Made it to the West Way Cafe, where this time, Larry and I were joined by Colby, Geryl, Daniel & Chuck, Mark and Philip--so even though we were supposed to leave at 730a, Philip the fearless leader was with us, so it was okay. Most of us got the Belgian Waffle, which looking back, I liked the french toast better.
Our plans were to travel down to Ground Zero, do some touristy type things, then meet back at Crotona Park by 3pm to set up for the Block Party that was being thrown.
Oh, come to find out, the man who was murdered while we were in the Bronx was a cabdriver from Senegal. It seems a homeless man walked up, and asked the cabbie to buy him a cigar. When the cabbie refused, the man pulled out a knife and simply slit his throat... then just walked away. The cabbie was DOA at the hospital. Very sad and scary... we've been approached probably a dozen times collectively for money, usually without incident even with rejection, but to know that something like that could have happened makes me shiver.
At Ground Zero, they have put up a new memorial fence around the entire area, with pictures, plaques and timelines in various places. GZ is very difficult for me. The last time I came, I knelt in front of the make-shift memorial fence at St Paul's Cathedral and prayed until I cried. This time, I walked down the fence a few times, and read and observed the things that had been placed on the fence. Two stood out at me... a picture of Chris Amoroso, a Port Authority Police officer, and Moira Smith, a NYPD officer. Both pictures showed them with people who appeared to be hurt, and both captions had basically the same text--officers who helped people, and went back inside the towers and never came out. After a little while, while other team members were taking pictures and reading, I had to walk away before I cried. I couldn't help it... it just tears my heart to read and see what happened here, though I personally think we should all be reminded of what happened on a regular basis. Four years later, much of the country has forgotten that yes, we were in fact attacked unprovoked.
Okay, I'll stop before I get on a rant, and this isnt the time nor place for it.
So, we moved on as a group, walking down to Wall Street, seeing the financial exchange building, the Trump Building (making me wonder if thats where the Apprentices get fired--though that could be just a movie set), and other various and assundried money-related building type things. From there, we walked on down to Battery Park. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the NYC area, let me see if I can draw it out for you...
New York has five boroughs, or sections. Coney Island is a part of Brooklyn, on the right lower section--its huge. On the left is Manhattan, it is a long "Florida without the panhandle" looking section. To the southwest of that is Staten Island. Right above Brooklyn is Queens, and right above Manhattan (and next to Queens) is The Bronx. Looking at Manhattan, Central Park's southern border is pretty much right in the middle of the Manhattan island. Of course, it extends up for 60 something blocks, so it ends close to The Bronx border. We were staying close to the upper west side, only a few blocks from Central Park, and from the Hudson River on the other side. Funny story--Paula was so jazzed she went to Central Park, only to find out, she actually had visited Riverside Park, which is right on the beach of the Hudson River.
At the bottom of Manhattan is Battery Park, and you can catch a ferry here to go down to Staten Island, past the Ellis Island location of the Statue of Liberty. Right above Battery Park is the Financial District, where you'd find Wall Street, Trump and the World Trade Center, not to mention the big hole in the ground that is currently the former WTC Tower site.
Geography lesson over.
As we walked to Battery, we met a gentleman sitting with his suitcase on the corner, selling his wares--bootleg dvds. The Dukes of Hazzard was one (which had actually hit theaters yesterday, August 5th), and Lil Josh bought it. Bigger Josh bought Batman Begins, but he had a number of dvds for sale. Mark and I both agreed that we didnt want a dvd that might not play in our player, or would have the back of someone's head in the picture.
We entered Battery Park and we were bombarded by guys selling three things... dvds, watches and sunglasses. Oh, there were purse salesmen too but mostly "Hey, we got Oakleys!" and "You need a Rolex!" and "come and see my movies for sale!". Our team went to wheelin' and dealin', and Tim ended up buying a silver Mercedes logo pendant on a large silver chain for $10. I'm not sure what is funnier, Big Tim with this Mercedes hood ornament hanging off of his neck, or all the really white people on our team using the word "bling" over and over again, like it was a common white word like "Condo" or "Volvo". Geryl negotiated with one guy for something, got him down to $5, then walked away because she was annoyed. I think had she kept going, the man would have paid her a few bucks to take it.
One guy had the little bottle caps with some paper under it, hiding the paper and sliding the caps all over the table, wanting money to gamble to see where it was. We watched for a minute, and one lady there kept winning. A couple of times he turned to me, held out a few hundreds and said "if you got a hundred, you can make it five" or some crap like that. I kept expecting him to say "hey, i am a Nigerian prince with millions in the bank, and all I need is a bank account number to transfer it over--can i have yours, and you can have half!" I told him no over and over, though he kept holding his money out for me to play. We just walked away. Though I think that the winning woman was in on the hustle, this con man was a God blessing, as you'll read later.
Everyone walked down and took pictures of the Statue of Liberty that you could see in the distance, though personally, I would have loved just taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. Here's the thing... I've been here already, I've seen this stuff before. I have seen Chinatown, Little Italy, Central Park, FAO Schwartz, The ESB and so on and so forth... really, what I wanted to do was go to Midtown Comics and maybe take in an afternoon at the Metro Museum. However--this wasn't about me. This whole trip wasn't about me, it was about Him. And many people going had never seen this stuff, so hanging out with them made it fun.
Philip and Josh told everyone that we could all split up, go in smaller groups and such, and visit, just be back in Crotona for the Block Party set-up by 3pm. I decided to go with Paula, Josh, Brandon, the Herringtons because they were headed to Chinatown, and also with Natalie, because, well, she's my homegirl. =)
Everyone departed their own way, going to various places and such, so we took the train up to Canal Street where Chinatown was located. We got above ground from the subway station and found it was packed out. A little while later, Geryl, Tim and Anna Lynn decided they would meet us at the Park, because keeping up with all of us was too difficult with the swarms of tourists and Chinese selling their wares.
Josh B had a just a little bit of money, and wanted some cologne. He wanted a big bottle of Ralph Lauren Polo Blue, retailing for $50, but the vendor wanted $18. He said "how mucha you got?" and Josh said "I have ten dollars" and the guy replied "Issa eight-teen dolla!". From out of nowhere, Paula firmly said, "Ten." The guy looked at her, looked at Josh, and defeated, said "Gimme ten". Josh handed the last of his money over, and he got his cologne.
We were all getting hungry, but let me say I don't dig on chinese. Actually, I don't dig dog and cat, so I tend to stay away from the oriental food (Japanese I can handle sometimes) which presents a problem for Steph, because she loves chinese food. However, being the selfless guy I am, I told Paula, the B-Boys and Nat that I would go and sit wherever they wanted to eat. They chose the Hon Wong Restaurant, and to me, it was pretty sketch. I ordered a Coke, and got a can with a big hair on top of it. Needless to say, I drank it with a straw.
After lunch, we walked through C'town, and they ended up buying various things there and here. I bought a pair of NYC Socks for The Lovely Steph Leann (she loves decorative socks) but that was all for me. Natalie got her a Louis Vitton purse, while Paula bought some random stuff as well. We strolled on over to Little Italy from there, where I went in and had some not-very-tasty-for-the-twelve-bucks-i-spent spaghetti at some hole in the wall "authentic" Italian joint while everyone else shopped.
And finally, it came time to head to The Bronx. Our plan was to get on the subway at 2pm, so we'd have a full hour to travel to Crotona Park, but none of us figured into our brilliance that we were on the bottom of Manhattan, and Crotona was on the other side of the top of Manhattan. Didn't help that we got on the wrong platform waiting for the wrong train. When we finally got on the right one, it was 230pm and we had 14 stops to make before arriving at 174th Street station, where we needed to be. Yeah, we walked off the platform at 174th around 310pm. I called Josh & Staci, who were already there, and told them we were almost there. After a quick stop at the Williams Grocery, for some 50 cent water and other assorted items, we walked up to the park.
Philip and Colby to meet us to walk us to the Block Party location, which seemed strange to me until I discovered that not only were we on the other side of the fairly large park, the block party we were to tend to was being held on the same day that the neighborhood did their monthly block party, complete with dental screenings, doctor check up booths and other needed things. "Hmm.. popcorn maker, check. Cotton candy machine, check. Lots of drinks, check. A day when nothing like the monthly neighborhood party is planned... hmmm." Just my thoughts. Didn't feel bad being there at 320 either... Geryl, Tim and Anna Lynn got lost, as did Mark, Chuck & Daniel, on the subways, and the entire group wasn't there until at least 4 or 415pm.
Fluid, baby, fluid--pardon my cynicism. It worked out, though.
The block party was being thrown in conjunction with a local church, Lighthouse (which Pastor Kitchens headed up) one guy said it best: "Pastor Kitchens is a great man. I just wish his congregation was like him." That is to say, there werent a whole lot of Lighthouse people there. The other church that was working on it was Hepsibah Baptist from South Carolina, who was just beginning a five day mission trip in the area, where they'd be doing VBS and Bible camps on a different side of the park.
Josh C started working on the sno cone machine, I took a hold of the popcorn machine, and Satci did the cotton candy, until she decided to be with Josh on sno-cones, which was good, because that was definately a two person job. Nat took over cotton candy then. Slowly but surely, kids and parents came. There were hot dogs and chips available, as well as games and one of those big blow up inflatable jumper-mabobs. Mark ended up doing that with Leslie, one of the mission directors, and became an Inflatables Bouncer. So many kids wanted in that thing they had to let them in depending on size for a few moments at a time. I saw one kid go running and diving in the opening, but before he could get through, Mark grabbed his legs, yanked him out and dropped him on the ground. Quite priceless.
Some of the kids we had worked with all week showed up to help, and before long, we had kids taking our places on sno-cones, popcorn and cotton candy, which was fine with us. I wandered down, got a hotdog, had a cheap (re: free) dinner and then got to watch three girls throwing down on some double dutch jump rope. They told me how, but when I did it, I managed to get in about four hops before the rope (which was a long piece of phone cord, I noticed. Had I money, I would have immediately gone and bought them a proper rope) tangled around my legs. I think Staci got in about six jumps, but neither Josh did much.
Kendall showed up a little while later. I also noticed Tim sitting with another little girl, Vernalisa, whom I recognized from camp. It was her 11th birthday, and turned out to be another birthday as well... her first spiritual one. She accepted Christ right there in the park, and it was awesome. She was the cutest darn thing. Later, Kendall got to pray with another little girl, Arelis, who was probably about eight, maybe younger, to recieve Christ. I only envy that they got to pray with the kids, but I think its AWESOME!
I have to tell you this part though... the coconut shells. Some of the games were set up around the food, and I dont mind telling you, they were a wee bit cheesy. Throw the hackeysack into the hole in the wood, and toss the plastic ring on the plastic dolphin... no, I dont know that I could have come up with better stuff, given the time constraints, but its my site, so I can say that yes, they were cheesy.
Anna Lynn was running one booth that I can only call "Guess Where the Shell the Ball is". It was like the street hustle game we saw in Battery Park, only the small object to find was a blue foam ball, and the cups were plastic coconut shell cups, the kind you'd slap a lid and a crazy straw on, sipping pina colada in a hammock, kicking back, enjoying the... wait. Lords work. So, she was having a hard time with this, and finally asked me to do it because she was tired. Not really wanting to, I stepped in and said "Sure."
My mad skillz at doing such a game, moving the upside down shells around quickly so people lose track of the ball, aren't so much skillz as, well, incompetence. I learned quickly, however, that you dont have any problems guessing when there are price tag stickers on the bottom of the cups, all placed in different places. No wonder they were killing Anna Lynn. "The ball is in the cup with the sticker in the corner. Hmm, I will just pick that one." So I peeled off the stickers, and went to work. I'm a show-off, really, so thats what I did. I started flipping the cups, moving them around quickly, I'd pick them up while moving the cups in a circular motion so as to keep the ball in the cup, I'd pick up two of them together, move the ball between the two then slam the cups down, still moving them... yes, this might sound impressive, but I dropped the ball half the time, or the ball would fall out of the cup when I slammed it down. Still, it made for a good show, and the kids all enjoyed it. One kid was talking smack, and I burned him seven straight times. Felt good. =)
When we were about to leave, I suddenly announced that my time was up, I took a bow, and left the cups... only I had to come back, because one little girl starting crying, saying "I dinna get to do it!". So I did an encore performance, cutting my right hand middle finger in the process somehow. Bleedin' for Jesus.
A few minutes later, Arelis joined the faith family via Kendall's lead, and we all began to walk back to the 174th Street Station. We walked by the Williams Grocery store, and I shook the attendants hand and told him we were gone for good. He looked and smiled and said "see you tomorrow?" and I replied, "no, we're heading back to Alabama." I dont think he understood anything I said. That's allright, though. He was a blessing to us all with his 1/2 a dollar water and no tax 20 oz Cokes and for Colby, cheap pecan spinwheels.
Tim still had his bling on, and I was still getting a kick out of hearing white-bread Paula and white-bread Geryl saying the word "bling" all the time. As we stood awaiting the train, Josh B put Tim's bling on Philip, and made him turn his hat cockeyed... Philip then did this rapper pose that was simply priceless... you can't make this stuff up. Hence, P-Wat, or as I call him, P to the Wat to the E, R, S was born.
And finally, we said our goodbyes to Kendall on the train and walked away. Staci, Josh and Mark all headed back to Times Square for a few more purchases, while we were just too tired to do anything else. I went back and began to pack my junk, finding it strange how I had more stuff than I came with, when all I did was flippin' eat while I was there. Larry and I encouraged each other in that we only had one more night of sweaty backs and wet mattresses to endure for the Glory. We kept wondering if we'd see The Naked French Guy, or if I'd get one more chance to turn my head from Foreign Chick in a Towel, but it didnt happen.
So the plan is to be outside with our luggage by 545am, so we can catch the M60 bus to La Guardia by 6am. Early, once again.
I've got one more day... or morning, rather, to blog, and I'll tell you about Trevor, Terry and Keith, the Irishmen at the Palace, and also about the ride home. Then I think I'll relay to you my thoughts of the trip, my favorite moments and wrap it up. Thats coming Wednesday, so stay tuned.