We celebrated our 25th anniversary this year. January. What were we thinking getting married in January? We sure weren’t thinking about celebrating our anniversary in coming years anywhere except the Bahamas or Hawaii. Not bad choices, mind you, but we wanted a different locale.
We don’t go on big vacations on a regular basis. Short and sweet is a more likely option. This was a big event for us, so we wanted to do something different. After seeing ‘Chicago’ at our local theatre, we knew the answer: New York, New York! Broadway, here we come.
It was our most memorable trip ever, and definitely interesting. I was using my wheelchair when we visited the Big Apple in November. Power wheelchair, or manual? Normally I use my power wheelchair, but we knew we would do a lot of walking up and down sidewalks. We made the right choice, thankfully.
Soon we had all the arrangements made, and booked a hotel right in the center of Times Square. We walked everywhere. Well, I didn’t. My husband pushed the manual chair we had decided on, and I was along for the ride.
One day on our trip, we decided to go to areas like Chinatown and Little Italy. It was great!! People everywhere, the shopping in all directions. If you are a people-watcher, this is the place to visit.
We ended the day by visiting a restaurant called Angelo’s of Mulberry Street. The restaurant came recommended by some people we met who were from Long Island. They said if we wanted to visit a ‘locals only’ restaurant, this was it. And it was!
We encountered an issue when we first arrived because the entrance wasn’t handicapped-accessible. I took a few steps, then my husband proceeded to lift my chair up to the entrance. As soon as the maitre d’ realized the situation, he quickly came to our assistance. We were in!
We quickly realized we were in a genuinely local restaurant. It had the smells, the sounds, the buzz, and the accents of local New Yorkers. We loved it! Being from a relatively small city in the Midwest, we rarely experience such multi-cultural and eclectic groups .
To our left was a table of eight. We recognized an anchorman from ESPN, but couldn’t place his name. The next table over had an even larger crowd, filled with baseball players and their respective dates. Behind us, a couple attempting to have an intimate evening, who had come into the city just to enjoy their favorite restaurant.
Then there was Tony’s Table. Tony inhabits everything New York. It was his 50th birthday, and Tony had brought along about 20 – 25 of his closest friends. They were loud. They loved attention. We loved it all, taking in the experiences of each of these groups. The staff. . . not so much!
The last table to be filled in this gathering was by an older gentleman who gently approached the maitre d’ and asked for a private table. We heard him explain that it was the favorite restaurant that he and his wife had always shared. The restaurant clearly flooded his mind with fond memories. His wife of over 50 years, however, had passed away. This was his first return to ‘their place’. Angelo’s, as it was affectionately called. He quickly rambled over to the table for two, and sat by himself. People everywhere in the restaurant were celebrating some event. This gentleman was recalling decades of memories.
I couldn’t take it. I put myself in his place, as much as I could. Because I was huddled in one location due to my wheelchair, I asked my husband to turn and invite him to join our table. He looked at us with a sense of shock. Was this uncommon? We encounter acts of random kindness on a daily basis in the Midwest. It seemed only fitting to us to ask him to join us. He paused for a long time. He declined our offer, eating in silence, and later slipped out of the restaurant unnoticed.
Tony’s Table, however, was loud. Boisterous. Drinks flowing freely. As conversation flowed throughout the restaurant from Tony’s Table, someone would randomly propose a toast to Tony. They lifted their glasses in unison, and everyone shouted ‘Tonyyyyyyyy’!!’ We would laugh and cheer, then dinner would resume. A few minutes would pass, and another toast to ‘Tonyyyyyy!!!’ Soon, half of the restaurant seemed to be chiming in with the toasts to Tony. We wanted the experience of being native New Yorkers for an evening, so naturally we lifted our glasses in unison with everyone. The ballplayers. The intimate couple. The widower had left. The table in the far left corner was annoyed, and attempted to express this visually with glares. The staff was also not amused. Nothing, however, could stop the celebration of Tonyyyyy’s Celebration.
As time passed, we all began to talk from table to table. We learned why each person, each couple, each group was here to meet for a night of celebration. Someone eventually turned to us: why were we here? A 25th anniversary celebration? Another reason to toast! Tony stood to his feet, announced to the restaurant that we were here for such a momentous occasion, and again the restaurant attendees lifted their voices high in cheer as they pronounced a toast to us.
The night was closing in, as we had a long journey back to our hotel. We were now enchanted with both the restaurant and the patrons. People rose from their seats, giving us pecks on our cheeks, and best wishes for another 25 years as we began to depart. The couple in the corner, there to celebrate an intimate evening ~ to no avail by now ~ stood and hugged us as though we had been friends for years. Several men now rushed to our assistance as they realized our dilemma of exiting the restaurant in a wheelchair. They grabbed the sides of my chair, lifted me out to the entrance, and we were off. . . for a long, long journey back to our hotel.
Was it a dream? It seemed so to us as we meandered back to Times Square. We journeyed the sidewalks a little more slowly, my husband pushing me up and down the hilly sidewalks still brimming with tourists. For one night, we had entered the inside world of New York City. We weren’t tourists, we were locals ~ in our minds, as it were.
We returned to our wonderful hotel back in Times Square after an hour or more of pushing and walking through streets, returning to the status of Local Tourists in New York. Every once in awhile, however, you just might walk past our house and hear two people shouting loudly in unison. . . ‘TONYYYYY!!’ Our new phrase for a cause for celebration.
Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939, translated from French by Lewis Galantière