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For the past year my oldest child had asked over and over again when she could go to New York City, and over and over again we’ve answered, “We’ll get there at some point.” Of course the mythical “some point” just seemed to get pushed further into the future each time she asked, and finally we figured it was either now or never. So we put the wheels in motion, figured out a day when we could go, got the logistics in order, and today was that “some point.” It was incredible.

Now, I’ve been to New York City many times before, but each time is something special, and the last time was nearly 10 years ago, so this time was even more incredible, especially since I was finally seeing it through the eyes of my children.

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Track 1. We came in on the NJ Transit Train, and it was difficult to figure out which train we needed. In the end we chose the right one.

The first decision we had to make was how we were going to get to the city that never sleeps. The options were:

(1) Driving in

(2) Taking the train in

(3) Some kind of mixture

Now, if you’ve ever driven in NYC then you know no one wants to drive in NYC, and we were no exception. We would have spent half of our time either driving the streets aimlessly looking for a parking spot (and getting honked at), or parking in a ridiculously expensive parking garage and still having to brave the traffic in and out.

So my wife came up with #3, which required renting a vehicle here in Philadelphia, driving it to Newark, and taking the Transit Train into the city, then doing the reverse to get back to the city of brotherly love. Not only was this option by far the cheapest, but it kept us out of the traffic of the city and kept us flexible if we had to stop along the way for restroom usage and the like.

Then there we were, in New York City, in that Empire State of Mind. Now, we live in New York State, but The City is a whole other animal indeed. It’s like living in Florida but never going to Disney, and when you finally get there it’s better than you’ve ever dreamed.

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This is a statue we saw on 32nd Street as we headed into the city proper, and it spoke to me in some odd way.

The Hotel Wolcott had green railings on its balconies that gave it a nice rustic look without seeming out date. I could imagine living there.

Our destination was the Empire State Building because Alexa would make a darn good engineer. A while ago what first sparked her interest in world buildings was a book given to her by my wife’s boss that pictured and detailed several prominent architecturally famous world structures, among them the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, and of course the Empire State Building. She was fascinated by every single one, and memorized their details, so desperate she was to keep them in her mind.

Because we live in New York State it seemed only natural that we would make it our first stop on the world tour, but because we live far upstate it wasn’t practical to try and make a day trip out of the ride that is a little over 4 hours from where we live. It made a lot more sense to come visit my mother in Philadelphia, and have her come with us. And that’s just what we did, turning it into a wider family trip that included not only my mother but also my nephew, who is home from college for the summer.

So we left New York to go to New York. Go figure.

But then came the mind-numbing wait. If you’ve ever been to the Empire State Building before then you know what sort of long lines await you if you’re not willing to pay the exorbitant prices to go to the head of the line and straight to the heavenly elevators. At first the two young children were just fine, even though we had to cut into a never-ending line of middle schoolers on a field trip to the great edifice. But as the hands on the clock kept moving and we seemed no closer to actually getting to the famed 86th Floor Observation Deck, the natives became restless. So I took some pictures along the way, in what my wife described as “the neverending line.”

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One of the famous 10 elevators at the Empire State Building.

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Such an iconic lobby, with an authentic desk attendant and everything (he’s hidden here).

Then, after about an hour and 20 minutes of waiting we were finally herded into one of the illustrious elevators like sheep, slammed up against other tourists from all over the world, and whisked up to the 86th floor, and to the observation deck that also awaited. Alexa was just worn out by then, but when she saw the open-air deck she was in her element, floating on cloud 9. We went out and the wind was brisk high up there. Luckily for us it wasn’t raining at that point, so we were able to look far out, and far down (which freaked my wife out), and there were a series of “Oohs” and “Ahhs” that seemed to go on forever as she pointed out one building after another. “That’s the Chrysler building, isn’t it?” she asked me at one point, and I was again amazed at how much she files away in that brain of hers.

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86th Floor Observation Deck, looking through metal eyes.

The View to the Top. Empire State indeed.

And around we went. Alexa just couldn’t get enough of all of the myriad views afforded to us from up so high. The heights didn’t affect her one whit, although my wife had to retire inside after just a few minutes with Madeline. I was on duty, though, pointing out each building and trying to help her see the islands far out to sea.

We took a ton of pictures, not many of which actually came out great, but what I noticed most were the sheer numbers of people up on the observation deck, not the buildings down below. They were speaking a plethora of different languages, some of which were familiar to my ear and some of which weren’t. I guess I realized for the first time how big these famous landmarks truly are. I should have gotten it while in the long lines waiting to get up there, but somehow what was transpiring on the deck was more symbolic.

But we were one big organism up there, moving around each other like dancing amoebas in a petri dish, pausing for photographs, then moving seamlessly past while nodding acknowledgement at each other. It was a special bonding moment, even though we said few words to each other. I took a lot more pictures down below to commemorate the moment.

Lady Liberty presiding over the ships that pass.

The Freedom Tower, rising high into the sky. I only wish we could have seen the Ground Zero Memorial. Next time.

I am always mesmerized by the Flatiron Building, and it caught my eye straightaway.

It was such a wonderful feeling to know that we were able to give that to Alexa, that we finally made one of her dreams come true, and she was ecstatic as we rode the elevator back down to the lobby, with a small stop at the gift shop to get some commemorative t-shirts for her and her sister. We were exhausted from the wait, but it had been well worth it, just to say that we were there, that we did it as a family. There were walls of photographs on our way out of celebrities posing at the railing or elsewhere in the famous building, but while it was great to see those familiar faces, the best ones were the smiling ones of my real family after a brilliant day in the big city.

Miles of smiles from the inner sanctum on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

Sam

“In what way are you strong?”

When I take time to think about things I am mentally strong. That’s why it’s so frustrating when I don’t take that time, even though I know I should. If I can analyze things from many different sides it’s easy to come to a conclusion that I don’t doubt and second-guess myself about. Patience is not one of my strengths, though, and they go hand in hand.

I’m strong at memory skills, making connections based on past interactions, recalling names and places quickly and efficiently. Of course for some reason as I’ve gotten older it’s become less of a speedy recall for me, and it’s a point of pride. So I’m working on ways to keep my memory as strong as it can be. That’s the thing about getting older, isn’t it? Sometimes our skills lessen, even the ones we pride ourselves on the most. It’s tough to admit it to ourselves and make adjustments for it.

Another strength is doing impressions. Usually I can mimic something or someone after hearing them talk for a few minutes. This goes for people on TV as well as folks I’ve just met in real life. It also transfers to singing as well. For instance, I can sing Phil Collins songs just like him. Sometimes I get so much into character that I forget how to talk like myself! I used to only perform the impressions in the privacy of my own room when I was younger but I like to pull them out in public now. Either I am prouder of them or I just have no filter anymore.

And lastly I’m strong at writing. I know it seems like a simple thing when I write this blog every day, but it’s something I don’t take for granted anymore. I’ve seen enough people who make a living at writing who just aren’t any good at creating a straightforward  narrative. I don’t take anything for granted anymore, much less talents I know I have for a reason. That’s why I finally got off my butt and started publishing my work, and the same reason I write every day on this blog. Maybe to others it’s a small thing but to me it is the world.

Now if I could only be emotionally strong. Still working on that one.

Sam

The_open_road,_the_B3224_across_the_Brendon_Hills._-_geograph.org.uk_-_182332Dear Journal,

I’m on the edge of another road trip, and I can’t even explain how good it feels to get out on the open road, to feel the wind on my face, to see the dark tinge of the world through my sunglasses, and to have the cacophonous sound of my children in the back seat. Oh yeah, and the best part of the whole trip — my wife by my side as she has been for so many of these trips in the past 13 years. Sure, I’ve made the trip several times by myself during that same time period, and it’s just not the same.

I guess I’m just one of those guys who needs to have the noises of family around him all the time. Sure, Lexi screaming the same thing over and over again, or Maddie wailing because she fell over another cliff in Temple Run, can get annoying, but more often than not it’s those sounds that keep me going. Occasionally I catch myself looking in the rearview mirror at them, oblivious, deep in some battle with whatever digital demons are around, or intent on coloring Hello Kitty black and green regardless of her original colors. Just knowing that I have them around soothes me.

And the road stretches on in front of me, wide and clear, even if I’m sandwiched between multiple 18-wheelers, or if I’m trying to merge into traffic going 80 miles an hour. How I wish I could bottle up that feeling so I could pull it out, whip off the top, and just take a whiff of it when I’m feeling down, or trapped in a cage. I want to take a picture of that “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign and slap it down in a photo album to commemorate that feeling, in order to feel it again. It’s the road, and getting somewhere, and taking my kids back to the place I grew up, it all just blends together and makes me hum in anticipation. I assume the feeling is probably akin to a blind person getting to finally see.

Then it will be over, and we’ll be “somewhere,” and we’ll be sedentary, but there will be some more open road somewhere out there, in our near future, and I’ll anticipate it just as eagerly as before. It doesn’t matter where we go either, just that we ease the pedal down and slide out into the flow of traffic going SOMEWHERE on the open road, with good music and good company. That’s all I can ask.

Sam

Like I Do

10527387_10206365584043581_9215256959023572194_n“Darlin’, I feel like a god when I am next to you. Something sacred, someone straight and true. Tell me do you feel the same way too?” ~Live

13 years ago I met the woman of my dreams — literally. For years I had dreamt of someone who could accept me for the eclectic man I am, faults and all, for someone who was incredibly beautiful inside and out, for someone who could make me a better person just by being with her. And I knew from the moment she first emailed me that this was finally it. I only hoped and prayed that she would eventually feel the same way about me like I did about her.

It’s funny how life works. Time seems to move in slow motion when a relationship begins. All the wonderful early times stretch out luxuriously, spreading their wings around us in a seemingly neverending embrace, but eventually it does end, or at least morphs into a comfort level that shifts and changes as we do as individuals, and as we do together.

I remember those early days, when we were still getting to know each other, all of our little quirks, all of our big quirks, and all of the things about us that might have been deal breakers. But, amazingly enough, they weren’t. They just reinforced that we had found the right person, the yin to our yang, the Abbott to our Costello.

1618444_10203570210000818_861906220_nAnd then life clicked into another gear. We moved in together, and the clock picked up the pace. Before we knew it a year had passed, and we decided to make it official. I remember standing there in Utica City Hall in jeans and a t-shirt, nervous for the new beginning but ecstatic because I knew this would be the one to last, looking across at my beaming bride, and I could see forever.

Not just the forever of fairy tales where everyone lives happily ever after, but the forever of long nights awake with a crying child, the forever of dealing with money problems, the forever of tackling major emotional issues together. But it was also the forever of butterfly kisses, of walks in the park, of feeding each other cake and laughing when we miss our mouths.

We got married, and as I stood there saying “I Do,” I thought about how we both felt, about how two people from vastly different pasts got together in the present and decided to make a future together, to tie ourselves together “for better or for worse,” which is funny because our vows didn’t mention that at all. What I wanted to say was, “Tell me do you feel the same way too — Like I do?” And I saw it in her eyes, that she felt that spark, that she knew what we were getting into and she wouldn’t have had it any other way. Like I did.

That special, transformative day was exactly 12 years ago tomorrow, and as I think ahead to another anniversary with the woman I love I am so amazed that it even came to be, that she decided not once, but three times, that I was the man for her, that I was her future, and that we should walk down this road together. And yes, we’ve had our ups and downs. Any couple worth their salt can say the same, and I’m proud of the journey. But I’m even prouder to say that this is just the beginning, even 12 years in.

And I’m so glad she feels the same way too. Like I do.

Sam

Exhale

6577281447_511f94b248_zI spend most of my time being coy
Watching and waiting for an opening
But doing nothing to make it happen
Fading into the wall I lean against
Wishing it would happen by magic
Just like in the movies
When shy girl meets awkward boy
Both tongue-tied and fabulous
Holding up a one-sided bargain
That threatens to overflow
But then she walks away
Breaking what I felt was a bond
A connection between kindred souls
Built on the very wisps of the air
The sliding scale of hope and dreams
That can quickly turn to depression
So I turn to follow her out
But the streets swallow her in shadow
And I’m left to exhale alone.

Sam

imageMinutes into our first performance we lost our guitar player. That would have spelled disaster for any other rock band out there, but it was just a blip on our radar screen. You know, because the guitar player is 6 years old, and she felt that playing Temple Run on her iPad was preferable to being a rock goddess.

Oh well. The 9 year old drums player more than made up for the guitar’s absence by nearly breaking her sticks pounding the heck of out of the drums to the tune of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.” That’s just how we roll on a slow Sunday afternoon.

And me, I’m the singer. Maybe I would have been the guitar player if Madeline hadn’t staked her claim to the job early (and then threw it down in favor of Angry Birds… I mean Temple Run). Besides, Alexa wanted me to be the singer, even if she spends the majority of most of our jams yelling at her drums, or the screen, or both, saying “DON’T FAIL ME. DON’T FAIL ME.” She reminds me of a young Phil Collins wailing on the drums with wild abandon, and the same sense of ferocity she brings to every single endeavor. Sometimes I wish I had more of that in me.

Our first song was “I Think I’m Paranoid,” by Garbage, chosen solely because it’s the song I know the best, and Alexa didn’t want us to have a poor experience right off the bat. Thanks, kid. I’m sure some parts of it were not quite good anyway, though, as evidenced by the neighbors looking at me awkwardly through the open window. I’m sure I would have heard some boos if I wasn’t screaming so loudly and so out of tune. I’m starting to rethink my application for an audition on The Voice. That thought was totally unrelated to my performance, of course. Alexa claims I was amazing.

That’s the glory of Rock Band, though, isn’t it? When you play with your kids anyway. Because even somebody like me, who loves music but has absolutely no sense of how to sing in tune or with good pitch (okay, sometimes I can sing okay as long as I’m not trying to match anyone’s tone or pitch) can front a Rock Band and feel good about doing it. Okay, so I’m no Bono, but I’d like to think I can still kick Vince Neil’s ass Beavis-style. Even if I really can’t. And now I’m nursing my voice with a little bit of Earl Grey tea because even a rock star needs a little pampering after a strong gig.

Oh yeah, and the former guitar player is still telling me to be quiet long after I’ve stopped singing. Maybe that should tell me something. It’s telling me that I should sing Radiohead’s “Creep” next. Yeah, that’s it.

Sam

224183_10200178745216477_1951925987_nMyth #1: All black men are loud.

I can’t tell you the number of times people claim I’ve tried to scare them by appearing out of nowhere. Truth is I’m light of foot, and I don’t even realize I make no sound when I approach most times. And I guess it is somewhat ironic considering I’m 6 foot 4 1/2 inches, I weigh over 200 pounds, and I’m a black man. Maybe I’m the quietest black man in America.

Myth #2: All blackĀ  men have rhythm.

Watch the film, and you’ll see that this just cannot be true. What film? Well, pretty much any home movie featuring the dance stylistics of yours truly. I’ve studied the dance moves of the greatest: Astaire, Mr. Bojangles, Michael Jackson, and even Psy (of Gangnam Style fame), but somehow it all looks the same when I try to do it, like a seal flopping around attempting to catch some fish for the long winter ahead.

Myth #3: All black men have a code.

The special handshake, the odd phrasing, and the instant familiarity even when you’ve never met another black man before, that’s what I’m faced with day in and day out (at least on the days when I see other black men — it’s not every day). Luckily the handshake has gone out of fashion lately, replaced with a head nod (up, not down), so I can do that, but I’ll never understand the odd phrasing (damn straight, boo), and yeah, I just met you, so how can we be familiar? Because somewhere in both of our histories we come from slaves? Or from Africa? Um.

Myth #4: All black men are good at sports.

This has been perpetuated more and more lately since we’ve been “allowed” to integrate into the major sports like basketball, football, baseball, and yes, even hockey. Black guys are even playing soccer, but that doesn’t mean we’re all sports gods. Quite the contrary. For every one black guy who can throw a touchdown pass are about a thousand of us who are lucky we don’t drop our coffee cups on the way back to the living room.

Myth #5: All black men have nicknames.

Jimbo. Sleepy Shawn. Wild Bill. Boom Boom. Lil’ Boom Boom. Too often black men’s mamas name them one thing but call them another. Then they pick up another moniker on the playground or the basketball court, and it sticks. So for all the people who know this one guy by “Bucket Head,” there’s a whole bunch of others who call him “Moody Tre.” But for every black man who has a nickname there are maybe 10 others who just have weird names that are actually on their birth certificates.

Myth #6: All black men are deadbeats.

I’ll admit that a ton of black guys aren’t holding up their end of the bargain when they get a woman pregnant. It’s your kid, then you need to be involved, no matter how you feel about your baby mama. But that’s not just a black man thing. That’s a deadbeat man thing, and it needs to stop. Too many times I see kids who aren’t black who are raised without their fathers, and it’s just sad because it’s so avoidable. Just step up men. Maybe black guys are more known for it because black women badmouth them into next year.

Myth #7: All black men objectify women.

I blame Sir Mix-a-Lot for most of this, at least since the ’90s. Baby got back indeed. The truth is that black men are just like other men in this respect. Not all of us like “juicy doubles,” not all of us are into the hourglass look, and not all of us are shallow wanks. Black men who were raised right and who took that to heart are just as appreciative and respectful to a good woman as anyone else who has values. Just because the media likes to portray us as sexists who use women doesn’t mean it’s true.

Myth #8: All black men like rap.

Okay okay. So I do like some rap, but I also like classical music, ragtime, reggae, ska, rock, r&b, metal, and bits and pieces of most musical genres out there. There’s nothing I hate worse than people who take one look at me and think that all I listen to is rap music. The other day I blasted some Alanis Morissette and people were shocked. Yeah, stop judging before you get to know me. Alanis is da bomb. Maybe I should play my music without headphones more often.

And maybe I should get some louder shoes.

Sam

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