After I turned five years old, I was allowed to fly without my parents to visit my grandparents in Florida. I loved these visits so much and always looked forward to them. This is also when I first started to fall in love with traveling. I thought riding in an airplane was so cool and vividly remember quizzing the flight attendants about their job and all the different places they got to go.
Soon after my ninth birthday, two weeks surrounding the 4th of July, my parents somehow decided it was a good idea to send me off to visit, on my own, my childless and somewhat crazy Aunt Carmela and her husband Don. This might not have been as crazy as an idea had my beloved Aunt Carmela and Uncle Don not been living in New York City. Now, I don’t know about you other parents out there reading this, and I do love my Aunt Carmela, but I can’t imagine ever making this decision. I still wish I could somehow rewind time to be a fly on the wall to hear my parents’ discussions pertaining to this particular trip.
That being said, I am forever grateful for that amazing opportunity. For me, going to NYC, without my parents or siblings, is a trip that I consider to be my very first world traveling experience. It didn’t matter that I was from the US. Going to NYC introduced me to seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, meeting, doing and generally experiencing things that were like nothing I’d ever before. I LOVED it.
I can still see the graffiti all over the subways (this was still the 80s after all). And I remember the old man that offered me candy (which I, of course, did not take since I had been taught not to take candy from a stranger…but this was the first time a stranger actually offered it. I was convinced he must be a kidnapper). I was torn between the world of high heels and business women and the girl on the ferry that had a single strand mohawk and had colored her skull green.
This is when I learned tofu was not some kind of fancy yogurt/ice cream type treat like it had always sounded to me. I got to eat amazing food and the biggest piece of pizza I had ever seen in my life. My uncle worked security for the building they lived in and he had keys to the top floor which was all open space. I was allowed to go up there for hours with my 8 track player and dance around like I was in Flashdance. It was the first time I really saw homeless people. I started leaving half sandwiches as cleanly and as close to the top of the trash as I could so someone else could eat them.
Carmela, being the colorful individual that she was, sometimes made it even more intriguing with some things she told me with a complete straight face that I later realized were obvious lies. Like the time we saw a mentally disturbed man on the street corner screaming out nonsense to no one in particular— or at least no one we could see — and she pointed him out and told me that he was running for mayor and she was definitely going to vote for him. Or when we were walking through Central Park and we saw two bigger gentlemen walking side-by-side, they might have even been twins, and she told me they were the real tweedle dee and tweedle dum. They also had counterfeit money – a wad of it – that was sitting in a cup on their counter. Inside it has a curse word-filled note mocking the thief that might one day take it. I still have a photograph of an apartment building that she swore Cindy Lauper lived in. Obviously, I have to question the validity of that claim!
This trip opened my eyes and imagination to fact that the world I lived in, wasn’t the only one in existence. This trip marked the first of many, many more travel adventures to come.