Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wright Words: One reason I love New York City more than ever

I love living in tiny Woodstock, Va. I get to punch out columns and manuscripts from a one-room office on Main Street and enjoy watching and waving at passersby. I'm in the same building as an old-fashioned three-screen movie theater, one of which is above me on the second floor. Beneath me is a real wood floor almost as old as the town itself. It's a quaint, historic community that provides my family and me most everything we need.

What it's most certainly not is the publishing capital of the world. For that I'm required to make a long trek three or four times per year to New York City. In fact, this column comes to you from my favorite hotel on Times Square.

The biggest difference between this trip and all the others is that my sweet wife has come along. At this moment she sits across the room fiddling on her iPad, patiently waiting for me to finish so we can return to the concrete jungle in search of more adventures. She's also rolling her eyes because two minutes ago I went to the window and yelled, "Live from New York, it's Wright Words!" She's positive I'm the only one who will find that funny.

Who cares, right? I can dream of being funny. It is, after all, The City of Dreams. We're in The Big Apple, The Empire City, Gotham and The City Where Jason Once Fell Asleep on the Shoulder of a Complete Stranger.

I should confess that to make this trip happen I schemed and white-fibbed my way to an itinerary so sugar sweet it would send a diabetic over the top. The schedule has been ambitious.

She and I came by train from Washington, D.C., something my wife has always wanted to try. We strolled China Town and took cheesy pictures on Times Square and on the subway. She finally met Glenn Beck, something I've been promising for years. We sat in his office with a stunning view of the city and soaked up his creative energy.

She also met Academy Award-winner Kieth Merrill, and together with another filmmaker we talked books, movies and morals. We ate at a place that felt lifted from a Woody Allen film, The Cranberry Café.

My kids won't go to college, but we saw the new musical "Spider Man: Turn off the Dark." It was simply sensational. Of course it helped that none of the actors fell on their heads — or ours.

It's been a wonderful trip, but as I flip through the memories in my mind's photo album, I smile most at the things that I didn't plan. I suspect the most colorful memories when I'm 50, 60 or 160 will be the ones for which I didn't make reservations.

This morning we took a frightening cab ride to Battery Park so wild it felt like we'd been swallowed up in a racing video game being played by my 4-year-old on a sugar rush. I don't remember paying the cabbie; I only remember kissing the pavement when I flopped out.

We ate dinner on Valentine's Day at a restaurant in Little Italy. The place was so romantic it belonged in a Hallmark commercial, all except for the couple at the table next to us arguing. When the woman threatened to get up and walk out, I leaned over the table and whispered to my wife, "Please don't leave. This is better than the ravioli!"

Somehow we walked four blocks from our hotel in a big loop to a pizza place that we were embarrassed to find was right next to where we started. I convinced my wife it was part of my plan to work up a healthy appetite for the best pizza she'd ever eat. Maybe "convinced" is the wrong word.

We took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, our most anticipated excursion, and she and I endured biting wind and brutal cold. At our first opportunity we bought matching sweatshirts so corny even Mr. Rogers would have laughed and called us names.

Liberty Island was nice, but it was the unscheduled stop at Ellis Island that left the stronger impression. I felt the Spirit remind me how lucky I am to live in a country that people have flocked to since its divine creation. The feelings were almost indescribable as I sat in the cavernous Registry Room and imagined the millions who stepped off ships for better lives and more colorful dreams. We toured the dormitories, and I pictured the day my own ancestors arrived, were processed, and then were sent by rail to seed the country I would one day call my home.

Yes, it is the land of opportunity. But not for the homeless man we saw eating frozen gum from a manhole cover. Neither my wife nor I will soon forget that memory. It didn't bring a smile, but we're glad we saw it anyway. Another reminder how blessed we've been and how much more we should be giving.

Tomorrow we'll make our way back to Penn Station, hidden deep below Madison Square Garden, and board a train for home. We'll keep gushing about "Spider Man," the meals, the meetings and the future. But what we'll laugh about and what we'll cling to are the memories we created, not the ones we planned.

What's the one reason I love New York City more than ever? Because this time she was in it.

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