“Wishing Tree” at Vereen Memorial Gardens

A while back, my girlfriend was feeling a touch of cabin fever. Being a country girl from the mountains of Southwest Virginia, she really needed to get out into nature  – if only for a day. And because she also fully understands cabin fever because of her penchant for horror movies, I thought it wise to get out of Dodge with her.

Call it self-preservation if you must.

I need to remember that getting away from my office could actually be a good thing. Because I am usually involved in various projects involving writing or music, I tend to stay “on the grind,” as they say. This is in addition to my “day job” at Tinder Box Myrtle Beach, where Brenda also works

I’ll admit that it was tough to break away, but once committed…

On the way to a gig with my brother, I remember driving past the entrance to Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve off International Drive near SC Hwy 90. I read somewhere that the preserve sat on more than 9000 acres and was home to a good many Carolina bays…

According to the American Rivers website, Carolina bays are “a type of elliptical or oval freshwater depressional wetland(s) that fill with rainwater and may be periodically dry. They are most commonly found in North and South Carolina, but can also be found from Florida to New Jersey. Carolina bays vary in size from a few hundred feet in length to nearly 5 miles long.”

This preserve is home to the Venus flytrap, black bears, bald eagles and more – but after driving down the pitted dirt road for about a mile with our Kia Soul bouncing around, we opted to bail. Recent controlled burns also took place, so the area didn’t seem like something to explore at the moment.

Wait a minute. What the hell are you supposed to do if confronted by a black bear? I mean, I saw “Faces of Death” in the 80s, under duress…

It surfaced that Brenda was really thinking about Vereen Memorial Gardens anyway, so off we went to Little River.

The South Carolina Trails website describes the location like this:

“Vereen Memorial Gardens has been a bit of a “Hidden Jewel” for 30 years. The park features numerous hiking trails and wooden boardwalks that extend across several beautiful salt marshes and small islands, with a nice gazebo that overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway.”

After eating the grocery store lunch we brought with us, we set about exploring. Vereen Memorial Gardens really is a hidden gem – and I especially loved the “Make a Wish” area where you can hang oyster shells on tree limbs along with your wishes…

That and the fact that Brenda got her wish to be in nature – and we both enjoyed the experience.

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My New Yorker

The last day of our New York trip in March began with a couple of coffees from the Row NYC bar I brought back up to our room – while getting plans together with my daughter, Taylor.

When Tay arrived, we headed out toward Rockefeller Center. I had been here on my last visit a couple of years ago, but it was fun to revisit with Brenda – and watch the folks outside, still ice skating in March. We tried to imagine what the Christmas tree might have looked like in its spot – up close and personal. We also hung around The Shop at NBC Studios, where those so inclined could grab a souvenir – perhaps a t-shirt emblazoned with “SNL” or a Rachel Maddow mug. How about a book of “Seinfeld” scripts from the first and second season, a deck of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” playing cards or an NBC Peacock hoodie? It’s all there, and much more.

But really, why cram a carry-on with such bric-a-brac? It’s all online, of course. Just looking at that stuff in that venue was enough.

We wandered around inside the mall there for a bit and then ventured outside again to watch the ice skaters while we finished some top-notch banana pudding we picked up at a spot called Magnolia Bakery. Unbelievably good.

Peeping Ice Skaters at Rockefeller Center

We then set our sights on Bryant Park, where we were going to meet Ivanna Fortunato, another friend of Taylor’s who wasn’t at the office on the day we visited because of a knee injury.

Content on the Bryant Park website says that the location is “known as Manhattan’s Town Square…famous for its lush seasonal gardens, free activities, world class restrooms, and al fresco dining.” Believe me – any public restroom in the area is a godsend, and my visit for a tinkle was a pleasant one. At my age, they should have one on every other block.

We grabbed some coffee at a kiosk and Taylor kept an eye out for Ivanna, who arrived on her lunch break from SpotCo. She was wearing a brace, and seemed to be handling her knee issue like a trouper. It was a delight to meet her, and I felt as if we already knew each other because Tay told me so much about her and we are Facebook friends. It’s refreshing to actually meet somebody outside of the virtual world.

Ivanna is getting married in the Dominican Republic in July, and I am happy to report that Taylor is going to be there. I wish Ivanna and her fiancé the very best.

To see Taylor and Ivanna is to assume that the two young ladies have been friends for a long time. The four of us hung out and chatted for a good while – and of course snapped photos and selfies. I am like the drunk uncle who has to document every moment. Every family has one. I hope somebody finds all of those digital memories after I am gone. Perhaps I should send thumb drives to a couple of key loved ones. Unfortunately, they will only contain the photos. No account numbers for offshore accounts.

After saying our goodbyes – I needed an updated photo outside of the New York Public Library, which was right next door. We also got hot dogs from a street vendor – and I took a photo of the Empire State Building, which was looming over a tree line nearby.

As we made our way back to Eighth Avenue, I was content that we had done so much in a few short days without going nuts and without breaking the bank. I recall looking into Sardi’s and taking in some of the celebrity caricatures on those famous walls – and passing by the Copacabana.

We wanted to ship some clothes and other belongings back to Myrtle Beach in an attempt to avoid luggage fees on Spirit Airlines – the reverse of what we did on the way – but we had more shit to pack now. We passed The UPS Store and bought a decent-sized box and took it back with us to the hotel.

But we still had big plans, specifically “Phantom of the Opera” at the Majestic Theatre – a show that Brenda had long fantasized about seeing in New York someday. It is one of her all-time favorites, and we had tickets for that night – box seats – thanks to my son’s fiancée, Leigh Schwartz, who had given them to us as a Christmas gift.

HOLD FAST TO YOUR DREAMS

We packed up that box with everything we could – and Taylor and I took it to a Staples location nearby. The layout was nothing like any Staples I had seen – especially the whole multiple floors thing. But a very nice young guy helped us and dispensed sightseeing advice, albeit a bit too late – and it only cost me eighteen bucks to ship the box. Things like that please me. It was like a little surprise.

We didn’t yet eat properly, but we had an agenda.

Much like when she was in college, Taylor found a home bar where the folks were down to earth and she felt comfortable. In Charleston it was Smoke BBQ.  In Hell’s Kitchen it is Hold Fast, tucked into a laid-back space with a brick and hardwood interior on 46th Street. One of the owners, Jason, grew up in the Charlotte area. We talked briefly, and I told him that my sister used to live in Cornelius until she moved around Lake Norman to Denver. Turns out he used to go to the dentist in Cornelius. Small world indeed.

Hold Fast in Hell’s Kitchen

I had bone marrow and a soft scrambled egg with soy glaze, tobiko and toasted artisanal bread. Most excellent, and thankfully on the light side. I didn’t want to fall asleep at the theater.

I feel like Taylor made a good call when she chose Hold Fast as a hangout. Both Jason and co-owner Chris seemed to be really nice guys – and I love the name of their bar. Taylor told me that another co-owner named Shane is equally awesome. I wish them continued success with their enterprise.

THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT

We gave Taylor our hotel room key before leaving Hold Fast, just in case she wanted to hang out there while we watched “Phantom.” She told us that she would likely hang out at the bar. In any case, we wanted to see her again to say our goodbyes because we were leaving in the morning.

The walk to the Majestic was short – basically just down the block and over – and the line was already forming. We got behind a massive school group, but we were inside the theater in no time. After stopping to grab Brenda a t-shirt, we were ushered to our box seats at stage right.

I was hoping the box was just for the two of us, but there were two other seats there. I vape, so I’m always looking for a strategic spot to sneak in a rip – and I thought I was home free, but a young couple was seated beside us just before curtain.

You can believe I thought about Abraham Lincoln many times. Sic semper tyrannis and all that rot. Same seating situation. Poor bastard.

By now, we all know all about Phantom – but just because we were late to the party didn’t mean we didn’t enjoy it. Ben Crawford was terrific as The Phantom. I thought it was interesting that he shares the same last name with the original Phantom, Michael Crawford. They are not related. Kaley Ann Voorhees was excellent as Christine. One of the benefits of our seats was the fact that I could look directly down into the orchestra pit to see the musicians at work. I must admit that I was glancing down there quite a bit.

It was nice to see my girlfriend so happy. Glad she can cross “Phantom” off her list at long last.

We strolled back to Hold Fast to grab Taylor, but hung out for a little while longer. It was good to be with her – and she was in her element.

But it was getting late and Taylor had to catch a train to Brooklyn. We all ducked back into the same pizza joint Brenda and I ate at a couple of days before and enjoyed a slice (there’s that expression again).

It takes me forever to say goodbye to my daughter – and no matter how many hugs, there is always the chance for one more. This was true when she was close at hand, so you can imagine how it is when she lives far away. Finally, she disappeared down into the subway and we went across the street to our hotel.

The next morning came quickly, and we took a cab to LaGuardia. No issues. No delays. No problem. We were back in Myrtle Beach like nothing had happened.

But it did happen.

And our UPS package was waiting at our front door when we got home.

For the third year running, Bucksport Marina in Conway, South Carolina, will again be transformed into a wonderland of music, art and all-around good vibes as the Waccamaw Getaway Music Festival returns to this enchanting spot on the Waccamaw River over Memorial Day weekend.

A three-day lineup [May 24-26] features more than 20 musical acts, and the festival also includes vendors, flow artists, an art tent with live painting, food trucks (a new addition this year), disc golf (also new) and onsite camping.  With of this is this going on within an hour of the Grand Strand, it’s easy to see why the slogan, “Don’t go away – Getaway” makes perfect sense for locals.

But believe this – the Waccamaw Getaway Music Festival is indeed the perfect getaway for folks coming in from near and far. In fact, the event was recently written up online in The Jamwich, a magazine devoted to the jam band community. You can read that article HERE.

Scott Mann/Photo: Moon Daze

I spoke with festival cofounder Scott Mann again this year for what I hope will be a traditional, yearly update. Mann is also a radio personality and program director for area classic rock station WAVE 104.1. In addition to his weekday on-air shift, he also hosts two weekly specialty shows, “Scott Mann’s Headshop” and “Blues Hangover.”

Organized by Get Right Promotions, which also brought you Reggae on the Waccamaw, the festival’s sponsors are WAVE 104.1, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Chambers Law Firm, Jimmyz Hibachi, Bucksport Marina and New South Brewing.

Here’s the lowdown…

RY: What’s the headliner situation like this year?

MANN: Friday night’s headliner is The Mantras. Saturday night is a co-headlining deal with Nick & the Nomads – which features three members of Big Something, a member of Urban Soil and a member of The Mantras – and Dangermuffin. Sunday night is Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds.

Q: How about local music?

A: We’ve got Brian Roessler. We have Matt Parker and the Deacons and we have Oracle Blue again. Oracle Blue just signed on last-minute. They’re on tour, and will be rolling back into town just in time to play on Sunday.

We have The A+B’S, which is a relatively new band that hasn’t played out but maybe once – but they have been practicing for a year – former members of McDowell Shortcut, Pluto and The Envelopes.

We’ve also got an acoustic set from Brock Butler, who is the guitar player for Perpetual Groove – and a bunch of really good North Carolina and regional bands.

Q: I saw you raving about the art tent on Facebook recently.

A: A lot of our artists were there last year, and there are a couple of new ones this year. Smitty [Jared “Smitty” Smith] from Cornbread is going to be in there too. His artist name is J. Paul Smith. He’s done some decorating work for us, and he’s actually becoming very involved with the festival from a whole bunch of different aspects. There are going to be a lot of cool artifacts around the property, and two of them are things that he helped make.  Pretty cool.

Q: What else is going on?

A: We’ve got [flow artists and specialty entetainment] Over the Moon Productions back this year, of course – and we’ve got food trucks this year, which we had at the reggae festival last year.

We also have Innova Disc Golf this year. Their national marketing guy lives in Pawleys Island, and it turns out his kids and a friend of mine’s kids went to school together and they know each other well – and he’s a monster Dangermuffin fan. When he was approached about doing the disc golf facilities, he was like, “Oh! I already bought tickets,” so that was pretty cool.

Doug Kelly is bringing out a Jumbotron.

We’ve arranged for a boat shuttle service from the Waccatee Zoo throughout the weekend between Friday and Monday morning. Waccamaw River Tours is doing this for us several times with late-night return trips – and that’s going to be six bucks a trip. You can do it with camping gear if you want, and they’ve got a boat big enough for like 40 people. This is good for locals if they don’t want to drive for something like 45 minutes from Myrtle Beach or Socastee. They can go over to Waccamaw River Tours, slip onto a boat ride and leave their car there.

NOTE: Buy your TICKETS now. Advance (discount) ticket sales will end on Thursday, May 23rd at 11:59 p.m. Weekend passes will be available at the gate on Friday morning – and day passes will be available at the door on Saturday and Sunday.

Kingston-Throop Station/Brooklyn

The Sunday of our New York trip was a “free day,” a day to knock around with no real agenda.

My daughter came up with a lunch plan, though – and it involved Brenda and I taking the subway to Brooklyn this time. The idea was to meet up at the DeKalb Market Hall – a bustling spot boasting 27 thousand square feet and more than 40 diverse food vendors, all under one roof. Our friend Rachel was coming along too.

Photo: Eater NY

Once again, we made it with no issues – and we were amazed. This was like a food truck festival sans trucks, offering culinary choices with names like Bunsmith, Forager’s Market, Hana Noodles, Paella Shack and so much more – the aromas and colorful signage and lighting from the little kitchens merging to create a mélange of sensory pleasures. The folks were friendly and ready to help or to explain the items on their varied menus. Some menus were pretty straightforward, though.

At that level of the mall, there was a Trader Joe’s. This is where Taylor sometimes went shopping. I was happy to know this because now I had a visual reference for when she calls me while out and about.

I opted for conventional pirogi. I am a sucker for those things, and I can’t say there are many eateries in Myrtle Beach that serve them. I shared with Taylor, who in return shared her excellent, hand-pulled ramen.

We all wound up at Target on the upper floor of the shopping complex. Go figure.

We all hopped the “Q” [damn, what an urbanite expression] to Prospect Park and then hoofed it to Rachel’s apartment nearby. It was nice of her to invite us – and we had the chance to meet her roommate, filmmaker Bruce Wemple. I found out at this moment that a couple of his shorts are on Amazon Prime. I will be watching those soon.

Bruce also built a bar – and it was there in all its glory in their living room. Impressive. I don’t drink anymore, but I kept eyeing his bottle of Havana Club with envy.

Rachel suggested we walk around Prospect Park and told us that it was designed by the same pair that gave us Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. For whatever reason, we didn’t go. And we didn’t go to Central Park Either. Next time.

But we were on our way to Bed-Stuy – walking along Flatbush Avenue with Taylor. It seems every neighborhood has its own vibe. We ducked into a very nice independent shop called Greenlight Bookstore. Well-stocked, well-lit and welcoming – it was one of two locations in Brooklyn. It’s comforting to walk into a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Familiar. No matter where you are.

https://greenlightbklyn.tumblr.com

Last visit, Taylor and I spent an hour or so checking out Strand Book Store. That place blew my mind. Before that, the last one I visited was Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston when Taylor was still in college.

Fun fact: My daughter told me recently that we got off the train at the very station where Michael Jackson’s Martin Scorsese-directed video for “Bad” was filmed: Hoyt-Schermerhorn.

The human memory is a damned unreliable source, and I’m afraid too much time has gone by for me to remember whether or not we took the train at all on the way back from Rachel’s – but my daughter confirmed that we took the Franklin Avenue Shuttle to another train that took us to Bed-Stuy. At any rate, we got to Taylor’s brownstone on Halsey Street, which was built in 1899. I was happy that Brenda had a chance to see it. As I mentioned in a previous BLOG POST, Taylor’s roommates are also her friends – and one in particular, Catherine, has been Taylor’s friend since middle school in Myrtle Beach.

We were all hungry – so after hanging out for a bit on Halsey Street, we set out to dinner with two of her roommates, Kaja and Jacob. After arriving too late at our first choice, Zaca Café (American/French fusion), we wound up at a snug little Mexican eatery called Tepache, also on Halsey Street. Perfect. I ate a chimichanga the size of my head.

Taylor pointed us in the direction of the correct subway station with instructions, and we arrived back in Hell’s Kitchen in time to wander around the Theatre District. We felt emboldened in our new surroundings, and ended the evening by grabbing a couple of slices of cheesecake at Junior’s and bringing them back to our hotel, Row NYC. We will never be the same again.

We tried to pack as much as living as we could into our four days in New York City. Top of mind as we embarked on day two was the Elton John concert at Barclays Center later that night. Read all about that show HERE.

Before the trip, I happened to find a pair of low-top, old-school Adidas on the clearance rack at a shoe store and picked them up immediately. Divine providence, I figured, had sent me those shoes – just like the ones featured in the Run-D.M.C. video, “My Adidas.”

Now those fucking shoes were killing me, and I didn’t think to bring another pair. The toe boxes were so narrow that my toenails were digging into the sides of the adjacent toes. All I could do was stick Band-Aids on some toes and keep stepping, as it were.  

Some people gird their loins. I girded my toes, preparing for the frenetic pace about to be set by the taskmaster, AKA my daughter.

We woke up a bit late, considering the fact that we were supposed to be exploring – and the first order of business was coffee. As I mentioned in the first installment, there was no coffee maker in our room. So we did what most Americans do in any city. We found a Starbucks down the street from our hotel. Really , we would have ducked into any coffee shop – but lo and behold, Starbucks was the first one we saw. Big surprise, right?

Don’t judge. It did the trick – fortifying us for our stroll to Macy’s, a place Brenda wanted to check out. Hell, we still watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – and since I have heard the expression, “Kiss my ass in Macy’s window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses” so many times, I didn’t mind checking it out either. Incidentally, that quote is attributed to Lyndon Johnson.

I let my daughter know that we were headed in the direction of Macy’s, and she was heading in from Bed-Stuy to meet us.

It felt interesting to be planted in New York – following my GPS toward the iconic department store. I think we headed down 6th Avenue toward 34th Street. Pretty sure memory serves that I saw Radio City Music Hall down 6th in the other direction. Nonetheless, the walk was awesome. So much to take in. I now wish I took notes.

We made it to Macy’s, but Taylor hadn’t arrived yet – so I went back outside to vape and wait for her while Brenda struck up a conversation with a lady in fragrances.

Side note – that brings to mind Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – when Mrs. Maisel, going through a divorce, had to work at a cosmetics counter at a huge department store in New York in the late 1950s. I highly recommend that show. Snappy dialogue (I actually appreciated the subtitles turned on in this case), fast-paced writing and a great ensemble.

Rachel Brosnahan as Mrs. Maisel / Amazon Studios

I am sure somebody will take offense – but Macy’s was, well, a department store. Perhaps the multiple floors and the sheer amount of upscale branding coming at you was interesting. My favorite part about the visit was watching Brenda interact with the fragrance lady, who had been to Myrtle Beach on vacation. She planned on coming again. It’s funny, and as evidenced by Carolina Forest – so many New Yorkers want to make the Myrtle Beach area home. Brenda got herself a bottle of Versace Bright Crystal and we ducked out.

Somehow I am over department stores, as I believe most Americans are.

Taylor, trouper that she is, got us to the Staten Island Ferry. We decided to take a ride back and forth and catch a glimpse of the harbor and the Statue of Liberty from that vantage point. We thought about going on the actual tour of both Liberty Island and Ellis Island, but we figured this Ferry would work for our purposes.

I must admit that I thought of my father arriving by ocean liner from London when he moved here in 1956. He was, like I am, prone to a good cry – and he told me he sobbed when he first caught sight of Lady Liberty. He loved America and everything he thought it stood for. Always called presidents Mister – like Mr. Nixon or Mr. Reagan. Such a wonderful guy. There was nobody else like him.

There were so many people gathering to take the ferry across that I got worried that we would have to push for seats. This shows how little I knew about the sheer size of those vessels. Unbelievable. Room to spare – and I spend a lot of time walking around onboard as well.

When we got to Staten Island, I was kind of pissed that we had to get off. We wanted to go right back across. But we hung out for about 30 minutes inside the terminal. I bought Taylor a beer and went outside to vape, of course. When I was out there, I saw some dude get out of an Uber and drop a shopping bag. He was grateful when I told him about it.

I thought to myself, where were all of the rude people?

Time seemed to compress. I think it was because we were getting excited about Elton. By the time we made it back to Midtown, it was time to grab a quick bite and change. We decided to pop into Shake Shack in the Theater District and take some burgers and fried up to our room – with Taylor, of course.

We took a train together to the Barclays Center stop, and I was amazed about how convenient that trip was. Tay ran off to have a drink with her friend Rachel Feldman, who lived nearby and was at a local watering hole. We hung around outside Barclays for a time, marveling at the huge digital sign at the arena touting the sold out show. The crowds were arriving from everywhere.

An employee directed a bunch of folks toward other entrances – and Brenda and I noticed an entrance for American Express Cardmembers. What the heck, I only have a Green Card, but that was enough – and we slipped into the arena. I guess we all didn’t have to be Tina Fey to enjoy a bit of a perk.

I bought myself a tour shirt and one for Taylor at 40 bucks a pop. At the end of the day, that didn’t seem nearly as outrageous as I anticipated. We found our seats, and Taylor met up with us in perfect time to make the beginning of the show. She was wearing an awesome red sequined blouse. Reg Dwight would approve.

For the next three hours, forget it. I cried from the downbeat, Hell, I cried when the place went black – that all-too-familiar anticipation. Hooted. Hollered. Cried again. Tried my best to be in the moment. This was the last time I would see Elton John play live. Read about it and see video HERE.

What a night!

Since Taylor lives in Brooklyn, there was no reason for her to have to escort us back to Midtown. We said goodnight at the subway station, and Tay went to the other side to wait for her train.

Brenda and I made it back with no problems. When we emerged from the subway, I swore I heard somebody calling me. Sure enough, it was Clyde Moser, who had come with us to Marie’s Crisis the night before. He and a friend had just gotten out of a show. In a city with more than eight million people, moments like this are priceless.

After a quick selfie, Brenda and I went to a corner pizza place and had a slice. We never say “slice” in Myrtle Beach.

We unwound in our room at Row NYC, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” still ringing in our ears.

Earlier this month, we spent four days in and around New York City. The trip was much anticipated, and it came about because of Elton John.

I’ll explain…

In February 2018, my daughter and I were having a back-and-forth on Facebook messenger – discussing  Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. New dates were about to be added, including Brooklyn and Columbia, South Carolina.

Taylor lives in Brooklyn and I live in Myrtle Beach. We discussed the possibility of her coming here for the Columbia show, but she would have had to return to her work in New York quickly – which would basically give her only a couple of days here. In short order, a new plan gelled. How about we (with my girlfriend, Brenda) come up there…

That was it. The show would be more than a year later, and we figured it was doable. We could spend time together, see the City and catch Elton at Barclays Center. See my post about that show HERE.

When all was said and done, we packed a lot of living into those four days.

DAY ONE

We flew into LaGuardia via Spirit Airlines on March 8. My daughter gave us two tickets as a Christmas present. I had only been in New York once before over Memorial Day Weekend in 2017. At that time, I flew into JFK on American Airlines. Taylor met me there and we took a couple of trains into Brooklyn without any problems. I stayed with her at her place in Bedford–Stuyvesant.

Quite frankly, I heard a lot of negatives about LaGuardia – from ongoing construction issues to delayed flights and transportation snarls. Add to these the fact that we would have no clue about the lay of the land and you would be right that I didn’t think I’d want to deal with any of that.

We must have gotten lucky, because flying in and navigating the airport was fine – and Taylor opted to greet us at the airport. Strangers in a strange land, as it were – it was good to see Taylor get off the bus at the terminal. We got immersed in the MTA system immediately; first with a bus and then a train into Manhattan.

First up was a tour of Taylor’s work, SPOTCO, an entertainment advertising, marketing and branding agency in Midtown. I was taken with how genuinely nice the people were – to me and in what they had to say about Taylor. The offices were smart, inviting and no doubt conducive to productivity. What a great vibe! I am by nature a hugger, and many of her coworkers were huggers as well. For those that weren’t, I was on a roll and hugged just about everyone anyway.

At Ivanna’s Desk at SPOTCO

SPOTCO represents a dizzying array of clients, currently including “Kinky Boots,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Beetlejuice,” “Mean Girls” and much more. I am thrilled that my daughter is involved with such an awesome organization and so many wonderful people.

But we had places to go. Taylor and her friend, Erin, helped us over to our hotel with a couple of boxes of clothes we shipped to avoid having to check them on Spirit. That was too kind of them both – they wouldn’t let us carry them. Thanks, Ladies!

Row NYC is on 8th Avenue just off Times Square in a neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen. It boasts 27 stories and more than 1300 rooms and opened in 1928 as the Hotel Lincoln. In its long history in good times and bad, it was also called the Manhattan Hotel, the Royal Manhattan and the Milford Plaza.

During renovations in 2013, the building was briefly named the Milford New York Hotel before it became Row NYC in 2014.

Whenever I book a hotel, I am a bit hyper-vigilant and sometimes afraid to hit the button to finalize the purchase. I looked at too many reviews of Row NYC and other properties around Times Square. To my satisfaction, the room was just what we thought it was going to be. Recently-renovated but tiny. Modern. No coffee maker. But decent city views and a comfortable bed. We were going for economy, of course – and we had no complaints.

We wanted to be in Times Square because Taylor’s work was nearby. We considered staying in Brooklyn but preferred to be right in the thick of things – ideally to have the freedom to mosey around from this centralized location. All good.

But this was just the beginning. Taylor had it all worked out: We would go eat pizza and then head to a place far from Kansas but close to “Oklahoma,” as we shall see.

Prince Street Pizza is located in the Nolita neighborhood – or “North of Little Italy” – on, well, Prince Street.   We waited quite a long time to get in – and the place was tiny – a counter up front and a small section to stand and eat if you could get a spot. We crammed in as best we could after receiving our pizza – their famous “Soho Squares” and chowed down. The pizza was gooey with scalding mozzarella, “old world” pepperoni and thick dough. Simple and delicious.

Whether or not this trumps any pizza slice I have ever eaten is certainly up for debate. When I brought that up later, Taylor got annoyed – but there it is. Photos of celebrities lined the wall where we ate, and even at close proximity, other customers were friendly enough. Nobody was rude.

We said our goodbyes to Erin, and then it was off to the West Village to a spot very near the Stonewall Inn, the epicenter of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a watershed event in the fight for LGBT rights.

The spot in question was Marie’s Crisis. An online reviewer summed up the place like this: ”Marie’s Crisis is a basement piano bar with cheap drinks and the opportunity to sing unlimited show tunes.”

Thomas Paine Died in this House

Marie’s Crisis is just off Christopher Street on Grove Street. I went there once before with Taylor on my previous trip. It’s tiny. With an upright piano surrounded by an enclosure and a bar to its right – folks are squished together and it is mandatory to check your coat.

But that place – that place might be the happiest place in New York – especially when the piano player starts in with the showtunes. Even the surliest, meanest looking motherfucker becomes angelic as he belts out “Corner of the Sky” or “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” Maybe it’s a tune from “Rent” or “Wicked” that does the trick.

For me, it’s almost anything from “A Chorus Line.”

We met up with three of Taylor’s friends – Rachel, Clyde and Mary. Thank God they let us get in line with them, because the line was getting longer as we arrived.

Taylor went to the College of Charleston with Rachel and Clyde, which is amazing in itself – I mean the fact that the three of them now live and work in The City.  I am happy to also call them friends. And it was great to meet Mary, too.

We spent a couple of hours at Marie’s – singing our hearts out. Rachel and I had spoken about our affection for “A Chorus Line” many times – including when she visited us in Myrtle Beach years ago. I am not sure if it was Clyde or Rachel that put in the request for a series of songs from the show – but singing together brought me so much joy.

I blogged about a production of “A Chorus Line” that Taylor and I went to see in Charleston in 2016 – with none other than Clyde in the part of Bobby Mills. Read that post HERE.

I am happy that Brenda got a taste of all of this too. Musicals are a part of my DNA – and now, thank God, they are part of Taylor’s.

We rode the train back to our neck of the woods with Taylor and friends. They went off to her favorite Bar, Hold Fast, which I will be blogging about later.

Brenda and I got some snacks at Duane Reade near Times Square and moseyed to our hotel.

I’d say this was a good day.

Elton Sign Barclays

Electronic Sign Outside Barclay’s Center

The first time I saw Elton John live was at the bygone Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles in 1979.

This was a big deal for me as well as for my twin brother, Chris. We were 16. At that point the only other concerts we had ever seen were Fleetwood Mac on their Rumours tour in Miami [with Kenny Loggins and Chick Corea/Return to Forever] and Kiss on their Love Gun tour at the Forum in Los Angeles – while they were taping the Alive II album. Some upstarts called Cheap Trick opened for them, and we didn’t know what to make of them…yet.

We stole our dad’s ’67 Impala one night to check out the Kinks at the Universal Amphitheater a few months before the Elton show when they were out on their “Low Budget” tour. Dad is long gone now, and we never told him about that.

Anybody who knows me is aware that Elton John has been a major part of my life since I was a child – and my number one influence as a piano player. I have seen him seven or eight times.

The 1979 show was one of two early October shows – part of Elton’s Back in the USSA tour supported only by percussionist Ray Cooper. I remember tripping out that the man himself was up on that stage – living and breathing – not very far away from where I was sitting in that (at the time) open-air environment. It was almost too wonderful for words.

If you ever told me that I’d be watching Elton perform on his farewell tour at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, I might not have believed it. But that’s what happened earlier this month. Call it full circle for me – forty years later. And I’ll be damned if Ray Cooper wasn’t there – this time with some of the other old guard, namely guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson.

Elton played for three hours. It was surreal. The sound was excellent, and from our perch we had a clear view of the stage. We were far away, but smack dab in the middle of the mezzanine. The fact that this was to be the last time I would see him live made me savor each moment as best as my undiagnosed ADHD would allow. But I tried to be in the moment as much as possible. What a night!

This is the first installment of a series of blog posts about my recent trip to New York. More to come.