COLUMN: ‘Adventuring’ in the Big Apple

Published 10:11 am Friday, February 3, 2023

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Josh Boutwell
Sports Editor

Last month I faced my fear of heights – and flying – and visited the “Big Apple,” New York City, with my family in what ended up as one of the best trips I’ve ever been on ‘adventuring’ in New York City.

It’s almost surreal that the trip even ended up happening, for a number of reasons. First, I’ve had a pretty severe fear of heights since I was a child, which grew into a fear of flying. You could show me all the stats in the world about how safe air travel was and it didn’t matter. As corny as it may sound, it seems my love for my beautiful wife, Bethany, is far greater than that fear.

See, she loves musicals and she has a “Bucket List,” and on that list is seeing a musical on Broadway in New York City. Not just any musical, though, specifically “Phantom of the Opera.” It just so happens that sometime last year she read an article online stating that after more than three decades, “Phantom’s” run on Broadway would be coming to an end in February of this year. So, instantly she decided this was something she needed to happen and for some reason I agreed to it without even thinking about it very much. She even roped her mother and father into the trip.

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She also said this would count as my “Birthday trip” that we’ve taken annually since we first started dating nearly 10 years ago. Did I mention I really love her?

So, in the span of what felt like seconds, we bought plane tickets, booked hotels and she was already planning her “opera outfit.” While I was certainly nervous, as Jan. 20 came closer, I was able to keep my mind off the crippling fear that has kept me from flying in my 35 years on this Earth. When I tell you that my fear of heights is “crippling,” it’s kept me from doing a lot of things I wanted to do and places I’ve wanted to go. Even small things like looking over a balcony in a tall building or hotel would make my head spin.

Central Park

The chaos and confusion of roaming through Atlanta’s airport didn’t help matters either. When we finally boarded the plane, I ended up taking someone else’s seat, next to the window, and he could clearly tell how flustered I was and told me not to worry about it. I could feel my blood pressure rising as we started to takeoff but then, I looked out the window, and suddenly wasn’t so terrified. I put my ear buds in and watched “Clerks III” and enjoyed a smooth flight. Before I knew it, we were landing at JFK in Queens, NY. It was so much easier than I ever could have expected. Now, my fear is how many planes my wife is going to make me go on from here.

Our trip to New York City was as fun as I could have ever expected and it started from the time we landed. JFK seemed far more organized and quick than Atlanta – though not nearly as nice or clean – and our cab ride to Manhattan was filled with tips and the “dos and don’ts” of New York City provided by our very Italian driver. He pointed out everything we should avoid and gave great tips on things to do and see, and ways to save money in a very expensive city.

The hotel we stayed at, off Fifth Avenue in downtown Manhattan, is by far the nicest hotel I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. All of the employees were nice and helpful and the area felt as safe as you could hope for.

One of the most pleasant surprises about New York may just show my “country ignorance” as I expected it to be a filthy place. Manhattan, at least, definitely wasn’t. Early in the morning each morning you would see trash on the street – likely from the fun folks had the night before – but that afternoon it was gone.

I’ve always thought all cities had their own distinctive smell and New York City definitely had one. I read an article while we were in New York that quoted New York City Mayor Eric Adams when he was asked by a reporter about record-breaking odor complaints last year. He responded by saying, “The No. 1 thing I smell right now is pot.” I agree with the mayor.

While in New York we got the full experience. We rode the Staten Island Ferry, took pictures of the Statue of Liberty, visited the 9/11 Memorial at the site of the former World Trade Center, got a chance to see the Ghostbusters firehouse, tried to avoid street hustlers, hung out on Times Square, ate the best pizza in the country, visited numerous historic locations and walked further than we had ever walked in our lives.

The Main Event, though, was clearly “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway. I’m not a fan of musicals but the spectacle was certainly something to behold and Bethany had more fun watching it than I think she’s ever had watching anything else. I’ve dragged her to numerous wrestling events, football games and Marvel movies, the very least I could do was watch a Broadway Musical, right?

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial is an emotional trip. (Photo by Josh Boutwell)

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial is something that I think is a must for all Americans, but it is very emotionally draining. The giant pools that have been placed in the footprints of the Twin Towers are remarkable to see, and they’re lined with the names of all of those that died that day.

Our last full day in New York was a Sunday and that was the day we decided to do the most walking. We started the day by visiting the historic New York Public Library, which was right across the street from our hotel. The grand building has incredible beautiful painted murals lining the ceiling and has been the filming location for 100s of movies, including Ghostbusters. The most amazing thing about the library, though, is its “treasures.” In that exhibit there are original documents and items from our country’s entire history, not just New York’s. Thomas Jefferson’s actual handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence is right there on display. Anti-Nazi literature from World War II, handwritten letters from Jews that were slaughtered during the Holocaust, Native American artifacts, Charles Dickens’ desk, the Gutenberg Bible and dozens of other American and World historical artifacts are there for everyone to see, for free.

We also walked from our hotel down to Central Park. On the way, we stopped by Grand Central Terminal and were one of dozens of other tourists taking pictures. We also witnessed a man, wearing nothing but pantyhose as pants, rant about the government and police the entire time we were there. I told you, we got the full New York City experience.

A “Lion Dance” in Manhattan during Chinese New Year. (Photo by Josh Boutwell)

From there, we made a stop in the enormous St. Patrick’s Cathedral where I learned that in New York City even churches are tourist attractions. We even happened upon a “Lion Dance” as a part of Chinese New Year that was one of the cooler experiences of the trip. Finally, we got to Central Park and saw maybe 1/10th of it as we ventured Central Park Zoo and then took pictures on the huge boulders overlooking the Central Park Pond.

After we took an Uber back to our hotel we even got to experience some Southern Hospitality in the big city. We left a bag in our Uber with our car keys. So, after everyone nearly panicked, our Uber driver eventually called me to inform us he had the bag and drove all the way back from Brooklyn to bring it back and save the day.

It was a long, tiring trip and we spent way too much money, but it was also an amazing trip that I got to share with some of my favorite people, having the time of my life, that we won’t soon forget. None of it would have been possible had I once again let my irrational fear control me. It also wasn’t our only “Birthday Trip” either, but that’s probably a story for another day.