Chapter 4, The East Coast Mother-Son Odyssey

I didn’t think chaperoning 24 teenagers could be so much fun. Some of it is the crisp, cold air and lots of walking and riding subways in New York City. Some of it was just the pleasures of the day. We went uptown near Columbia University to the neighborhood where the Heritage Music Festival would be held. We had reservations at a little hole in the wall Southern restaurant where our group filled the whole place. We were the only customers for lunch.  We feasted on a buffet of fried chicken, fried catfish, ribs, black eyed peas and dirty rice, collard greens, cornbread, macaroni and cheese and even a token salad! For dessert, there was a choice of the best sweet potato pie I’ve had in years and peach cobbler. And after we ate all of that—by far the best food of the trip so far, Drew got up on a table and offered a song from the choir as a tip. They stood up in their jeans and tee shirts, their tank tops and skirts, and sang for their lunch. The restaurant people loved it—and us.

 

That’s when I realize what a phenomenal job Drew Lewis did organizing this trip. Most of the other choirs attending this festival were traveling in tour buses, staying in set hotels with a preplanned itinerary. Drew, for less money than the Festival organizers were charging, got us a great hotel in Times Square, has exposed the kids to all kind of food and a great range of urban experiences—two Broadway shows, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (tomorrow), subway riding, walking through the city, free time to explore and shop. The kids are not as controlled and contained and they’re getting a real feeling for New York City.

 

One girl said to me today, “I’ve bought my sweatshirt and I want to go home,” but most of them are having a really good time. Mostly, I love their connection and loyalty to each other. These are teenagers who are enjoying their lives, their school, their music and each other.

Both the chamber choir and the jazz choir competed in the Festival today and we came away with a tie for first place gold in one category and a gold second in another.  We were all proud of them. They sound really good. Now in addition to the watch they gave him as a present, Drew has two huge plaques to lug around.

After the awards ceremony, we went on pretty gross Circle Line tour of the city, seeing Manhattan from the water. The boat went REALLY FAST around Manhattan and circled the Statue of Liberty and while we did it, we ate really bad food. The inside of the ship was really, really hot and the air on the deck was so freezing you could only stand out there for a few minutes, max. Upstairs there was a dance party for the teenagers (we were on a ship with a number of other choirs). A constant loud, pulsing beat drowned out everything else throughout the evening. Even our kids said the music was too loud.

At first, they mostly gathered downstairs or in uncomfortable knots upstairs, but by the end of the night, they were upstairs dancing, too. Mostly they said the kids from New York just jumped up and down. When I went up there, all I saw was a huge mass of leaping, writing, jumping teenagers. The scary part for those of us sitting below, all the chaperones and various choir conductors, was that the faux ceiling tiles, in fact the whole ceiling was visibly bouncing up and down along with the kids. It looked like it was about to cave in at any moment. It was hard not to remember the collapse of soccer stadiums, those kinds of huge disasters where crowds of people are crushed to death. But there was nowhere else for us to go, so we sat and stared at the pulsing ceiling and prayed as we introduced ourselves to the other adults around us who were also staring fearfully at the ceiling.

When the dancing was over, one of the girls came down, all sweaty, and said, “That was better than any of the Kirby dances.”

“Why?” I asked. “Because there were tons of people I didn’t know. The only thing that would have made it perfect is if it had been pitch black.”

When we docked to the Pier, some of our people taxied back to the hotel. I was part of a huge group who walked. Tomorrow, we go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the morning. Then I’m going to take a small group of theatre die-hards to see an extra Broadway show during our free time in the afternoon. We all want to see Billy Elliot, but we couldn’t find tickets online cheaper than $120 per ticket. So we’re going to show up at the box office tomorrow an hour before show time and see what happens. And then there’s always the half price ticket booth and we can see what else is available at the last minute. I wouldn’t mind seeing the revival of West Side Story. And there’s Hair. And In the Heights. I’m sure we’ll find something.

Now it’s time for bed. I took a shower to get the grime of that disgusting boat off of me. I’m going to post this and get my six hours of sleep for the night…

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