Archive

Family

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Around Christmastime, one of my dear friend’s recurring mantras is this:

“Give from the heart. Not from the mart.”

I like it, and it makes sense.

But anybody with children will attest to the fact that this sentiment only goes so far. I mean if Santa left only baked goods or a handmade craft, a palpable sense of betrayal would fairly howl through most households in this country.

I wouldn’t be any good at handcrafting a PlayStation or a Big Wheel. Hell, I had trouble assembling the Big Wheels and other contraptions Santa left for my twins, and invariably there were parts left over…

I remember grappling with a Foosball table one Christmas Eve as I downed beer after beer, in no way fooled by the fantasy that one more drink would make the process any easier. That table was very nearly my undoing, and it was as wobbly as I was.

But I soldiered on, listening to Pope John Paul II on the television as he concluded yet another Midnight Mass.

For better or for worse, I had the damned thing put together. With an air of drunken self-satisfaction, I took a bite out of Santa’s cookie, finished off his milk and went to bed.

I am so glad I am sober now, by the way. Have been for years.

Because my twins have December birthdays and I am not Rockefeller, I would always find myself “jammed up” about how to pull off the two events…

…but credit cards, a bit of squirreled cash and the kindness of loved ones made it possible for my son and daughter to enjoy their holidays; if not in high style, then by all means in a manner that prevented them from feeling pinched.

Despite my promises to myself to be better prepared “next year,” that has yet to happen. But birthdays and Christmases came and went, and everything seemed to work out. Every. Single. Year.

But what if your kids are adults?

My twins just turned 27, and I am lucky that they are both nearby. My son and daughter-in-law live in Myrtle Beach, and my daughter is down from New York, staying with them as she works from home for a time – a decidedly positive byproduct of the COVID-19 nightmare. I’m thrilled she is able to do that.

They are still getting presents, though, but the endgame moving forward is to keep it simple and avoid credit card spending.

I need to keep in mind that as far as gifts are concerned, 27 is not 17 is not 7 – and yet I keep hearkening back to those times, like, will my gifts be enough

But then I snap back to reality with the profound realization that, yes, they will be enough because I am enough. This is where the heart comes in, where spending time together comes in, where love comes in.

That kind of acceptance just became the biggest gift I could possibly give myself.

For many years, my “day job” has been at a cigar shop with a well-known name: Tinder Box.

In my case, I work for Tinder Box of the Carolinas.

If you are of a certain age like I am, you’ll remember Tinder Box.

In the 70s and 80s, you couldn’t miss the small stores with Tudor facades and tiny walk-in humidors and all sorts of briar pipes, tobaccos and collectibles throughout. It seemed that whatever mall you happened to enter, the probability that you would pass a Tinder Box franchise was very high.

The Cigar Boom in the late 1990s/Early 2000s changed the landscape. The humidors grew considerably larger.

I remember seeing such stores when I was younger – in places like Miami and in many locations in Southern California like the Mall of Orange, the Glendale Galleria and more.

Tinder Box was started in Los Angeles in 1928 by a tobacconist named Ed Koplin, Sr. Sadly, that store closed its doors for good in 2017.  A ninety-year run is nothing if not astonishing.

The franchise opportunity became available in 1973, and [my twin brother] Chris’ father-in-law, Jim Cass, was one of the first on board – launching his first shop at the Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem, North Carolina – essentially opening up the Mid-Atlantic region.

Jim started that store as a hobby while he was engaged in his career with R.J. Reynolds. What began in Winston eventually became multiple stores in the Carolinas – and there was a location in Roanoke, Virginia for a time.

Jim, thankfully, is still around, and lives with wife Martha in Myrtle Beach – but Tinder Box of the Carolinas is now generational – headed up by Jim’s son, Craig Cass, in Charlotte. Craig’s sister (my sister-in-law), Betsy Yale, helms the Myrtle Beach location.

Our organization is renowned in the cigar industry, not only by virtue of the longevity of the business and the relationships forged and nurtured with key cigar families, but also due in no small part to Craig’s efforts within the industry, from taking on the Goliath of governmental regulatory overreach as well as his service within organizations such as the Premium Cigar Association (PCA), Cigar Rights of America (CRA) and more.

Exempting premium cigars from FDA regulation is a continuing fight that goes to the lifeblood of the industry, to say nothing of the mom-and-pop businesses that don’t enjoy the deep pockets of their monolithic corporate counterparts.

The cool thing about all of this is that, as with cigar producers, Tinder Box of the Carolinas is essentially a family business.

My experience with the organization began in 1996.

More to come.

Original Tinder Box / Los Angeles

My son is a married man.

Photo: Scott Smallin Photography

My firstborn twin, Wes, got hitched on September 26. Done deal.

I have gained a gorgeous daughter-in-law with a beauty that radiates from the inside out, and I am thrilled to death that I can now claim Leigh as such with impunity – and her parents and family are second to none.

What amazes me about major events like this is that time seems to compress the closer you get to the event – like what was 18 months away is now in the rear-view mirror.

The wedding took place at Pine Lakes Country Club, known all over the golfing world as “The Granddaddy” (it was built in 1927). Somebody told me that Sports Illustrated started right there under command from iconic publisher Henry Luce and it’s true.

Being the father of the groom is wonderful in itself, but I was also honored and humbled that Wes chose me as his best man and that the couple asked me to officiate. Does that count as a triple threat?

Our friend Aly caught the groom’s reaction as he first catches sight of the bride. Pure love.

Video: Alynne Knott

THE BACHELOR GETAWAY

Wes didn’t want a traditional bachelor party, per se. He wanted to get away with me and Xavier, his best friend since middle school. The plan was to see KISS in Raleigh earlier in September, but the COVID-19 situation had other plans, and the show was postponed until next year. I am holding on to the tickets.

As an option, Wes chose an overnight trip to the Fayetteville area in North Carolina. The “three amigos” spent the first day shooting at an outdoor range called 37 PSR Gun Club. Wes, once-a-Marine-always-a-Marine, was in hog heaven – and I felt good being with him. He was methodical in making sure Xavier and I handled our weapons properly. Somehow, shooting with a Marine makes you want to shine.

But we were there to have fun, and we did. Afterwards, we checked in to the Hampton Inn Spring Lake and headed out to eat Mexican food at a great place called El Cazador.

The next day found us engaged in airsoft battles with maybe ten young people at a place called Black Ops Paintball. For me, this was much more fun. Shooting downrange is OK, but after a while it gets old. Airsoft battles in teams was more the ticket for me. I reconnected with that inner kid who used to play guns in the neighborhood.

We’ll likely do this again at the outfit’s Myrtle Beach location. The kid at the counter talked us into way too much ammo. Sorry, Xavier.

One caveat: Airsoft ain’t soft.

THE REHEARSAL DINNER

My girlfriend, Brenda, graciously offered to handle all aspects of the rehearsal dinner – from planning to execution.

Early on, we chose the historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot for the event. I have written about this place before. It’s a cool old brick building that is now rented out by the City of Myrtle Beach for all sorts of functions. Problem is, because of COVID-19, the maximum attendance was reduced to 21 people.

Because family was coming in from out of town, there was no way that would work…

Before we had the chance to fret about this too much, Leigh contacted Brenda and offered the use of the soon-to-be newlyweds’ backyard.

Plans were put in place for tables, chairs, dishes, linens and flatware. Brenda set up the catering with Fiesta Mexicana, a favorite local eatery – and began putting together ancillary items like votive candles, floral plans, photo booth balloons and much more.

But a potential shit show was looming. Rain – and lots of it – started showing up on the weather apps.

We ordered a 15×15 open tent, ostensibly to cover the food – but mother nature peppered us with rain all day and into the evening. I will forever be grateful for the time and effort Brenda put into this event – and thankful for the help of the friends who rolled up their sleeves and jumped into the fray…and transformed the newlyweds’ home into a dining showplace.  We couldn’t have done this without them.

That night, I made my speech – a combination of best man and father of the groom – and I almost made it through without choking up. I said almost, didn’t I?

During dinner, things began to clear up enough for folks to head outside – some to eat under the tent, some to mingle, play cornhole, throw axes and listen to Wes’ awesome playlist.

THE BIG DAY

I gladly accept the rain the night before – because the wedding day was absolutely gorgeous.

The guys got together at the newlyweds’ place – to get into our tuxes and have some pre-wedding photos done, coincidentally, by my friend Scott Smallin, whom I first met and worked with in our Weekly Surge days. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out Scott would be handling the wedding photography. I think he took like two million photos.

The wedding? Stunning – from start to finish.

Kudos to Leigh’s parents, Michael and Cathy, for putting together such a wonderful day. Michael might tell you that all he had to do was show up, but he and Cathy are straight-up doers. While other people talk, they take action. I can learn a lot from them.

I can’t imagine the depth of planning that goes into a wedding like this – but everything seemed to go off without a hitch – in the serene and beautiful setting that is Pine Lakes.

The bride was a vision of beauty – absolutely flawless. And my son the groom, gorgeous. Together, they took my breath away as they stood in front of me for the vows. The honor of joining these two beautiful young people in holy matrimony is something I don’t take lightly, and I will never forget it.

Here are some great photos from my friend Brendan Wright:

Did I mention that the JAVA Band was off the hook? I did now. Unbelievably so!

Friends, family. New friends, new family. That’s what it’s all about.

The following day, many of us got together for brunch and go-cart racing at Broadway Grand Prix in Myrtle Beach. This, from what I understand, is a family tradition.

What was 18 months away is now a reality. May God richly bless the bride and groom, and may their love know no bounds.

Brendan Wright/BWI Images
Forget about New Year's Resolutions – start the new year with an ...

In September, my son will marry a young lady I can’t wait to claim as my daughter-in-law.

Earlier this year, we reserved the Historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot for the rehearsal dinner.

But the COVID-19 situation threw the proverbial spanner in the works.

Things to do with the rehearsal dinner have been modified. With our group, I figured the venue was more than big enough for social distancing.

We plan on having food catered in, along with beverages…

I just got word that the maximum attendance has been reduced, which would mean slashing attendees to the bare minimum – to include only the wedding party, parents and key family members.

If we don’t do this, we’ll have to consider other options for this event.

Thing is, nobody knows what’s coming down the pike as far as COVID-19 in September. For all we know, the city (Myrtle Beach) could shut down again – or things could improve. If things get worse, this means that restaurants could close – or at the very least, they might also adopt maximum capacity guidelines. They might be forced to go back to curbside service, which opens up another Pandora’s box: Could caterers be shut down?

Such is the uncertain nature of our world at the moment.

My guy at the Train Depot has canceled events for a good chunk of September – but each of those parties expected 100 or more people to attend. He has held off on canceling us outright but will likely be forced to do so if we stay at our projected attendance.

The son of dear friends got married in Pittsburgh in April. We watched the livestream. Empty church except for essential people. I am not sure what they did about the rehearsal and other related pre-wedding parties or the reception – but I can bet that they didn’t see this coming when they set the date.

My son served in the US Marine Corps. There is a saying he taught me: “Semper Gumby…”

Semper Gumby Marine Corps Icon

… “always flexible.”

Well paint me orange and call me Pokey. I had better start stretching – and stop overthinking.

NOTE: I wrote this post on July 23. As of July 24 – we are moving all rehearsal dinner festivities to an outdoor location perfectly suitable for the event, thank God. It was the perfect solution – and one we wouldn’t have thought about until the bride-to-be messaged us about the possibility.

Gratitude. Cleansing breaths…

And since there are no coincidences, I read an article today in Success Magazine that featured an Icelandic saying – and by God I needed to see that:

Þetta reddast… everything is going to work out, or something like that.

Photo credit: India Audus / Iceland Will Make You Happy

“Don’t die with your music still in you…”

Wayne Dyer

No matter how long you have been on this planet, there’s something you still need to do.

I remember when my father started going through old papers, notebooks and letters he had stored in my aunt and uncle’s basement in Crestline, California – 5000 feet up in the San Bernardino Mountains

I found that odd, but I knew what he was up to. He had recently emerged from the hospital after suffering a fall in the shower and developing subdural hematomas, which rendered him incapable of doing basic things like using silverware, holding a cup of tea (his favorite) or even walking.

He had fully improved by the time decided to get rid of that stuff.

I couldn’t have been more than twenty, and I just watched him as he discarded item after item. It was as if he had an agenda, and it seemed to me then that he had a taste of his own mortality and wanted to make sure he “cleaned house.”

He died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm soon after that. That day also happened to be my 21st birthday – the day my twin brother and I were set to party it up. Our friends had a limo ready for us. Let’s just say that was a bust.

The above is not so much a digression as it is a story about what my father felt he had to do, and I kind of wish I had those discarded items to shift through to make better sense of his life and the man he was.

Do the Thing

But this post is not just about getting your house in order before you die; it’s about making sure we don’t depart this mortal coil with our work unfinished – our purpose unfulfilled.

I’m going to be 57 in July. That number is almost unbelievable – and if I let my thoughts run rampant, I am afraid that they will take me to a place of regret – the cursed domain of “should-haves,” “would-haves” and “could-haves.”

I have written before about the value of reconnecting with our inner 12-year-olds to see what resonated with us then. Forget the conventional wisdom that a pre-teen doesn’t yet have the ability to intuit what they want from life. I have a feeling that we all have an inkling of what moves us long before that. It’s only after repeated exposure to those who tell us to stop daydreaming that we begin to lose – or sublimate – our innate and God-given talents.

Look at the people who told you to grow up. Did their lives show any indication of fulfillment? Of joy?

Probably not.

Chances are good that somebody else told them to grow up, thereby continuing a generational beat-down – a downward spiral of error, if you will.

Conform or die.

Always remember this obvious fact: Death is not the exclusive domain of the old. The bell could toll at any time. Earl Nightingale, the Dean of Personal Development, once said something to the effect that if we are on course, the end could come like a snapped piece of film in a reel as we are going about our business.

What do you need to finish?

What do you need to start?

What thing have you talked about for years, for decades, that you never got around to starting?

Believe me, the urge to complete that thing will not stop dogging you. No matter how much you try to avoid it.

The result – bitterness. Regret. Failure to launch. The void.

There is something inside you that needs to be realized – something dear to you that you have cherished since you were little. It is my hope that you dust that off and begin in earnest to nurture that.

From my heart to yours: Start the thing. You will be glad you did.

After years of hemming and hawing; after false starts and heaping helpings of procrastination, my brother and I finally launched our podcast…

Episode 22 – "Casey King: Recovery in a Virtual World" Yale Brothers Podcast

Casey King is all about changing the face of recovery. Casey's a physics professor at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in Myrtle Beach, and through his work with the Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series aims to reduce the stigma society places on those in recovery. He has been sober since 2005. In 2008, he founded and launched the series – a popular event that has included a growing “Who’s Who” of featured celebrity speakers – from actors to rock stars to medical professionals and many more. The series also features presentations and panels including college students, recovery advocates and spokespersons from local recovery groups, rounding out a lecture series that shines as a beacon of hope for those still struggling with addiction and a lamp on the path of those on their recovery journeys. The program is set to continue this year in a virtual setting on the Zoom platform, beginning on January 28 and continuing every Thursday until February 18. SHOW NOTES 0:00 – "Seeing's Believing" by Chris Yale 4:05 – About the song. From Chris' album "Well Enough Alone" 4:35 – Introducing Casey King Louis Gossett, Jr. / Mackenzie Phillips / Danny Trejo / Art Alexakis / Bob Forrest/ Dr. Drew Pinsky 8:10 – Overview of series 8:40 – About Casey 9:18 – Trajectory of series 14:21 -Jeff VanVonderen / Meredith Baxter / Candy Finnigan / Ken Seeley 18:23 – Booking Louis Gossett, Jr / The Gary Stromberg connection 20:09 – Danny Trejo's appearance was the most well-attended on-campus event in HGTC history. 22:00 – Degrees of separation 22:39 – Local recovery and advocacy groups: Lighthouse Care Center / Shoreline Behavioral Health Services / FAVOR Grand Strand – Faces and Voices of Recovery / Grand Strand Health 23:35 – COVID-19 / Series to go virtual 24:30 – Virtual recovery meetings paved the way for this year's series. 25:30 – "World Home Group" – Scotland, Australia, Berlin, Ireland, Tenerife 26:21 – Speaker reveal LINK / Casey King and Coastal Carolina University's Wes Fondren   26:50 – This year's speakers: Craig T. Nelson / Keith A. Somers / Carnie Wilson / Gary Stromberg / Paul Williams Click HERE for series details and access. It's free and you can be anonymous if you wish. 34:42 – Changing the Face of Recovery 36:00 – Casey's advice for those still struggling To reach out to Casey, call or text (843)450-6482
  1. Episode 22 – "Casey King: Recovery in a Virtual World"
  2. Episode 21 – "What's the Matter with Your Eyes, Boys?"
  3. Episode 20 – "I Was a Punk Before You"
  4. Episode 19 – "Emotional Support Chihuahuas?"
  5. Episode 18 – "Roger That?"

The first time we tried this, embarrassingly enough, was in 2008, when podcasts were still gaining steam and long before they became ubiquitous. Over a period of a years, we made several more stabs at this – and then we just stopped.

Some earlier attempts went up on SoundCloud, sort-of complete but not quite actual episodes. But we had stories to tell…

And we still do. Stories about growing up in Hollywood in the late 1970s and early 1980s – a period when the town was what my brother called “beautifully grungy” – well before a Build-A-Bear Workshop appeared across from the Chinese Theater.

We lived at the foot of the Hollywood Hills at Franklin Avenue and Orange Drive, in an apartment building wedged directly in between the fabled Magic Castle and a 40-unit hotel our father managed called The Magic Hotel. The hotel is now called The Magic Castle Hotel.

At that time, not only the names of the buildings were magic. Our young lives were as magical as could be.

This podcast will be cathartic for us, and I hope the stories of twin boomers coming of age in lotus land will strike a chord with those curious enough to have a listen.

But we’re not just about looking back. Expect to hear original music in each episode and updates on what’s going on with us now in Myrtle Beach.

Still 12

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.

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.