Seeking Calm In The Biggest City In The World….

I spent Monday with a dear friend wandering around New York City. I’ve always loved spending time in the Big Apple, and this day was no exception. We had no itinerary and no real plans of places to go other than to find the New York Public Library and Library Way. For the most part, our plan was just to wander and be.

You’d think that in a city as large and as loud as New York City it would be difficult to find a place for calm and peace, especially on this day:  the day before this year’s tumultuous Election Day, and one with numerous terror warnings issued as well.

Well, we found not only one but many. And I have been mentally escaping to each amid the post-Election rancor and animosity over the past 36 hours.

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We took an early train and were on the streets exploring before the time our first-period block class would normally end. Ironically enough, fate brought me a chance meeting on 33rd street during rush hour with a very special former student! We talked for a few minutes and then went our separate ways. Within a few minutes, my friend and I were in Bryant Park.

I’ve passed by Bryant Park before but never wandered into it. And I am so glad I did this time.

It was before 9:00 AM as we walked by the boutique shops set up as a part of Bryant Park’s Winter Village, then we soon found ourselves in front of the skating rink. (Sidebar: it’s free admission! And the price to rent skates was very reasonable!)

oc1_20161107_nyc-79There were about 25 or so skaters making their way around the ice rink at that time, some by themselves, some holding the hand of a little one, some couples skating together, some doing advanced spins and jumps in the center of the rink. Jazz music was playing, and each person skating was enjoying their moment on the ice, sans technology and to do list. There was even a man in a suit skating round and round the rink, sometimes passing us by facing forward, sometimes skating backward.

It was a sight to be had, a very peaceful and serene sight so early in the morning. I could have stayed there all day watching this calm and refreshing scene amid the hustle and bustle of the city.

oc1_20161107_nyc-108After a while, we made our way to the next block in hopes of visiting the New York Public Library, but as fate would have it, the main branch was closed for a fund-raiser. At least I got pictures of the front steps where Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, and Ray Stantz ran down in the first part of the original “Ghostbuster” movie. Yes, you can see what motivates me sometimes!

We instead visited a smaller branch of the NYPL across the street. We found the NYPL Collection of Photographs room and perused the pictures in the folder for John Lennon, which we agreed was a great subject considering his rich history with New York City.

oc1_20161107_nyc-175 About 45 minutes later, we left the library and found Library Way. We then spent the next 45 minutes or so taking pictures of each of the literary and library focused bronze markers along the 2-block stretch of 41st Street between Pershing Square and the NYPL main branch.

I found this peaceful yet energizing as I have been writing a novel of my own and needed some inspiration. These quotes from writers such as William Styron, Kate Chopin, Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, and more lit a fire under me, so to speak, and were a push in the right direction for me to get going with my work.

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

At the end of Library Walk, we turned left and took in Grand Central Terminal, another iconic NYC location that I had never visited before. What a beautiful place, so much different than Penn Station. The building was beautiful with marble and brass and good white light everywhere. As I stopped in the main terminal area to take some photographs, it amazed me that with so many people passing by, it wasn’t crazy and chaotic at all. An added bonus was seeing so many people proudly wearing the 2016 New York City Marathon medals, which took place the day before. Here I was surrounded by people from all over the world in one of the busiest locations in the city, yet it was calming, just like what I experienced at Bryant Park’s ice skating rink only two hours earlier.

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

Our bellies were calling, so we went to the dining concourse level and….man! So many places to choose from! We decided upon Shake Shack and were both very pleased with our choice. I was impressed with the friendliness of the staff and the cleanliness of the entire concourse, but that didn’t compare in the slightest with how happy I was with my chocolate milkshake and cheeseburger lunch. So good! And they had crinkle cut fries (my favorite) cooked just right. Again, I looked around to take in where I was at that moment, and still couldn’t believe how peaceful it was despite so many people.

Our day would then take us back through Bryant Park, which was now filled with people, to visit the shops and take in more of the Winter Village atmosphere. Each little store that sold food contributed its own aroma to the wonderful smells that teased my nose and my stomach. More people were skating now, or sitting at a little table enjoying lunch or a coffee, or buying a new pair of gloves, or reading a book to their child in the children’s area, or even demonstrating their juggling skills. It was glorious, a true amalgam of human behaviors all rolled up into one giantly awesome oc1_20161107_nyc-278experience. I was only a watcher, but I was present for each and every moment and observed all that made up the human experience at this moment in time.

My friend and I took our time leaving, then also took our time wandering back towards Herald Square. Upon stopping for a minute outside of Macy’s we looked to our left and there it was, the grand and majestic Empire State Building. Despite the numerous photographs of the building from ground level we have both already taken, we shot a few more to add to our collections.

Then we looked at each other…we had almost two hours to spare until the 3:45 train home, so we decided why the hell not? We played tourist and went to the top of the Empire State Building! It was a great day to do so, as the lines were very reasonable. Again, there were a lot of people with marathon medals around their necks. I congratulated one man from the Netherlands who was here in the USA by himself. That got me thinking…so many people pursuing their dream HERE, a place that’s only like 70 miles or so from where I live. It put a lot into perspective….

oc1_20161107_nyc-371Anyway, we stopped first at the 82nd-floor observatory, which was surrounded by glass. I looked down upon Macy’s Herald Square where we literally were only 30 minutes prior. The glare from the sun on the Freedom Tower side did not lead to great photos, but it was still so awesome to see.

Before long, we then went to the open-air 86th floor. Speechless. I was just speechless. Looking out above almost everything else in sight, the sun lighting up buildings I had walked past earlier in the day…just too awesome for words. I found Bryant Park and that weird building next to it that reminded me of “Spook Central” (Ghostbusters reference again), Madison Square Garden, the George Washington Bridge, and so much more. I tried to find Yankee Stadium with my own eye but couldn’t do so; later on, after I uploaded my photos to my computer, I did find it once I zoomed in.

What sticks with me? Here I was at the top of the Empire State Building, looking down upon millions and millions of people going about their day, and it was quiet, almost silent at times save for the breeze. I thought of people traveling from all over the world to stand in the same location I was standing in because it was an item on their bucket list. I remembered looking from the same vantage point 20+ years ago with my California cousins, the only other time I did so. Why did I not enjoy these sights more often?

I realized how much I do take for granted, and that life is pretty damn good.

When it was time to leave, I purchased an Empire State Building pin from the souvenir store to add to my collection and then we descended back to ground level. Once we got to Penn Station, we stopped at Zaro’s Bakery for our traditional NYC trip cookie and were on the 3:45 train headed home. We remarked how the world was going to change “tomorrow” (election day), and we were thankful to enjoy a day in the city to escape and just be before life changes for all of us.

As I write this, I’m listening to Jazz music, thinking of the skating rink, and my soul is happy.

I’m selecting which pictures to ultimately attach to this post and when I look at each one, I recall the exact minute it was taken…the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the aura of each moment frozen in time yet willing to be experienced again and again.

I’m escaping into calm as my NYC day memories, free from protest and violence, trump the hateful animosity rearing its ugly head minute by minute on my social media feeds (no pun intended?).

Most of all, I’m thankful that I have a friend who loves wandering, observing, and experiencing life as I do. Thank you, friend. 🙂

*** All photographs that are a part of this gallery were taken by me, Jill Ocone, on November 7, 2016 and are copyrighted. It is illegal to reproduce or to take credit for my intellectual property contained on this post. Thank you for your compliance.

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Library Walk
Library Walk
Library Walk
Library Walk
From the top of the Empire State Building
From the top of the Empire State Building

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Always Remember…

Ground Zero Spirit by Thomas Franklin
Ground Zero Spirit by Thomas Franklin

It’s been 15 years since my 4th day of teaching, which was September 11, 2001.

Looking back at the timeline of events on that horrendous day, I can picture exactly where my feet were when each happened.

My first real Journalism lesson of this year was my 9/11 Lesson (last week). The lesson and presentation include video clips of events that transpired on September 11, 2001. It’s an important lesson for many reasons, but mostly, it gives students an idea of exactly how much life changed that day both in the world of journalism and for us all.

I begin by explaining that cell phones didn’t have cameras, bags were not searched at public events, a digital camera with .75 megapixel camera was considered “state of the art,” political correctness hadn’t yet run rampant to the point of being utterly ridiculous, social media did not exist (and wouldn’t for four or so more years) and posts on the Internet by news outlets were updated only once a day.

Even with evidence, it’s hard for them to truly grasp what life was like as we woke up that day, and how quickly things changed. Before I show each clip, I speak about the background and have them watch with an observant eye for details with a chance to respond through both discussion and writing.

One part of the lesson is a documentary titled “Witness to History,” created by photographer Thomas Franklin in 2011. He’s the photographer who took the iconic Pulitzer Prize winning photo (above) of the firefighters raising the American flag at Ground Zero for the Bergen Record; I’ve had the privilege of hearing him speak twice at Garden State Scholastic Press Association’s Fall Press Day. “Witness to History” includes Franklin’s account of 9/11, as well as those of other news photographers’ and how each got the “shots” amid sheer chaos and destruction.

One might assume the young eyes watching this year’s presentation were desensitized to violence and pain because of what they see on social media every day in 2016.

They weren’t.

They shared what will stick with them, long after the lesson’s objectives are forgotten.

I’ll remember the priest who was carried out by the men who were helping,” wrote one student. The priest was Father Mychal Judge. As a part of this year’s presentation, I included a picture I took in June of his name on the Reflecting Pool Memorial.

Another wrote that while she doesn’t want to ever see something like 9/11 happen again, she wished our country was still unified, together, as one with flags all over. She explained that she hates seeing everyone judge others so fast on social media. “People didn’t hate each other back then over what they posted. They maybe didn’t agree but everyone was together.”

One wrote that he’ll remember the tears in the players’ eyes and the emotions during the Mets/Braves game clip from September 21, 2001, and the Yankees/Diamondbacks World Series Game 3 and Game 4 clips he watched (including Tino’s and Jeter’s-Mr. November’s home runs in the 9th). For him, that show of emotion by pro ball players as well as by fans from all over demonstrated the immensity of 9/11 and its aftermath.

Another wrote that as he watched President Bush throw out the first pitch at Game 3, he’ll remember the chant of USA and that Americans did not let party lines divide them. It didn’t matter that Bush was a Republican. What mattered is that moment brought the country together. While I summed up his response, a lot of the words here were directly from the student.

A student reacted that she was surprised it was baseball that got us back to normal, even for a little while. She said she didn’t like baseball, but if she lived during 9/11, she’d probably like it more because of how important the games were to our country.

After writing that he will remember strangers hugging each other and the looks on everyone’s faces as they watched the towers fall, one of my students wondered if people would be as willing to hug strangers or be as shocked if something like this happened today. “But I would hug and be shocked,” he admitted.

Someone remarked that he’d remember me saying the smoke could actually be seen from the Inlet in Point Pleasant Beach that afternoon. “That’s crazy but shows how close it was.”

One of the reactions that hit me hard was, “Wow. It really did happen.”

As I do each year, I ask my students to put aside their personal opinions and keep an open mind; to see the bigger picture; to see the important role of first responders/police/firefighters and the military not only on 9/11 but in every day life; to see the connection each of them has to this ugly day in history by looking down at their desk and realizing that Nick Ott or Ron Kubik might have sat right there, in the same seat (both were killed in action in Afghanistan, a conflict that was a direct result of 9/11).

I also ask them to visualize a teacher running out of the school in uncontrollable tears because someone she loved worked in one of the towers, or another teacher crying because her husband’s brother worked there too and she didn’t know he missed his train that morning and wasn’t there.

I hope they realize a lot of people surrounding them every day have a personal connection to 9/11 in one way or another. I end by telling them I wish I could take them all back to September 10, 2001, for even just 60 seconds so they can get a small glimpse of the way things used to be.

Every photo and video clip in my lesson still gives me chills. It seems like a yesterday but so long ago…my emotions are still raw, still new, and still filled with denial that something like this could actually happen here.

But the truth is, it did happen.

15 years later, and I still remember how much life changed on that day.

I’m sure you remember too.

It’s our duty to make sure that WE, AS A COLLECTIVE, NEVER FORGET, so the next generation also remembers the selfless sacrifices of so many and the legacies of those who were lost.

Thank you to all police, firefighters, first responders, military, and everyone who put our safety before theirs, no matter what.

God Bless America.

To learn more about Thomas Franklin’s photo, please click here.

 

Day 28 of 31 Days of Summer Lovin’ 2016: Baseball

Last week, I went to my third New York Yankees game at Yankee Stadium. They played the San Francisco Giants and lost 2-1 in 12 innings.

The New York Yankees is my favorite MLB team, but I’m not a rival-hating crazy fan. Growing up in New Jersey, the Yankees and the Mets were always on television, and I tended to gravitate towards watching the Yankees. I do remember watching the Mets in the 1986 world series against the Red Sox, and I can clearly picture Game 7 in my mind’s eye. My grandma also liked the Mets and I remember watching games with her.

One of my biggest regrets was never going to Yankee Stadium to see Tino, Jeter, Pettite, Rivera, Posada, Williams, and the rest from that championship era play in action. I did see them all last year at the Yankees home game on August 22 when Posada was honored.

Saturday marked two years in a row I went with my friends M & D to see a Yankees home game, and we agreed this will be a yearly tradition, no matter what.  Perhaps next year we will go to Old Timers’ Day, one of my bucket list items. I’d also love to attend a game in Fenway, at Citi Field, and in Toronto someday. Maybe I’d like to hit every stadium…that might be something to think about!

Anyway, Saturday’s game was hot, but we got used to the heat rather quickly. And we were the smart ones…our cheapo 400-level seats were in the shade under an overhang the entire time, plus we enjoyed a breeze during the whole game. My highlights: getting to see Aroldis Chapman pitch (since he was traded two days later), watching Didi score, seeing Brett Gardner (my favorite), and the grounds crew’s performance to “YMCA.” It was Military Appreciation Day, and there were about 20 young people who took their oath for the US Army right on the field.

The awesome-ist moment: I stumbled upon the last two June “Pins of the Month” in the stadium, which had my favorite character ever on it…Boba Fett!   Can you believe it?!?!? I didn’t even know about this pin before I saw it, and they were honestly the last 2 in the stadium (bought them both, one for my collection and one to wear). I also purchased the Chewbacca July “Pin of the Month” for my collection.

A simple game, a simple day, leaving me with a stronger friendship and wonderful memories.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

I can’t wait to return in August with my two nephews for their first Yankees game….on Star Wars Night! May the force be with the Yankees! I can’t wait to see which Star Wars character will adorn August’s pin of the month!