July 18, 2015

Random Acts… Life in a New York minute

Posted in Travel at 11:51 pm by dinaheng

Flying from Los Angeles to New York, I find myself seated near a woman who appears to have Down Syndrome. Someone had escorted her onto the plane, then left her to make the flight cross country alone.

I say hello, and try to open a conversation, but she stares off into space, then moves over to the window seat, so I leave it at that.

The United Airlines flight passes quickly enough, even if I have to put a book behind me for back support because the only real padding on the seat is in the headrest. (Are you listening, Jeff Smisek?)

After getting off the plane, I notice that the woman with Down Syndrome has left the gate area and is standing bewildered as other passengers rush past.

Yes, it’s late at night, but I still don’t understand how anyone can just walk past someone who’s obviously in need of help. Maybe the people rushing home, or hesitate to approach someone with a mental handicap. Maybe they just assume someone else will eventually help her.

Dinah EngSo I speak with the woman, and lead her back to the gate, where the agents look like they’re too tired to be bothered. When I explain that the woman is mentally challenged, they finally walk over to help.

There are many great things about life in New York, a vibrant city that’s a mecca for finance, media, entertainment and more. There are also a million ways for people to get lost in the frenetic pace of a town where humans are dwarfed by the skyscrapers.

My oasis in Manhattan is The Michelangelo Hotel, where Italian elegance meets New York hubbub on the corner of 51st and 7th Avenue. The soft wind chime sounds from the crystal light fixtures in the elevators are a soothing surprise. The rooms themselves are blissfully quiet, my definition of luxury.

Room rates vary, depending on the time of year and whether you use a discount booking site, but plan on paying upwards of $200 a night.

Even at that price, this is not a problem-free oasis. When I turn on the hair dryer one morning, a roach-like bug blows out of it onto the shower curtain. After reporting the surprise bug launch to the front desk, the manager’s response was, “Sorry to hear that. But this is New York.” Guess I was lucky it wasn’t something worse.

The country’s economic divide is evident everywhere in this town, from the homeless on the street to the suits on the Street. When I asked a friend to pick a place for Sunday brunch that’s moderately priced, she chooses Norma’s at Le Parker Meridien New York, a restaurant known for lavish breakfasts.

I appreciate that she wants to treat me to a real New York experience. But while the complimentary fruit smoothies are a nice touch, the menu could only be considered “moderately” priced in the Big Apple. My Seared Rock Lobster and Asparagus Omelet comes with breakfast potatoes and a croissant. While the portion is large enough for two, $33 is way too much to pay for a runny omelet with no flavor.

After a few business meetings and quick visits with friends, my long weekend comes to a close. I head back to Newark International Airport, where the spacious gate areas are much larger and nicer than the facilities in Los Angeles.

As I sit down to wait for boarding, I see a toddler playing soccer with his dad, joyfully kicking a small red ball around the area. When the ball roams into another gate area, a slightly older boy kicks it back to the tyke, who giggles with delight.

As the little one heads back toward our gate, he spies a shiny recycling can. Quickly, he picks up his red ball and goes for a slam-dunk into the can. His dad catches the ball, just in time. When I tell the dad that his son is so cute, he beams with pride.

We travel for vacation, for business, to visit family, to see new places and meet new people. If we’re fortunate enough to make a connection, the world becomes a smaller, friendlier place.

I think of the woman with Down Syndrome who made the trip here alone, and smile at the antics of the 20-month-old with his red ball. Life passes in a New York minute wherever we live. Don’t pass up the chance to connect with those you may meet along the way.

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