New York is to the nation what the white church spire is to the village – the visible symbol of aspiration and faith, the white plume saying the way is up! ~E.B. White
Okay, I’ll admit it. The first few minutes I spent in Times Square, the theme song to Green Acres was playing in my head. I’m a farm girl who only occasionally drifts into places with large sky-sweeping buildings and crowds all night long. For this trip, I was prepared to be daunted by the prospect of tackling Manhattan. But my undying love of sightseeing, of being a tourist (and gawking like one, too) thankfully overrode any reluctance to hit the streets. Luckily, the hotel for the conference was smack in the middle of Times Square. The moment I stepped out of the doors after dropping off my luggage, Times Square was in my face! Tons of people, millions of lights. The energy was like nothing I’d ever felt. European capitals are sedate in comparison. A pulse in the air, the surge of the crowd – I learned quickly not to pause too long on the sidewalk! Cliché as it is, the city is alive. You really can feel the energy surround you.
Knowing I wanted to be back inside for the first conference event, I made a quick tour of the area in front of the hotel, grabbed a vendor dog and a drink, and headed back inside to shower off the day’s plane and taxi rides. Each year, RWA hosts a book signing to raise money for literacy organizations. This year, in New York, more than 400 authors gathered to sign books for fans who waited patiently in line for hours to see them. Thankfully, as a conference attendee, I didn’t have to wait in line, and after last year’s event, I remembered that I didn’t need to be there right as it started, either. For a hilarious look at the signing, be sure to check out this year’s video by Sarah Wendell (from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books)! I spent a crowded hour checking in with friends and meeting others, then escaped the chaos to head back outside.
Like any good first-time visitor, I spent the first evening wandering the area around Times Square. I love people watching, so having a front-row seat on one of the most unique venues in the world to do so was intoxicating. What an amazing first night in the Big Apple!
Conference activities the next morning included a keynote presentation and the annual meeting. I figured it was about the only large chunk of time I’d have during the whole conference, so I set out to see New York. Despite a short night, I decided to try for a front-row spot at the Today Show and got one! Definitely worth the early morning hike! Landing a place right on the rails, it was fun to watch the behind-the-scenes preparation and activity for the moments when the stars came out to do their segments.
Over the course of the morning, Al Roker worked his way around the entire front line of the crowd. Ann Curry and Matt Lauer chatted with fans closer to the doors and the spots where they were shooting. That morning, guests in the studios included Martha Stewart, Patrick Dempsey, and my favorite actor, Tom Hanks! Alas, no Hanks on the plaza, but I did get to shake hands with Al Roker.
Following the Today Show, I decided in the interest of time, to board a double-decker bus and tour Manhattan. Not the best way to get up close and personal with the sites to see, it at least took me out to places that I would never have had the chance to see otherwise. The tours passed by Ground Zero, Wall Street, Battery Park, the United Nations, and the Empire State Building. I spent a bit of time wandering Central Park, replaying favorite movie scenes in my head along the way. The Big Apple was welcoming, fun, and more friendly than I expected. It was fun to walk around and explore and being able to spend the first evening and following morning out and about helped encourage me to hit the streets each evening, exploring streets and restaurants around the hotel.
Beginning after lunch on Wednesday, however, I changed from tourist to conference attendee and headed into a flurry of fantastic workshops for the next three days. More about that tomorrow!