Man, I Hate Stairs

After graduating from community college, my sister and I planned out a trip to cover as much of Europe as we possibly could, using the least amount of money. This meant backpacks, hostels, and eleven-hour train rides, stuck in a compartment with four other people, knees touching and whistling the hours away. But that’s a story for another time.

The first stop on our tour was Paris, France, the city of romance. Though, perhaps not so much when you’re traveling with your sister.

Now, the thing to know about my sister and me, is that we love the outdoors. If we’d been raised by wolves, we still wouldn’t be able to love it more. We spent our youth trekking through forests and finding new and exciting challenges, which in Paris, manifested as the Eiffel Tower.

The other thing to know about my sister and I, is that we hate standing in lines. This meant, instead of waiting hours for the elevator to take us up the tower, we decided to pay a quarter of the cost to go up the stairs with the ten or so other maniacs with the same idea. The only problem was that we had nowhere to store our backpacks.

1,600 stairs is a whole lot harder with two weeks’ worth of clothes and toiletries, and travel guides out the yin-yang on your back.

To say we were a little bit sweaty is the same as saying the Empire State Building is a little bit tall, and you should be thankful that I’m not including the picture of us we roped an unsuspecting victim into taking as proof that we’d done it. We do have some of the climb on video, but most of the audio is drowned out by my wheezing complaints of, “Are we there yet?”

Nevertheless, we made it up and, after wiping the sweat from our eyes, the view was just as beautiful as foreign indie flicks and love songs had told us it would be. There was life as far as the eye could see and an amazing city skyline beyond that. When you think of Paris, you picture green parks and fountains spelling out ‘Je t’aime, Paris’ with jets of water, but this was the other side. This was the history and the effort of generations to build the city we grow up to admire, and we were finally there to see it.

For a moment, standing hundreds of feet above the ground, nothing else mattered.

But after that, there was the issue of getting back down. Man, I hate stairs.

Make Way for Swan Boats…

Boston is my adopted city. I moved from Long Island/NYC and found my heart in Boston. I love walking through the streets of the city to work in the morning. On this particular morning, I walked by the iconic Boston Swan Boats in the Public Gardens – before they were open for the season.

My mother-in-law introduced me to the Swan Boats when she invited me and each of my young toddlers to a first trip with “Gammy” on the Swan Boats. She introduced all of her 14 grandchildren over the years to the a train ride to Boston and a ride on the boats. And she gave each of the them an accompanying famed Boston children’s book, “Make Way for Ducklings.” On their 50th wedding anniversary, my in-laws were surprised by a total and unprecedented takeover of the Boston Swan Boats by our family so that “Gammy and Papa” could be celebrated, “toasted,” and thanked by all their grandkids ranging in age from 30 to one.

Whenever I pass the Swan Boats, my heart smiles for all the memories. I will share the same tradition someday with my future grandchildren.

One of Those Darned Kids

Nothing quite prepares you for New York, except actually being in New York. As Frank Sinatra once sang, “My little town blues / they are melting away” and that is exactly what happens when you stroll through Times Square at two in the morning and realise New York actually is the city that never sleeps.

Coming from a rural town with a population of no more than 20,000, making my way through this hub of city life was like visiting a foreign country where I understood nothing the locals were saying. It was as though I was six again and the slice of cake on my plate seemed a thousand times bigger. Not even my visits to Los Angeles helped accustom me to the barrage of advertising that assaulted me as I walked down lively streets, doing my part as the out-of-state tourist.

However, I couldn’t help but admit that I loved every second of it. Seeing nightlife that stayed awake past 9pm and meeting people who actually knew theater existed. It was like being back in college, where every night was a party night. It’s not that I am, or ever was, a party-going maniac, but it’s the socialization and meeting people who live beyond the borders of the wasteland I call my hometown.

New York City was it for me. I felt as though I could disappear in the chaos and live in a tiny apartment with noisy neighbors and cars honking outside 24/7. It’s not everyone’s idea of a perfect life, but it’s an experience that everyone should try at least once, if only so it can be a story for the grandkids. Or when you’re waving your cane, yelling at the neighbors to get off your lawn. New York City is one of those darned kids that keeps coming back, just to test your patience.

It’s bold and in-your-face with lights and sounds that drown out the voice of reason in your head, the one that tells you to go back to your hotel because 2am is not a reason to have another drink. Being in New York is like coming home; you walk the walk of the locals and by the end of the weekend, you’re crossing the street based on traffic, not on the street-crossing signal. You bustle with the crowd and acquire a strange accent that makes you sound as though you’re from a sitcom from the 80s.

There’s truly nothing quite like it.

Hot Peppers Shots

It was nice and warm inside so we took off our layers of clothing, and as we got comfortable we began talking about the trip to London. When we finished our first round Larry went to the bar to order another. I lost track of him, talking to Gwen and Audrey.

After a bit I looked up to see Larry talking to two guys at the bar. They reminded me of Ian, my son, about 23 or 24, out for a night on the town. A Jamaican bartender with dreadlocks had joined them in conversation. Then, I saw Larry with a shot in his hand.

Down the hatch! He turned to me and looked like he was on fire. But he turned back to the lads as if nothing had happened. No big deal.

When he returned to the table, I asked, “What was that all about?”

“Southern Comfort, Gin, Vodka, Rum… and the hottest damn pepper I’ve ever tasted. You eat the pepper, then wash it down with the shot.”

Larry soon returned to the bar to order another round. I looked up and he was waving me over.

“Uh Oh,” I thought.

“You’ve got to try one of these pepper shots.”

“Okay.” Did I sound less than confident?

One of the boys called the Jamaican bartender over. “One more of the pepper shots,” he slurred.

I was handed the concoction. “Cheer.”

I bit the pepper and downed the shot. It was hot, very hot… But I wasn’t going to let anyone know it.

“That was good,” I said casually putting down my glass.

Our two hosts looked astounded. “Fuckin’ Yanks!”

Larry had a hard time keeping a straight face. We had kept up America’s honor.