Sunday, February 5, 2017


Mid-morning. New York City. I am walking down the street towards the Empire State Building, rolling suitcase in tow, backpack slung over both shoulders. I have no idea where to purchase my train ticket to the airport, no idea of any departure times. I just know that I want a souvenir, but eventually I will settle for one last slice of pizza.

Yeah. I am 50-something and had never been to New York City, the Big Apple. I wanted to take a bite, a huge bite, a bite so big that I swallowed the core. I did.

Pizza. Little Italy Pizza. I order a pepperoni slice and a Coke from the Italian man who managed the counter of huge pizzas situated behind that scratched, foggy glass counter. I move all of my tourist junk over to the farthest corner, the perfect spot where I can watch the people hurry up and down the street and the patrons entering the store for the $5.50 special. My back to the door, snugging up to cases of Dasani and Dr. Pepper, I am not able to go physically backwards and can only be where I am at this moment.

This. Moment.

How do I keep the feeling I attach to this place? How do I remember the taste of that folded slice of pepperoni, charred ever-so-lightly on the bottom? How do I hold on to a memory I know will begin to fade as soon as I walk out that door after tossing my paper plate and greasy napkins into the trash? I cast these questions aside as I revisit the moments of the past three days. I take a drink of Coke and the moments flood back into my mind.

I feel again that sense of wonder as I trek across downtown Manhattan, using only my phone's GPS to wind my way through the chilly streets towards Chelsea Market where my senses are overwhelmed by all the sights, sounds, and smells of Chelsea Market as the tourists and locals blend together in this marketplace of shops, handmade crafts, and restaurants.

I reunite with Pablo, a student I had taught over six years ago while I lived in North Carolina, who travels from Brooklyn to meet me at Chelsea where we continue a nearly decade-old conversation extending back to Fike High School when Pablo used to slip out of his mother's room in the morning to land in my room to sit and talk before the bell rang for school to begin.

I proudly celebrate the success of Sabrina, another North Carolina student from farther back than I begrudgingly admit, an entrepreneur and voice of her generation, a producer of her own web series The Department of Ed, a story-teller with a blessed soul who manages to flip the teacher-student paradigm back and forth with me over the next few days.

I traipse across New York with Sabrina on a "wear my walking shoes" whirlwind tour during which I experience for the first time the landmarks, the hidden recesses, the affluence, the poverty, and the living, breathing diversity, all under the protective guidance of my thoughtful guide and teacher.

Sabrina and I say our own prayers and make our own personal reflections at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, touching the palpable serenity of the pools in the footprint of the lost towers at Memorial Plaza as the cold wind and silence envelop us.

I frantically navigate the flashing lights, bustling traffic, and pressing humanity which pulses through Times Square at night, finding my way to the side street somewhere in this maze where I purchase that one glorious ticket I never thought I would hold, that ticket to Oz, a ticket to witness another tale of unlikely possibilities and friendship, a ticket to Wicked.

I fall asleep early that next morning, reluctantly pulling the blinds to the view from my hotel room, hopefully locking this moment away forever as I drift off to sleep.

So here I am. At this moment. I leave the small confines of Little Italy Pizza where I return to the street of a million possible directions. I know instinctively where to go, but I struggle. So many times I have allowed instinct to guide me out of sheer repetition. So with my suitcase in tow again, backpack dangling insecurely off of one shoulder, I sip the remaining Coke in my cup before throwing it in the trash.  I realize over the course of the past three days that while I blazed my path about this metropolis I never stopped to pick out that souvenir, a small piece of memorabilia to remind me of this adventure. I noticed the three for ten bucks ties, avoided the red "Make America Great Again" hats and Hillary bobble-heads, sifted through racks of "I 💗 NY" t-shirts, and examined palm-sized models of edifices I traveled beneath.

As I head to Penn Station, I could easily stop somewhere for one last perusal for a souvenir of this trip. I shrug then make my way down the concrete steps to purchase my train ticket to JFK, to board my plane, to fly back home. I have no need of souvenirs, none that can ever match those which I carry in my own memory.

Pablo and I - Google Hallway
Photo Credit: Pablo

Google Headquarters
Photo Credit: Pablo

Sabrina, Alzo Slade (star of Ed), and I
The Department of Ed Premiere
Photo Credit: Pablo

9/11 Memorial Museum

9/11 Memorial Museum

Photo Credit: Sabrina

Thanks to Pablo and Sabrina for helping me take some great pictures and sharing yours with me. You are the best! Thanks for taking the time to make my trip so incredible.


  1. Oh my gosh, A.J., this post is beautiful. I was so moved by your vivid descriptions of the city and even more so at the thought of your reconnecting with Pablo and Sabrina. You were born to be a teacher, and it is so cool that you recognize that, as teachers, we are lifelong learners and can learn so, so much from our students.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. It was definitely a rare treat for me. I learned quite a bit from both of them.