Monthly Archives: December 2012

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Bringing Hope Home Delivers Christmas Gifts to Cancer Patients

 

Bringing Hope Home brings joy to families in Greater Philadelphia.

This became very clear to me as I spent a few hours on December 19, 2012 volunteering with this Wayne, PA organization whose mission is to financially care for families of cancer patients.  This week they are busy gathering, wrapping, and distributing gifts donated by corporations to dozens of families.  I had the pleasure to meet Paul, Loren, and Amy on December 6 when we scheduled Chad and I to deliver presents tomorrow, December 20.  However, I enjoyed the opportunity to help wrap gifts a day early as well.

I was impressed when I arrived how well things were organized.  They had signs hanging on the wall outside about a dozen offices that were currently vacant in the office complex where their office is located.  Each sign indicated that the gifts in the room were for a particular geographic region.  Inside the room were signs on the wall for each family in that region.  A printout detailed what the family asked for on their “wish list” for Christmas.  On the floor under the sign for the family were the presents purchased by corporations.  The gifts included scarves, gloves, boots, sweat pants, jackets, shirts, electronics, toys for boys and girls, and much more.

My first responsibility was to check the wish list of the family of a cancer patient with the actual presents purchased.  I then joined the folks from The O’Connor Group as we wrapped the presents.  It is my understanding volunteers will keep working this evening and tomorrow, working to get all the presents wrapped.

Gifts were organized by delivery routes around Greater PhiladelphiaMy hope is the families will be so excited to open their presents they won’t look at the wrapping.  As a friend of mine teased me when I shared the photo of what I had wrapped, my work looked like “a man had wrapped the presents.”  If you look carefully at the enlarged photo there are tears in the wrapping and tape everywhere.  Hey, I tried.

May God bless each of the families who receive these gifts.  May God bless all those who took the time and spent the money to purchase the gifts.  May God bless Bringing Hope Home and for the fine work they do in the community.

Tomorrow – Chad and I deliver the presents.

What on earth will Chad and I be like this time next year?

If what we experienced today delivering gifts with Paul Isenberg, Executive Director of Bringing Hope Home, is anything like what we will experience engaging in the wonderful work of organizations like his around the country, Chad and I will simply be changed men!  It puts the world in a whole new perspective!

Paul Isenberg shares a moment with Barbara and a family memberHow does it not shake up your life to watch Barbara, a woman who is a resident of an economically depressed neighborhood in North Philadelphia, just diagnosed with serious advanced stage cervical cancer, cry with joy as she received Christmas presents for her family?  This was genuine need.  This was genuine appreciation.  This was the true meaning of Christmas. This was thanks to the work of all those who have embraced the mission of Bringing Hope Home.

As we stood in Doris’ living room in a row home in South Philadelphia, listening to her describe how her cancer has spread from her lung to other organs, you could see the genuine love emanating from Paul.  He was humble. He invited the woman and her family into his “family”.  He asked her about her other needs.  He wanted to know how he can help  financially and how he could help make connections with top-notch medical care.  This man cares.  Why shouldn’t he?  He experienced his wife lose her battle with cancer nine years ago, a loss that led to the creation of this organization.

The toys that were delivered to the young children today will probably be broken before New Year’s Eve.  However, the gift of compassion that Bringing Hope Home brought to the families of Doris and Barbara will last a lifetime!

Paul Isenberg with Barbara and her family

There are so many movies with happy endings at Christmas.  The magic.  The Hollywood scripts that no one believes could ever be true.  However, what I witnessed today made the last scene of It’s A Wonderful Life look very believable!

Hey, everyone, Chad and I didn’t deserve the thank you’s we received from Doris and Barbara today.  I hopefully redirected them to the man and his wonderful organization who really made it happen.  We were just two men carrying presents from the car to the inside of the homes!

Thank you God for the Christmas present!  Christmas is real!

One More Thought

Yesterday, I wrapped presents at Bringing Hope Home.  It was truly a pleasure to work with the staff and volunteers in the office.  However, it was quite something else to actually deliver the presents.

With the driving we did through the streets of both North and South Philadelphia, it felt almost as physically exhausting as our drive to Morgantown, WV.  As touching as it was to watch Bringing Hope Home in action, we also were “touched” by the traffic in Philly, especially that not so lovely woman who shoe-horned her U-Haul into the one foot space between our bumper and Paul’s car in front of us.

It is easy to write “we delivered gifts” today.  That makes it seem so easy, doesn’t it?  Well, it wasn’t so easy.  Our adventure included the traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway at rush hour, meandering through narrow streets following a GPS, and ten thousands traffic lights.

What struck me today was how difficult the job of a charity really is.  The people who work in charities really do hard work.  I’m certain there are many days they feel overwhelmed and would like nothing better than to go home and relax.  However, they love the people they care for and that love helps them through all the tedious tasks that don’t get the appreciation of others.

Paul worked hard today finding the homes of these families – a labor of genuine love.  I hope everyone understands that – not just for Bringing Hope Home but also for all the charities.


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Christmas Celebration at The Bridge Academy in Coatesville PA

Coatesville, PAGramazin was invited this evening to the Christmas party at The Bridge Academy inCoatesville, PA.

Coatesville is a community along US Rt. 30 between Philadelphia, PA and Lancaster, PA, just a few miles east of the the second largest Amish community in the US.  The community prospered in the first half of the 20th century with the success of Lukens Steel.  However, the community has fallen on hard economic times in the last 50 years.  According to The Bridge Academy website, Coatesville is plagued by a crime rate that is 220% above the national average.

From The Bridge Academy website:

The Bridge Academy and Community Center uses the creative arts, education and community projects as a means to build relationships with our community, and to educate, serve, and impact the community. The BACC was established in 2002 with three themes:education, creative arts, and community projects, with the focus primarily on low income youth and adults. The Bridge Academy believes these three areas can significantly impact the well-being of a child’s life. Our programs are free of cost to any child or adult.

Another mural at The Bridge AcademyEach week consists of afterschool programs that are geared to educate students. The Bridge Academy strives to see all students excel through assistance with homework, educational classes, and one-on-one tutoring. Monday through Thursday, the BACC runs afterschool programs that address specific needs.

The Homework Clubs and Teen Nights are the most attended programs with over 80 participating each week. It meets three nights a week and is run by volunteers; it includes a full meal, creative arts, physical activities, and homework. Each summer, The Bridge Academy runs its Summer Learning Program in which 50 children participate. Through a strategic partnership, the BACC is able to provide equestrian leadership to students who display leadership qualities.

The Bridge Academy also holds annual events with an aim to reach the larger community. The Book Bag Drive, which is held in August, helps families provide book bags, school supplies, and information for the coming school year. This event is well attended and hopes to encourage children and families to pursue
education.

One of the high school staff members in the new kitchen at The Bridge AcademyThis was the first Gramazin Journey event I attended without Chad.  Chad was busy studying for exams at Millersville University.  I arrived at The Bridge Academy around 6 pm.  The academy is housed in a former church on a residential street only a few blocks from downtown Coatesville.  Tyler Changaris, the Assistant Director, took me on a tour of the facility.  The facility has a computer lab, a workshop, a beautiful new and very large kitchen, a craft room that was bursting with gifts for the children, and the large meeting room which used to be the sanctuary of the church.

The staff and adult volunteers got ready for the influx of 3rd to 5th graders that burst in the door at 6:30.  First on the agenda was a Sloppy Joe meal with chips, juice, cookies, and cup cakes.  The meal was served by teens and enjoyed by the children, staff, volunteers, and guests.

The children enjoyed the puppet show at The Bridge AcademyAfter the meal, the children enjoyed a puppet show put on by five or six child puppeteers.  The theme of the puppet show was to help neighbors in need clean up their house just for the pleasure of being kind to others.

Next, it was time for games.  The adults helped removed the tables and chairs.  Volunteers from a local church led the children in games that included Santa Says, relay races putting on clothes and rushing for candy canes, and stop when the music stops (forgot the name of the game).

The evening concluded with a talk to the children about the Christmas story in the gospel of Luke.  The children received gifts donated by other organizations.

What struck me most this evening was the joy everyone seemed to have.  The children really seemed to enjoy being there.  They clearly felt at home.  There was laughter and very willing participation in the activities. I looked at each of the children and could not detect facial expressions or the body language of kids who would rather have been somewhere else.

It is very obvious Jordan Crans, the Director, and Tyler Changaris, the Assistant Director, truly love their work (Josh Crans, who is also Director, had another engagement this evening).  They both clearly knew each of the kids personally and related well with them, as did other members of the staff.  This is a very well managed facility. The parents seemed truly appreciative of the work the organization is doing with their children.

Thank you The Bridge Academy, for bringing hope to children and families in Coatesville, PA and to readers across the US.

Cookies for The Bridge Academy Christmas celebrationCookies for The Bridge Academy Christmas celebration The children play games at The Bridge AcademyThe children play games at The Bridge Academy
Gifts for the children at The Bridge AcademyGifts for the children at The Bridge Academy Jordan Crans, Director of The Bridge AcademyJordan Crans, Director of The Bridge Academy
The kiln for pottery at The Bridge AcademyThe kiln for pottery at The Bridge Academy Mural at The Bridge AcademyMural at The Bridge Academy
The Christmas story shared with The Bridge AcademyThe Christmas story shared with The Bridge Academy Another mural at The Bridge AcademyAnother mural at The Bridge Academy
The Bridge Academy nameThe Bridge Academy name The children enjoyed the puppet show at The Bridge AcademyThe children enjoyed the puppet show at The Bridge Academy
The children enjoyed the puppet show at The Bridge AcademyThe children enjoyed the puppet show at The Bridge Academy One of the high school staff members in the new kitchen at The Bridge AcademyOne of the high school staff members in the new kitchen at The Bridge Academy
The stained glass at The Bridge AcademyThe stained glass at The Bridge Academy Alvin, one of the volunteers at The Bridge AcademyAlvin, one of the volunteers at The Bridge Academy
A mural at The Bridge AcademyA mural at The Bridge Academy The workshop for the students at The Bridge AcademyThe workshop for the students at The Bridge Academy
Coatesville, PAA blurry nighttime photo of downtown Coatesville, PA

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Exodus Transitional Community of Harlem NY Brings Hope to the Formerly Incarcerated

Part One – Downtown Manhattan

9-11-memorial Several years ago, Chad had spent a week serving the homeless at the Bowery Mission in New York City.  Today was his first return to the city.  However, I believe it has been 18 years since my last visit.  In 1993 and 1994, I visited Manhattan frequently, providing computer training on behalf of my employer to dozens of companies from mid-town to downtown.  I had always enjoyed my trips to New York and I was excited to return today.

My purpose for visiting New York City was different this time.  When I had last stepped foot on Manhattan, Chad was only 3 or 4 years old.  I had yet to experience the adversity of divorce and my value system was much different than it is now.  As part of the Gramazin Journey, today we were heading to the Exodus Transitional Community in Harlem, NJ to meet the folks who minister to those who were formerly incarcerated.

We arrived at the Trenton Transit Center in Trenton, NJ just moments before the double-decked train left for New York City.  It was a dreary morning in the Mid-Atlantic region, with mist and fog not only obscuring the scenery of downtown Trenton but also suggesting Chad and I would have a rather gloomy travel experience in the Big Apple.

Back in 90s, I often visited the World Trade Center complex.  I have a very clear memory of the long escalator from the PATH train from New Jersey up to the shopping complex underneath the towers.  I remember the elevators that rushed me up to whatever floor I was visiting in either the North or the South towers.  Specifically, I remember the 78th floor sky lobby in the South Tower.  There was an escalator up from that lobby to the reception area of Fuji Bank, where I can clearly recall sitting in a sofa right next to the windows, looking far down to the street below and looking across at the upper floors of the North Tower.

It is my understanding the plane that hit the South Tower on 9-11 struck that very same sky lobby, destroying in an instant the offices I had visited at Fuji Bank.  I can visualize looking out the windows of that lobby and seeing a plane heading right for me.  I have often wondered how many people I visited in the towers, rode elevators with, or passed by in either of the two lobbies who would become victims of 9/11 seven or eight years later.

One World Trade Center Just as I did two weeks ago when Chad and I visited the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, PA, I felt I had to begin our day in New York City by paying respects to the many innocent victims who perished on 9-11.  My heart goes out to the victims and their families and I would love Gramazin to do our part to help the families continue to heal and recover.  I am confident there are thousands of inspirational stories of 9-11 that would be such a blessing to publish on Gramazin.

There is something very inspiring about One World Trade Center.  It is about recovery.  It is about healing.  It is about the determination of the human spirit to overcome adversity and enjoy a better tomorrow.  Though it was disappointing to not be able to see the top of the building because of the low clouds, the building looks beautiful anyway, a testimony to what each one of us can achieve when we decide to rebuild our shattered lives.  We can all become an inspirational story.

Chad and I were accosted by a street vendor who was determined we would purchase a book about the attack.  The price “amazingly” shrunk from $ 20 to $ 5 with each “No thank you” that we offered.  While we never did purchase the book, the vendor had me thinking about it each time he said “See that picture in the book?  That’s that over there.”

Charles at the New York Stock Exchange Since we could board the subway that would take us to the Exodus Transitional Community at Wall Street, I suggested to Chad we take the short walk over and see what still remains, at least for the immediate future, the financial capital of the world.  We took a few pictures of the New York Stock Exchange, Trinity Church, and the bull statue.

We also made an attempt to view the Statue of Liberty.  However, the fog reduced our visibility of the harbor and we were disappointed.  We did see the globe in Battery Park that used to be in the World Trade Center complex.

As I wrote on my visit to Philadelphia  a month or two ago, it is important to capture the stories of real people we encounter on our trip across America.  A woman was attempting to take the elevator from the street down to the subway.  She was mumbling but not entirely incoherently.  She saw a group of about 30 tourists and she shouted over them – “Are you protesting something?  What are you protesting?  I’ll join you!”  There is something about her that is intriguing to me.  What made her so eager to protest?  She must have a great deal of bitterness in her heart.  If only I had attempted to talk with her.

As we waited to cross State Street in the Battery Park area, there was a young man talking on his cell phone who was angry!  Angry!  You could hear him shouting 100 yards away, telling whomever he was speaking to that he has had enough with “her” and he “hates her”, clearly with a fervor.

World Trade Center Sphere in Battery Park Given what we will experience in part two of our story at the Exodus Transitional Community, it just makes you think.  What will that angry young man be like in 5 years?  Will he be incarcerated?  Or will be be a man filled with compassion, wanting to extend love to others because of the love he has encountered in his life?  It will take at least two people to change his angry heart – himself, as he needs to make good choices, and someone else who decides to love him unconditionally.

Part Two – Exodus Transitional Community

Alright.  I will be candid. When we walked out of the subway in Harlem at 125th street after our ride from Wall Street, I noticed that there were not too many “white folks” walking around, kind of understating the truth.   This wasn’t Morgantown, WV or even Baltimore, MD!  A scene from Harlem in the James Bond movie “Live and Let Die” came to mind.  Chad and I didn’t talk about the “risks”, risks that were kind of authenticated when someone who had done some serious prison time at the Exodus Transitional Community spoke to us later about how much he used to ”hate white people”.  We just took the subway there and walked the two blocks, trusting that we were making connections God wanted us to make and we would be fine.

Exterior of Exodus Transitional Community I share this because it is an important point to make.  It is our nature as humans to be afraid of others, especially those who are different from us.  We tend to surround ourselves with people who are like us because it is safer and doesn’t take us out of our comfort zone.  However, that results in discrimination (and hatred) in our society and the separation of people groups.    We avoid being compassionate to others because we fear them!  We avoid being compassionate to others because we judge them!  We avoid being compassionate to others because we don’t take the time to understand them and get to know them!

I could name a few people I know who would have most likely counseled Chad and I it’s not a good idea to be “white people” walking around Harlem, New York.  Had we sought their advise and listened to it, we would have lost out on a beautiful experience meeting the wonderful people of Exodus Transitional Community in Harlem, NY!

As we approached the facility, we noticed two men were waiting on the sidewalk to greet us.  Reflecting back on that small act of consideration for Chad and I, it really reflected the spirit of the people we were about to meet.  Courteous, thoughtful, friendly, kind, and organized!  Of course someone would be waiting at the front door.  That’s the kind of things people like this do for strangers!

Front door of Exodus Transitional Community We were struck right away by the welcoming art and messages on the stairs.  If I was someone who had just been released from prison, I would want to come to a happy place, a place of hope, and a place where I would feel warmly welcomed and invited into their place.  Exodus Transitional Community achieves that warm greeting with how they have designed their stairs.

The organization has two floors above what I guess is a grocery store.  Honestly, no offense intended to the store owner, I never noticed what type of store was on the first floor.  However, the second and third floors are clean, organized, colorful, and bright.  That same welcoming feeling you get on the stairs continues throughout the rest of the facility.

Readers, please do not underestimate the amount that Chad and I were impressed by the friendliness of the people in this organization!  My word!  We felt we had a whole new family in a matter of minutes!  Smiles. Warm handshakes. “Can I get you anything?”  I’m not just talking one or two people.  I’m talking all of the 10-15 people we met!

Exodus Transitional Community stairsHey, I’m not entirely ignorant.  I’m sure there are tense moments in the organization.  I’m sure there must be people who don’t have great experiences with them.  Nobody is perfect and no organization is either.  Maybe Chad and I were bedazzled by public relations savvy.  If so, sign this crew up for your next PR project!  They are good at what they do!  However, you could see it as the minutes passed – there is genuine love for others and one another in this place.  The family atmosphere was legitimate and real!  I’m ready to call them all my brothers and sisters!

Diana Ortiz, the associate director, is an inspiring woman.  She courageously shared  with Chad and I a DVD documentary that was made about her story.  Diana was an unwitting accomplice in a murder of an off-duty police officer when she was 18 years of age.  For her crime, Diana spent over 20 years in prison.

The documentary of Diana OrtizShe has clearly changed her life around.  I was most impressed by both her warmth and her professionalism, as she kept Chad and I on a tight schedule of planned meetings and even a class we could sit in on.  If you have reason to do business with Exodus Transitional Community and you end up interacting with Diana, I am confident you will enjoy your experience.

A series of interviews were scheduled for Chad and I.  Staff and, I believe, clients were brought in to talk to us.  They were all dressed professionally, some with jackets and ties.  I don’t remember all their names, for which I apologize, but I remember the impact they all had on me.  Friendly.  Full of hope for a better life.  Willing to work hard to make changes.  These people, multi-racial from both genders, both young and not-so-young, educated and not educated, all deserve our support, prayers, and our help.  They want to break free from the cycle of destruction and prison and be a source of good in our society.

Diana Ortiz and Chad WagnerWe were then invited into a class that was already in session.  The class met around a large board room table and Chad and I were invited to take the front seat.  The class was led by Gregory Frederick, an adjunct professor at NYU and a former incarcerated person himself.  This man is passionate about the transformation of individuals and he is confident in how that transformation occurs.

Highlights from his teaching included:

  • Courage and desperation are very close to each other
  • We have four basic needs – to live, to love and be loved, to feel important (to matter), and to experience change
  • We have core beliefs from which we make rules which then impacts our behavior which then causes consequences for us.  For example, if I believe society owes me, I might have a rule that I should have the same things others have.  I then take action to rob a store which has the consequence of prison.  I might commit that crime to live (need money to buy food), to love (be accepted by the gang), to feel important (power over the victims), and to experience change (boredom with current circumstances).
  • Look at an acorn.  Tiny. But, if you properly nurture it, it can become a large oak tree.  Make the right decisions, take the right actions, and your life can become a big oak tree, giving shade and comfort to others.
  • ACORN – Accept your situation, make the right Choices, get Organized, live Responsibly, and Nurture the right relationship
  • A dream of a better life must be put on the calendar – todo lists!
  • There are six key components to a life – education, relationships, employment, spiritual, health, and community

Gregory Frederick teaching class at Exodus Transitional CommunityDelicious dessert prepared by JeanThe classroom atmosphere was one of sharing, support, and listening to each other’s stories.  One woman shared with tears how her father was being buried the very same day in Puerto Rico.  She was not allowed to leave the country for his funeral because, I believe, of her record as a felon.

The following verses come to my mind as I write about this woman.  Regardless of who you think Jesus Christ was, his message of compassion for those in prison is timeless.  We serve God when we are compassionate to those who are in prison and who were formerly incarcerated.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me,I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  Matthew 25:35-40

Jean, the awesome cookAlright, so Jean committed a crime of some kind and she was in jail from 1984 to 2006.  I honestly don’t remember what she did to end up being in jail.  Must have been quite serious.  All I could see in her was a loving woman who loved touching others lives by cooking!  She is one awesome cook too, learning to cook in prison!  Chad and I, as well as everyone else, enjoyed chicken and rice and I think sweet potatoes.  She made a chocolate cake which I am told was delicious too (chocolate and I don’t get along so I avoid it).

Speaking for the Formerly Incarcerated

I want to share with readers a few thoughts from my experience talking with the people we met today.

  • Believe in me!  I want to change!  I need your help! Honestly everyone, society has only one choice with respect to the formerly incarcerated – help them change!  Believe in them!  Think about what your fears and avoidance of them does to our More of the Exodus Transitional Community teamsociety.  We neglect them and they don’t get the help they are pleading for.  In desperation  they become repeat offenders.  For those who are worried about taxes spent on “career criminals”, imagine the money that our society could save if you had given them a chance when they were eager to change their lives!  Hire them for even the most menial of jobs if that’s all you can offer.  Many will be eager to prove themselves even with the smallest opportunity!  Give them an internship, helping them build up a resume!  Coach them and mentor them!  Can you imagine all the anxieties and insecurities someone coming out of prison has?  Think about it.  Imagine even the shock of going into prison in 1990 and coming out 20 years later and everyone has a mobile phone!  Our society changes rapidly, leaving these people far behind.  Help them adjust to society!  Get involved – teach them, volunteer, listen to them.
  • Forgive them!  It could have been you and I in their place!  Bob and George are souls in heaven, both equal, waiting to be placed into earthly bodies and families.  Bob is put into an upper-middle class family that is financially secure and functional.  The parents love each other and their is a strong network of family.  Bob ends up being educated at a nice college and ends up with a good career.  He meets a girl in college and they settle down and have a nice family.  Bob never has one brush with the law.  George, on the other hand, ends up in a dysfunctional family.  His earthly father ran away while George was still in his mother’s womb.  His mother is desperate for love and gets involved with a drug abuser who ends up beating George when he was a child.  George knows hunger and poverty and feels desperate   One day, he steals some food from a grocery store.  You get the rest of the story.  Bob and George could have been assigned the opposite families.  George might be the person with the college degree and a good career while Bob is walking the streets in hunger, committing crime.  Honestly, what would you do if everything was taken from you?  Everything!  Are we really all that different from those who end up in prison?  Honestly?  Forgive them and please be compassionate!

The message leaving Exodus Transitional CommunityUpon the conclusion of lunch and warm goodbyes, it was time for Chad and I to leave and do a little New York City sightseeing (part 3).

Please visit their website at http://www.etcny.org/

Part Three – Mid-Town Manhattan

Chad and I left Exodus Transitional Community feeling good.  This is what the Gramazin Journey is about – making connections with people around the country who want to change their lives and help others change their lives.

We took the subway up to Yankee Stadium, just to take some photos.  Truthfully, it is far more my goal than it is Chad’s to visit as many professional sports stadium as possible on our nationwide trip.

The thing is that I have lost much of my interest in professional sports over the past decade.  Perhaps it is 40+ years of being generally disappointed by being a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers, Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia Phillies, and Philadelphia 76ers.  However, I think what really changed in me was the season of adversity I have experienced over the past 10 years.  When you fight for survival day-by-day, when you battle discouragement every hour for a very long time, some things just seem more meaningless…such as professional sports.  Who cares if your team wins or loses when you feel your life is in tatters?

Charles visiting Yankee StadiumHowever, despite this perspective on professional sports, I still have the crazy desire to visit as many stadiums as possible across America.  In fact, if it didn’t cost $ 40 for a tour of Yankee Stadium, I would have bent Chad’s arm to take the stadium tour that was to start within 5 minutes of our visit to the stadium.  Oh, well.

Imagine.  You are on a people-packed subway car riding back to mid-town Manhattan.  Everyone is minding their own business.  At one of the stops, two young boys (perhaps 8 and 6 years old) and an older woman step into the car.  The two boys are wearing Santa Claus hats and ties and festive vests.  They are also carrying percussion instruments.

Uh, oh.  This can’t be good.

As soon as the train begins to move, the kids begin to play.  They had rhythm, at least I think so.  However, it just seemed inappropriate.  Talk about a captive audience!  I looked around at the people.  This is New York.  There weren’t oohs and aahs or “isn’t that sweet!”  Maybe that would have played well in the Mid-West.  Instead, there was a corporate look on all the faces of “are you seriously making your kids do this to us, lady?”

One guy couldn’t take it any more.

“Shut the ______  ____!” he screamed.

The failure of any facial expression in the car to chastise the guy for screaming those words was approval of his sentiments.

We wait for a ride on the New York City subway systemHonestly, I kind of felt the kids were being used by the older woman.  She seemed irritated they didn’t bring back any money when they went around the car holding their hats out after their performance.  They didn’t seem to be impoverished.  They seemed well-fed and well-trained – er, like kids would be in a scam.

I don’t know what to say.  Maybe that family really was in need and I should have been generous.  However, please, don’t play percussion instruments to passengers who have no choice on a packed subway car in New York City.  I bet if I started to belt out a song I would have been silenced quickly.  This woman knew her kids would get away with it and I believe took advantage of them and everyone else in the subway car.

We enjoyed our dinner at 5 Boro Burger at 36th and 6thAs a lifelong Philadelphia area resident, I learned in my youth we are supposed to dislike New York.  However, I’ve got to be honest – there is something really special about the city.  There is magic in Mid-Town Manhattan, especially at Christmas time.  Honestly, I’d like to spend more time there, when I didn’t feel so rushed to get everything done in one overcast afternoon.  By the way, if you have a problem with claustrophobia, stay away from Mid-Town Manhattan in the Christmas season!  In areas near the Radio City Music Hall, pedestrians were cramped shoulder to shoulder for block after block.  I know Chad will have more to write about that experience, something he enjoyed less than I did.

Chad and I walked down 59th Street, crossing Park Avenue, Madison Avenue, and 5th Avenue, on the way to Central Park.  We walked down 6th Avenue all the way to 34th Street, taking a brief detour to visit the Christmas tree and ice skating at Rockefeller Plaza.  We enjoyed very tasty hamburgers at Five Boro Burger at 36th and 6th.  Honestly, the staff was a little overwhelmed with the crowd in the restaurant but I’d recommend the food.  We concluded our day in New York by walking 34th Street back to Penn Station where we caught the 6:14 New Jersey Transit train back to Trenton, NJ.

Photos of our visit to Manhattan.

Morning train to New York CityMorning train to New York City Leaving Trenton for New York CityLeaving Trenton for New York City
9-11-memorialThe 9-11 memorial at Ground Zero. One World Trade CenterOne World Trade Center under construction
Charles at the New York Stock ExchangeCharles at the New York Stock Exchange World Trade Center Sphere in Battery ParkWorld Trade Center Sphere in Battery Park
Zuccotti ParkZuccotti Park Federal HallFederal Hall
Plaque about George Washington's inauguration at Federal HallPlaque about George Washington’s inauguration at Federal Hall Christmas tree at New York Stock ExchangeChristmas tree at New York Stock Exchange
New York Stock Exchange at ChristmasNew York Stock Exchange at Christmas Pennsylvania Station and Madison Square GardenPennsylvania Station and Madison Square Garden
Trinity Church graveyardTrinity Church graveyard Wall StreetWall Street
The Bull near Wall StreatThe Bull near Wall Streat West Street, near Ground ZeroWest Street, near Ground Zero
A horse resting at Central ParkA horse resting at Central Park A street scene in New York CityA street scene in New York City
BloomingdalesBloomingdales Chad on top of the rocks in Central ParkChad on top of the rocks in Central Park
Chad visiting Yankee StadiumChad visiting Yankee Stadium Charles looks lost on 6th AvenueCharles looks lost on 6th Avenue
Charles visiting Yankee StadiumCharles visiting Yankee Stadium Christmas decorations near Fox News and CBS on Avenue of AmericasChristmas decorations near Fox News and CBS on Avenue of Americas
Horse drawn carriages in Central ParkHorse drawn carriages in Central Park Ice skaters at Rockefeller CenterIce skaters at Rockefeller Center
Ice skaters in Central ParkIce skaters in Central Park Macy's from vantage point of 34th StreetMacy’s from vantage point of 34th Street
Macy's from vantage point of 6th AvenueMacy’s from vantage point of 6th Avenue NBC in New YorkNBC in New York
Radio City Music HallRadio City Music Hall Skyscrapers viewed from Central ParkSkyscrapers viewed from Central Park
The Christmas tree at Rockefeller CenterThe Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center The Empire State Building, partially obscured by low cloudsThe Empire State Building, partially obscured by low clouds
Times Square between the buildingsTimes Square between the buildings Tunnel in Central ParkTunnel in Central Park
We enjoyed our dinner at 5 Boro Burger at 36th and 6thWe enjoyed our dinner at 5 Boro Burger at 36th and 6th We wait for a ride on the New York City subway systemWe wait for a ride on the New York City subway system

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