Look Up & Let Go

Grand Central Station. Spring of 1993 - late afternoon…

“I’m here” I thought to myself.

“Don’t look up and don’t let go of your bag.”

I was beginning my new life as an adult! After a 16-hour Greyhound bus ride, Id arrived to meet my new employer in the greatest city in world history. At least, that’s what I’ve been told by New Yorkers since. I had been hired to be a roadie for one of the worlds greatest trumpet players ever, at least that’s what I’ve been told Doc Severinson said - Trumpeter for the Johnny Carson show.

The station felt dirty… “Well not really dirty, just old,” I thought as I headed out to the street.

“Don’t look up and don’t let go of your bag”

I had twenty-nine dollars and thirty-one cents in my pocket. I had started out with thirty but had bought a Recess Peanut butter Cup at one of the stops. It had been a nice touch to the apple and peanut butter and jelly sandwich my mom had packed for me.

My folks didn’t have any money and this was before credit card debt was a way of life, so I had just enough to buy the twenty dollar ticket back to Rochester NY if my ride didn’t show.

“Don’t look up and don’t let go of your bag…”

Everyone was heading up and out. I joined the flow and stepped out onto Park Ave. I was 18 years old and had never been alone in a city of any size.

“Don’t look up and don’t let go of your bag.”

The fear was real but contained.

I found a pay phone and instead of using more of my precious capital, I called my parents collect. “I’m here.” Moms first question was “Is an adult there to pick you up?” “No mom, but I think I will try to hail a cab and go to the hotel and see if I can find them.” I said bravely.

My mom had wanted me to immediately buy a return ticket and catch the next Greyhound home. But that would have ended my new life. This was NYC and I wasn’t ready to call it quits and get back on a bus for home.

“Don’t look up and don’t let go of your bag…”

"Don’t look up and don’t let go of your bag." That was the last piece of advice my Dad said in my ear as he hugged me goodbye. I clutched my bag and kept my eyes forward, determined not to look up, determined to hail a cab, determined to get myself to my new employers Hotel - the Marriott Marquis right on Times Square. The map my dad and I had looked at before I left showed the Hotel to be only four blocks from Grand Central Station, so this was do-able.

The street was filled bumper to bumper with yellow cabs. I had only the movies as a reference. I worked up the nerve and started toward the street timidly waiving my arm. No cabs stopped. There is nothing timid about NYC. While I stood there contemplating my next move, I noticed I was looking up…

When I brought my focus back to street level, I was startled to discover an older fella had invaded my personal space. He was maybe in his mid 40s. His hair was wiry and mostly grey, he had a distinct unpleasant body odor but what most stood out was the patchwork of bandages that lined the insides of both arms.

“Where are you going?” He asked. He was missing a front tooth.

I nodded, “I’m fine sir, thanks.”

He leaned closer, “Need a cab?”

I just wanted him to go away. “I’m fine, thanks.”

“Where are you going” he asked bluntly.

I shouldn’t have looked up I thought and then, because of my good upbringing, I answered the question. “ I am staying at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square.”

“I know where that is - it’s close. You don’t need a cab. Five bucks and I’ll take you there.”

Before I could agree he snatched my bag out of my hand and started across the street.” “Don’t look up and don’t let go of your bag,” I thought one last time as I followed the man who had taken my bag. I began praying fervently. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

“Once upon a time…” I followed a guy through the streets of NY, was yelled at by a couple fellas, cursed at by another fella I bumped into, taken to the wrong hotel, told it was the right hotel, cursed at again - this time by a cabbie - and finally delivered to the correct Hotel where eventually I met a mythic trumpet player and his crew, was led through the bowels of Madison Square Gardens while the National Democratic Convention for Bill Clinton was winding down, witnessed the gay pride parade and then flown off in a personal King Air to begin my grand adventure as an adult.

This was the beginning of my journey into adulthood and also the beginning of a spiritual journal. One in which I have had to learn just the opposite of my dads directions – Keep your eyes up and let go of your bags. Or, Look up, let go.

Once upon a time I looked up and let go... And as Robert Frost - the greatest poet ever known to mankind, at least that's what my 11th grade English teacher said - once wrote "that has made all the difference."