The first time was a good hour long build up of the alarm getting louder and louder and... finally we actually got up and went out into the hallways, and there were firemen in gear, going to find something. There were also people in their pajamas going back to their rooms, as they'd found out, already, that there was no fire. Some of them had been standing outside for most of that time, in the rain.
Then it went off again. This time it was relatively short, and everyone got to find out that it was being caused by a wiring short that was happening because of the rain getting in through one of the fire alarm throw switches on the outside of the building. Nearly everyone had assumed that it was one of the kids, because we were also sharing the entire floor with a summer camp as well as our own. When it went off again at 4am, I just put my pillow over my head, rolled over and went back to sleep. I was so tired, it was easy.
It did make the day a little harder, but I slept like a log for the first week and a half back home, too. I did, however, in the morning, manage to upload the picture of my painting for the challenge, and people highly approved the fact that I was using what I could while traveling.
So two out of the four mornings, we were able to use these bus-only lanes to go into the City. I'd never seen anything like it before, as the buses were nose-to-tail packed within the lane and going about 40+ at a steady pace. Most of them were full too, and most were Metro buses with tour buses sprinkled steadily throughout. The interesting thing was that just across the water, when we came out of the tunnel, the lane leads right into the Transit Station there, and it's a bus station with multiple levels to it, and ramps up to every single level for the buses. It was amazing, and Luke had to be careful not to get sucked into that particular current of buses, because the ramps were designed for the smaller, more agile city buses, and he might not have even been able to make it through the initial turn.
And, yeah. Hoboken. It was funny to still be startled by the names. In a way, it was like the one time I'd seen Jay Buhner, the Mariner's baseball player, at my physical therapy clinic, or when we saw the channel 7 weather guy at the airport, or, for that matter, seeing Hilary and Bill at American in Paris. There's this instant feeling of I know them and then the confused but I've really never seen them physically before thought that follows.
Fame is a interesting phenomenon, lots and lots of people seeing or hearing of someone who has never seen or heard them in return. And, in this case, a place I'd heard of, read about, seen through the eyes of other characters, on the TV screen, and I'd never actually seen it myself but still had this visceral response of I know this place. And I guess that's a thing that was happening for the whole trip, over and over again. Actually getting to experience the 86th floor with Cole Porter's song "Down in the Depths" still echoing in my memory was something else.
This was one of the excellent things, we got to see. *laughs* Dick brought us into a guarded atrium, the Grand Atrium Lobby of the Top of the Rock Observation Decks in the very Rockefeller Center we'd been to so often in the last few days, to show us this. It's called Joie: Crystal Waterfall. It was made by Swarovski crystal works in 2005, and it's carefully cleaned twice a year, and hung back up like this. It's a new generation of crystal chandeliers, and I loved it. When you step back and look at it from the side it's actually a representation of the profile of the Rockefeller Center, upsidedown.
The lady leader of the Canadian group was really wonderful. Her mother was a waitress and kept all her tips all year, and with the money would take her family to New York City in order to do the Christmas shopping. And part of that was getting to go to the Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes do their famous Christmas Show. It was really fun talking with her, her love of the city and the whole of all the performing arts was really obvious. Her whole family were all involved in various productions and knew the way it went, so her squeals at finding a particular actor in a car in the street or getting to see a certain production were just really great.
Later on, Dick said that when he has to do two groups, the leaders nearly never become friendly with each other, and the kids never mix, but we were doing both. *laughs* Our kids were sitting with the Canadian girls on the bus and exchanging conversations as well as gifts, and their leader and ours got along wonderfully and we'd all eat breakfast together and share condolences about a horrible night's sleep. *laughs*
And it started with this amazing entryway and atrium. The piece of art on the back wall is called "The Fountain of Youth" and is 40'x60', and is based on an old Native American myth about the fountain. The whole, as is quite evident, is done in the Art Deco style as it was created in 1932, paid for by Mr. Samuel Lynell Rockefeller, but actually created by a showman, Samuel Roxy Rothafel, otherwise known to everyone as Roxy. Roxy had opened the Roxy Theater in 1927 and came up with the original Rockettes. The carpet is called "Visual Jazz" by Ruth Reeves, and it contains representations of eight different instruments, some more representational than others.
Alvin was amazing. Later, Jet would say, "He's just like Alfred, Batman's butler. Totally polite, but with an amazing sense of humor!" He had a perfectly dry, ironic way of relating to us, in particular with the usual 'trouble-makers' of the group; and he had a very evident respect and love of the old building. He would rattle off a dozen different facts about every single thing we saw, and then answer every question with what was obviously a deep knowledge and understanding of what the building was about. In a way, he reminded me of our Dick Swarn, too, in that he was such a good guide because he loved what he was showing people and had a feeling for the roots of the history he was trying to bring to other people's awareness.
For each of the Spectaculars, the Rockettes do a 120 shows, 6 shows a day with a million and a half in attendance in one month. It's a 90 minute show, with two crews that each to either the three morning shows or the three evening shows, and when one crew takes a day off, the other does both, and that happens on alternating weeks for the two crews. It's an amazingly precise system.
The seating is flexible. On that day, on which they were preparing for the Tonys, they could seat 5931 people, and they could easily do more than 6000, with a moving track system for the seats. There was about 10,000 square feet of space in the building, and it goes from 50th Street to 51st Street. The coloring of the stage was inspired by a sunset sea in the tropics. Roxie had gone there and decided that those were the colors he wanted for the stage, and it works.
One thing to notice is that there are no columns in the audience area at all. There is nothing that can obstruct someone's view of the stage.
Underneath is where the stage does its magic, there are three 300 horsepower engines linked to the hydraulics that move all the pieces of the enormous steel stage. Each of the three main stage sections have a 40 foot range of lift. There's a turntable and other smaller parts that can move. A fourth elevator raises and lowers the entire orchestra pit. Alvin said that the Navy in WWII actually used some of the technology they had developed for the Radio City Music Halls stage for aircraft carrier abilities. Back then, they'd had to keep the backstage area under wraps and extra security so that those technical secrets couldn't be found by just anyone.
This was also the room where they'd kept the animals for the Living Nativity, and an elephant was kept here for a while, too, for one show or another, and the animals were walked up in the city when they needed to stretch their muscles. In one of the hallways was a picture of the elephant, eyes wide, as it navigated the stairs. The same elephant easily walked the stage, which could bear its weight along with the weight of the whole of the Cirque setup.
But people used to come in from the subway, and the architects really wanted to make it so that people would be quiet when they entered. The psychology of the day said that diamond shapes helped people quiet down, so the floor was made entirely of diamonds. Dark areas encouraged a hush, so it was lowly light and decorated in deeper colors. The columns were designed to keep people from congregating into larger crowds, breaking up the floor in an irregular manner.
I thought it was gorgeous. And the statue of a woman at the entrance to the restroom area is part of a set of three nude statues that are placed around the theater. Roxy originally objected to the nudes in what he deemed was a theater for family entertainment, but the Rockefellers loved them so much they were eventually all put on display. As you can also see from the picture, there were wood inlayed art panels here, all in the Art Deco style that the whole place wore with such elegance.
The men's room had lounge that used to be the smoking room. There the guys could just sit and smoke in peace. There was this huge panel of art, that was something like Men without Women, and it showed pictures of men doing all the things they do on their own. Hunting, cards, mountain climbing, sailors' tattoos... *laughs* It was pretty amazingly cool. The original chairs were still there, still leather upholstery and comfortably cushioned. The women's lounge was covered in images about the history of cosmetics! And the couches and chairs in there were lower than the ones in the mens' room, to accommodate skirts and dresses and how one needed to sit in them. There was a second room, the powder room, which was nothing but stools and mirrors, lots and lots of mirrors for the application of said cosmetics.
The restrooms themselves were in amazing shape, with food pedal worked air hand dryers. That was really quite nice, and Alvin gave everyone the time to use the amenities.
We could hear the workmen on the stage speaking with each other, with no amplification whatsoever. From here we could see that not only were there no columns, but there were no box seats either. And there were two Wurlitzer organs, one on either side of the stage, that were 5000 pounds apiece, with 4000 total pies, and 66 fans to get air to go into those pipes. There was acoustic tiling on the back of the theater, so that there would be no echo.
From here it was easier to see the stage, the orchestra pit, and the curtains. There are 6,000 pounds of curtains that used to be all raised and lowered by hand, until 2006.
The furniture in there was all original.
In the 70's film production and distribution changed the focus of the Hall. It used to be primarily a movie theater, with the Rockettes on the side as a musical show afterward. But with the way films were becoming distributed, it fell out of favor, and with its policy of only showing G-rated movies, it just got worse. But in the 70's and 80's, people raised $70 million dollars to restore the whole thing. The Madison Square Garden Company now owns and manages the area, and the venue has changed focus to live performances.
The best known of which are the Rockettes' spectaculars. Roxy had originally found the Rockets in the mid-West somewhere, and brought them to the Hall and had the building created, in part, to showcase the girls.
Alvin said that the Rockettes are high-precision, team-based dancers with eye-high kicks. I liked his turn of phrase for all that. They're also required to be 5'6" to 5'10 1/2" tall, and since the average height of American woman has gone up again, the requirement will be moved up as well. Originally, when the troop first started the requirement was that they be between 5' and 5' 6 1/2 inches tall. They're supposed to be above average in height.
The costumes are just ridiculous, too. There are just so many of them and all individually made for the women. There are 10,000 costumes in their archives, which is off-site, but in the building itself, there are four floor dedicated solely to the Rockette's Costumes. And in the displays about the history of the Rockettes themselves were cases of little dolls, each one in a different costume.
The Canadian leader said that she still had several of those dolls from when she could come to the Hall to see shows, and her daughter had asked if they shouldn't just sell them, and she'd outright refused, it'd be a bit like selling memories....
He took us into a subway entrance, we walked along all kinds of hallways, went through a building basement, and then ended up into another maze of hallways. Some doors made some parts of it air conditioned and other parts muggy with humidity, and then we ended up going up tiled stairs...
Grand Central Station.
Talk about stories here. *laughs*
For a while we just stood there, looking at everything from the train schedules to the clock, to the wide expanse of open space. Dick advised us that it was good that right now we could just stand and look around, at rush hour, you'd be bowled over if you stopped anywhere here. Early on in the tour, he'd explained that a New York minute was faster than your normal minute, because in New York everyone moved faster.
I think that's why everyone in nearly every picture I took in Grand Central was a blur. *laughs* I was amazed, staring with my head tilted up to look at the ceiling, which was painted with constellations, lit with small lights.
This was also our lunch stop.
The Shake Shack from the Letterman Show was in here, along with dozens of other vendors, pretty much all locally based. Everyone ran around the whole ring once, and just off of the ring was an Oyster Bar, which John and I decided early on that since we only had an hour, we probably couldn't get into and out of in the time we had.
I don't exactly regret that decision. *laughs*
John got the New Yorker, with caramelized onions, saurkraut, and grainy mustard. I got the Mexi, which had chili con carne (what is chili without carne?), cheese, salsa, and avocado chunks. We also got chips and John got himself some water. It was all really good, too.
Junior's is something of a Brooklyn institution, and it has a long enough history to be very well covered by the Food Network and the like. And long ago I'd actually mail ordered one of their cakes simply for comfort on my part, and it was delicious. And expensive to get. So it was amazing to just sit down to a single slice and not have to eat the rest of the cake, too.
When we were done we still had a little time to explore. One of the things we saw when exploring was Jet, sitting at the Oyster Bar. I just stood there, laughing with John. We raised Jet right. Goodness. He'd gone in with the Lee family and went for the oysters, just as he's always eaten them, in the Northwest, in New Orleans, and all over the country whenever we find them fresh and plentiful. He did good, and made it back just barely in time.
I also had a bit of an adventure in the "very public" restroom. There were a lot of people, and a poor attendant was trying to clean and restock some of the stalls with her cart. I went into three 'empty' stalls in a row and found that none of them had toilet paper.
When I came out of the third one, I said, out loud, "Do any of these have toilet paper?"
The attendant wordlessly handed me a partial roll. I blinked at her, and said, "Thank you."
Her expression relaxed at that, and I grinned and took it into the stall with me. The holder was completely gone on that one, so I just hung onto it while doing what I needed to do. And when I came out, another lady headed for my stall, so I just handed her the roll. The look on her face was priceless. It's good to pay things forward. *laughs*
And Dick came to gather us all up, tell us the bus was here, and that we were all going to the next stage of our adventure. Turns out that Grand Central has a really good place for bus drop offs and pickups.
We probably should have, too, if I hadn't been so full of Junior's cheesecake. White Castle is a Midwest thing for both Beth and I, going to Chicago or Indianpolis, and we'd always visit one of those for a special treat. There are a lot of people in places that have White Castle hamburgers that laugh at me whenever I get all excited about one, so it was nice having Beth be excited too!
It was across the street from a multi-level building that was filled with dance studios and rehearsal rooms, and the guard at the front, once he saw that he had a whole group going to the same floor for this, just started waving us through once the first few of us stated our intended floor.
Again, there was that clear separation between the kids and the adults, where the kids got to go in and do it all, and the adults just sat around observing. Beth and I could have entirely gone to the White Castle, in a way, as it turned out, but it was actually pretty fascinating to watch.
She had them doing jumping jacks and stuff to start, to get the blood flowing. She did a pretty good job of creating a more fearless atmosphere, to let middle-school kids actually improvise anything. It was startlingly similar to the improv workshop I'd taken at BigBadCon a couple of years ago, though I'll admit that the humor was very much middle-school level. *laughs*
They warmed up with "Triple Jewel Names", i.e. a really expressive descriptor, their name, and an action that goes with it. Jet happily jumped in with "Jurassic Jet", which I thought was great. I'm such a biased Mom. The Counting Game, where they had to only have one voice for each number, was intriguing. And then they did a story where each kid got to have only one word, including punctuation, at a time. And they ended up with a one-on-one improv, of supposedly one line each, and then trying to do exactly the same words but with body language. They blew right past the 'one line' rule. *laughs* Several of them just kept going... whew, but it was fun anyway.
I had fun watching them.
It had been a request, and I think it was Jodie who had asked, I'm not entirely sure, but we were all pretty grateful that she did.
Strawberry Fields was created after John Lenin was shot, just across the street from Central Park, on the West side, or the expensive side, where no high rises were allowed to be built, so that the Park could get sunshine. The City and Yoko Ono came to an agreement, and she helped design it, and there was a legendary old man who did a lot of the maintenance of the whole thing. He died recently, so it hasn't been as well maintained, but devotees come and do what they can.
Just as Dick said it would. And since it had been raining up until that moment, there were very few people in the park. Normally, it would have been mobbed there, and hard to have a group around Mr. Baker. You can actually find a YouTube video of Mr. Baker on a typical summer's day at the mosaic, and people are shoving the guy with the camera around, it's so crowded.
So we got lucky. It was mostly just us and him, and he played and the kids sang with him, and since a good part of the group was performance choir, it was good. Really good. They did "Hey, Jude" and James liked it so much, he asked them to sing with him again, and this time they did "Let It Be" and it was haunting.
A slow mist started to fall, pretty much as soon as we left the Imagine circle, but our rain coats were entirely sufficient. And I was now armed with a plastic bag for my backpack so that I could stuff things in it that had to stay dry.
Underneath the arches was a family. A big, black man with the voice of an angel and an old upright piano that wasn't very happy about the damp. He had his wife with him, and when he saw all of us and Dick spoke with him for a while, he sent her off to find his son and daughter and bring them from their spots in the Park, too.
He is a gospel singer. An amazing one, and he used a small sound system instead of the piano to accompany him to the tune of "Amazing Grace". And it was, indeed, amazing.
He was selling CDs, and his daughter accompanied him on the next song, a solo one he did on his own, and then his son arrived and did a solo and then his daughter did one herself, accompanying herself on the guitar. All original material, which was nice to hear and witness. There was a bucket for buying the music and for just any money people wanted to toss in for the performance. The musicians in Central Park and in the subway have to be licensed for those areas, and Dick said that it's okay to give them money for their performances. He really loved this family and their talents, and I could see why.
The rain continued quietly outside, and it felt like nothing so much like being under a bridge, like in some kind of fairy tale with magical creatures doing their spells under the stone bridge.
And the stone made for interesting acoustics, too.
It's where Stuart Little sailed his ship from buoy to buoy and back again! *laughs* That's the one that I remember the most, and I was so excited about being able to take a picture of the full set of buoys. That was fun. There was also a little boat house that would rent you a model boat if you wanted to sail and didn't have one for yourself. That was really cool to know, and it's be really fun to actually do that some day, ourselves.
Along the path were fallen oak leaves, knocked down by the wind and rain of the night before, including a green branch with leaves on it. I picked it up and asked Dick if I could keep them, and he said sure. It would only get swept up and thrown away anyway. So I washed them off in a fountain and shook them off to dry them and just held onto them.
It was cool to have pictures both with all the kids on it and without, so that you can actually see the statue. It's on the 5th Avenue side of the park, and it's just a monument to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, not dedicated to any particular person and maintained and funded by a particular group.
The statues are all in great positions, arguing with each other, or simply posing as themselves. I especially liked the Cheshire Cat, and the conversation between the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse. The old bronze was warm to the touch, still getting some sunlight even through the cloud cover. The kids had a great time climbing all over it once they got the idea that they could.
That was one thing that I noticed, also, at the Five Faces statue, that people were allowed to wander in and out of the statuary, so long as they didn't do anything to it all, it was fine to experience it with touch and going places that you normally wouldn't think to go on a statue. I liked the places under the mushroom, in particular.
We walked to 5th Avenue to meet the bus. Along the way, we saw several people walking their dogs in the Park. The thing that really amused John was seeing that many of the dogs, even the medium sized ones like German Shepherds and Standard Poodles, all had raincoats on them! That was pretty striking, but I guess it was raining, and if the dog is going back into a small apartment, you really don't want them to be too wet going in.
There were actually two EA groups all in one room, each with their own buffet that contained chicken marsala, penne pasta, salad, roasted vegetables, and a basket full of rolls. The food was all right. Group food usually isn't that stellar to begin with, but it was tasty enough simply because I really was hungry by that time.
But when I came to the bread basket, there were this rolls that were studded with something dark. I'd had to go use the bathroom while we were waiting on the food, and the line was so long that by the time I got back, everyone but me had already been through the line. So these were nearly the only bread items left in the basket. I didn't know what they were, but I took one, bit into it, and immediately took two of the ones that were left. *laughs*
Some of the kids realized that the bakery downstairs was still open, too, so a few got excellent French-style macaroons. Yum. And then we headed back to Times Square. It was just as brightly light, even more active, and beautiful in its own way. It was also really busy, because they were having the Taste of New York in Times Square, so there were dozens and dozens of restaurants with booths with just a little something from their menus there. It was also a benefit. Luckily, having just ate, it was easier to resist than it might have otherwise been.
We got dropped off, in light misty rain again. Dick led the way to a particular billboard and told us that we were going to meet right here in order to be ready to go into the theater when they let people in at 7:30. It was just 6:30, so he let us go off and do whatever we wanted.
As we entered the driveway to the hotel, these people came out all in a group. I think they must have had something to do at the Taste. *laughs* But it was interesting seeing them nonetheless.
A conference was being held on the convention floor, but there wasn't anyone checking badges just to get on the floor. There were huge bathrooms in every corner of the floor, clearly marked, completely empty, and beautifully clean. It was something of a luxury. *laughs* It always amazes me how much travel always makes me so grateful for such ordinary things as my own bathroom.
We wandered a little after that. There was a Junior's right there, too, but I'd already had my cheesecake and didn't need another. There was, however, a tiny Broadway memorabilia shop in the side of one of the bigger buildings, and it was half underground, but filled with all kinds of things, including the t-shirts from An American in Paris. Jodie had snagged one the night we'd gone, but I hadn't and after seeing hers I wanted one pretty badly. So I bought it right there. That was nice to be able to do, as I hadn't expected to get a second chance.
For some reason, the theater ushers weren't letting anyone into the theater, even though they'd been taking tickets for some time. They filled the entire front lobby, packed it with people, and then, finally, lifted the velvet ropes and let everyone into the theater.
At the Majestic, we all had a view of the stage, so that was good.
I had never seen Phantom of the Opera before. I've heard some of the songs, though, you can't really avoid the longest running musical on Broadway. I think I actually borrowed the whole sound track at one point and listened to it because I'd always been into musicals, though more Rogers and Hammerstein than Andrew Lloyd Webber. I knew the gist of the story, who couldn't? And I admit that I was kind of set on disliking it... as I don't really like stories where women are caught between the wills of men, but so many of these stories are exactly that.
In a way, I guess American in Paris was about a woman caught between the desires and wills of three men. Still, it was an old style of musicals, with songs between clear and clean scenes where people actually speak to each other and make a contiguous story of sorts.
The operatic style of Phantom was... not that. *laughs* With every single thing sung, it was imperative that one be able to hear the voices in order to understand what was going on. And I don't know if it was the design of the theater's cheap seats, or the way the balance board was going at it, but the music, on the whole, overpowered the voices for me. It was especially hard to distinguish anything when three or four voices were going on at the same time. And the interesting thing for me was that when three voices were going on at the same time in American in Paris, I could hear each one, crystal clear. Here, it just all mushed together into an incomprehensible mumble.
But the sets were gorgeous and haunting. The costumes outrageously decadent. The scene changes were precisely executed and epic. I mean, lightening and thunder from a giant tree over a grave? Sure why not? Or an enormous staircase from ceiling to floor with dozens of people on it? Absolutely, with gilding on top. An enormous monster of a candlelit chandelier that flies up to the roof over the audience and the flies back down again like a bat from hell? Done and done. A river Styx-like with punt and mist and the motion of water? We'll top that with an utterly beautiful candle-lit cave with shell-like bed, and an enormous pipe organ.
And there was no denying the power of the voices involved, and that they were capable and eager for soaring arias. It was a great production, and all the kids were starry eyed about it, and those who had seen it in other cities really adored the production quality and the singers.
For some reason the magic didn't work for me until nearly the very end. The amusing thing, for me, was that Dick had called it, the exact moment when I cried. And it finally became something I could treasure. That's probably the latest it's ever taken for any live production to get me. Maybe I was just tired of appearances, and the one true line from the Phantom himself finally broke through them.
So I was quite thoughtful and I fought off the tiredness to simply be aware for the whole of the ride back to the hotel. Once there, I just fell asleep. I'd be home the next evening, and I figured I'd take care of the painting challenge photo then.