We talked, we sang, we played goofy roadtrip games, and we slept (a lot). Not to mention all the potty stops (can someone please invent a steel-bladder insert for long drives?).

Speaking of stops, Carrie Swarthout is the official ‘Starbucks spotter’ of the century. Thank you, Carrie.  You are my hero!

And the 6 days we spent in New York... I think highlights are more appropriate than a blow-by-blow account.

-We helped our friends, Michael and Roseann Kytka, run a Vacation Bible School at their church in Queens. Mostly neighborhood kids, mostly bilingual, lots of Asians. All the kids just lapped up the attention that our group and the other VBS helpers deluged upon them.  They were so cute!  

-And speaking of cute, one of my 3-year-old students only spoke Japanese. It was fun trying to communicate with her and see her eagerness to learn and participate despite that sturdy language barrier. Her mom was just like all those sweet, female anime personalties that you think really don’t exist: eager to serve, always positive & cheerful- I’ll miss her!  She thought I had moved to NYC and was disappointed when she found out I was leaving.

-The best, best BEST part of the city (in my humble opinion) is Chinatown. Oh my, what fun. What great food. What cheap Chinese souvenirs. Yes, we bought swords, dresses, scarves, bags, whatever else we could get our hands on. I told the kids that of course, it’s all just made in China.... so if I could move anywhere in NYC, I would pick Chinatown. 

-The next best part of the city is the Guggenheim. A museum in which you cannot get lost; it is built in a spiral form, so you just keep walking up, darting off into small ante-rooms that are loaded with exceptional artwork. I bought a t-shirt for me and Malachi, who also fell in love with the place.

-I saw Michaelangelo’s first painting (at the Met). Creepy and excellent. Demons tormenting St. Anthony.  Also a bunch of Bacon’s work, also creepy and excellent.

-Riding the subway is another thrilling experience (yes, I’m easily thrilled). Seriously, it’s a blast for a girl from a ‘big city’ that has no decent public transportation. We actually had a mariachi band follow us on to the train one day and begin to play, walking through the cars and collecting cash. SO COOL!

-Mac Store is as cool in person as it is in pictures. No, we didn’t go inside: the crowds were deadly. Plus, I knew we would never be able to drag the kids out. Better to window shop there and then do the actual buying here.

-David wants to move into the Met and the public library. I just want to see MoMA and Starry Night. 

-We skipped Starbuck’s in Times Square to go to Juan Valdez’s Cafe in Times Square. It was good.

-5th Avenue and Times Square? Overstimulating. Neat to see, but... just not my thing.  Carissa and I ate breakfast at Tiffany’s.... well, we ate granola bars outside the doors.  Is that close enough?

-Coolest thing in Times Square? NYC shut down a street and people bring their lawn chairs to watch the crowds and just relax, while everything around them moves in technicolor top speed. What an odd juxtaposition!

-Only really bad experience: Katz Deli, in Soho. Good food, overpriced ($16 for an ordinary-sized Reuben? WTF?) and then the manager tried to rip us off even more. Long story; I cried, we prayed, we managed to get out for only $250 rather than the $450 she was going to charge us for 14 freaking sandwiches, a few pickles, and 10 knishes. We drank water, btw.

-The Artwork! The Architecture!  Everywhere! Not quite like Chicago, but pretty impressive nonetheless. Even the graffiti is good (unlike St. Louis).

-New Yorkers are a sad bunch of people, chasing money, exhausted, commercialized, over-sexed and under-joyed. They all seem to despise their great city while also loving it. The large exception to this are the abundant immigrants, who were friendly and apparently happy. The people we talked to pretty consistently said that NYC is a huge step up from their previous country. Ouch.

-Ok, I have an embarrassing admission: I appreciated getting back to the Midwest. The rural folk we stayed with in Indiana were the first people I had met all week who were into natural living- composting, fresh food, healthy meat, etc. Again, the New Yorkers are just way too busy to be concerned with those small details.  New York, at least on the surface, struck me as the bastion of Mainstream American Culture. Ugh.

I’m glad I finally got to see this great City. It was a wonderful experience and I hope one day to go back. But honestly... it isn’t even close to my favorite place in the world. However, I really did feel that we brought a little bit of light and joy into a place that is filled with darkness and depression, and that, more than anything else, made it a worthwhile adventure.