We met at church and drove to the Princeton Junction train station. We bought round trip tickets on the 9:44 train to NY Penn, arriving at 10:53. The tickets cost about $30. When we boarded, I sat with the youth group leader and got acquainted. First off, we exchanged cell phone numbers. As I entered her given name into my directory, I said, "'Karis' ... is that short for anything? I suppose it's Greek for 'grace.'"
And she was like, "That's right, but how could you know that?"
I can't remember all we talked about. Our kids, our husbands. We managed to talk the entire ride in.
When we got to Penn, it's easy to just follow the crowd. And yet she hesitated. I thought she wanted to exit the station immediately so I suggested the 7th Ave. side. But instead we walked up for the restrooms which had a line at least 20' long. The line moved fast and, of course, by the time our party got out, there was no line.
We weren't in any hurry to walk up to St. Pat's. We made our way over to 5th so we could see the windows at Macy's and Lord & Taylor. I couldn't get a decent picture of the public library because it was surrounded by scaffolding and plastic tarps. I got so giddy at Rockefeller Center that I temporarily got separated from the group. I was surprised that the teens were so uninterested in sightseeing.
We crossed over to St. Pat's and found seats up on the right. Our party was too large to sit together so I moved back a number of pews and sat next to a serene man, maybe my age or a little older. A man from our party also chose to move back and sat next to me. The service was really very wonderful. I'd never attended a service there before. The last time I was in St. Pat's was, I remember clearly, '97, sightseeing with my in-laws. The pope had just declared Therese of Lisieux a doctor of the church. It was the 100th anniversary of her death and her relics were touring the country.
But, as crazy as the vestibule is with tourists, once you're past that and take a seat, it's another world. I didn't expect that. Oh, it's still a big church, no doubt. One is always aware of that. It doesn't cease to be big, neither does it become intimate, even though the presider certainly tried to convey an hospitable warmth. I felt welcome and not out of place.
I tried not to disturb the experience of the man next to me. He seemed to be deeply involved in the proceedings, even though he didn't sing, recite prayers or kneel. He was engaging the service in a different way. The Agnus Dei was sung in Latin and I confidently participated in that prayer with pleasure. For communion, I just got into the aisle when everyone else did and walked forward, hoping that a minister would be available at the other end of the line when I got there!
After mass, the streets were noticeably more crowded. During that hour we sat in church, more and more trains had arrived at Penn Station! We were supposed to go ice skating at Bryant Park. Jeff had told me that the park is behind the public library, but I forgot that. Someone in the group knew where it was, so we walked there together. I suggested that we go down 6th because 5th was too crowded and we'd already seen the shop windows anyway.
We wanted to eat at Bryant Park but someone in our group warned that there aren't any restaurants nearby1. It was so very cold outside that it was nice just to sit down in a warm place. It was going on 2:30 and I hadn't eaten all day. Out of the blue, I saw another family from my daughter's preschool. They were in town to see Spiderman which was playing just down the street2.
After lunch, we walked back to Bryant Park. The Zamboni was just cleaning the ice. The line was very long because I think they kick everyone out. But the line moved very quickly. Within 20 minutes we were on the ice. I was the only adult who opted to skate. The teens seemed a little amused by the idea. The rented skates were really very good. No laces, a ski boot design. No excuses of "weak ankles." I got pretty comfortable on the ice after a few laps.
The difficulty was the wide range of abilities of the other skaters. Some were passing at great speed, weaving in and out, doing turns and whatnot. Others were always on the verge of falling down and taking you with them. I came close to falling several times, especially when the ice got rutted again. The only time that I fell was when posing for a picture. So, yeah, I had to brush the snow off my knees to make a good picture!
At one point, I noticed some young men talking to two girls from our group. And my responsibility occurred to me as the only adult on the ice. But I was already by them because they were standing still on the side of the rink and I was skating. So I decided that I'd stop on my next pass but they had broken up by then. It's a different set of dangers with teens vs. the age group I'm used to. The whole day I was worried about someone getting separated from the group. But I should have been worried about the girls getting hit on. The youth group leader discussed it with the girl on the way home. She could see the whole thing from where she was sitting inside.
The only frustrating thing was when it was time to leave. We walked back to Penn Station and the youth group leader paused at the corner and did a 360 because she couldn't locate the station. But it was right in front of her. So I told her to head for MSG. The man in our group started to walk up the stairs to MSG but I instinctively headed downstairs. Trains are always down, you know. I haven't been to New York in 13 years but we always took the train, so that route is sort of ingrained in my memory.
And they never post the track number until just before boarding. The youth group leader wanted to head downstairs before the track assignment was posted but I cautioned her that you can't hear the assignment down there and can't move from quay to quay without coming back upstairs ... or crossing the tracks. Once the track number was announced, it's always a mad dash to the gate. Our party got separated into three. My group walked forward and found seats. The other two groups got stuck behind people who refused to walk forward and stood for most of the ride home.
1 This warning was, in fact, incorrect. On the southwest-ish corner of the park is a franchise of the same chain we ate at, Pax. We walked to the Pax location at 42nd, between 7th and 8th but later, I noticed the location at 40th and 6th. I don't understand why the website says the shops are closed on Sundays.
2 A preview, apparently.