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There are three places every American should visit – and more than once if possible. Write them down, put them on that amorphous and trendy “bucket list,” commit them to memory and take them to the bank.
You may disagree – profoundly and loudly, like one of those awful political skirmishes that seem de rigueurthese days – but I hold with tenacious certainty to the unassailable opinion that if you invest in a visit to these three places, actually do more than stick your finger in the air and call it a touchdown and move on, your life will be enriched, your perspective broadened and your faith in eternal possibility restored and renewed.
Put them in the order you want, but here are my choices:
The Grand Canyon: Because no believing human can enter its magical embrace and depart with any mite of doubt about the presence of our creator.
Washington, D.C.: Because none of us born in or adopted by this country should exit life without understanding the history of its founding, its principles and its promulgation into not only a nation but also a dominant culture and a society.
New York City: Because on Manhattan, in 23.1 compact square miles, there is amassed an awesome assemblage of insights, perspectives and baccalaureates in each of our places among the human race, an oracle of information where answers bounce off the eardrums, ride the optic nerve and seek out the olfactories.
Perhaps you have visited all three. Perhaps you have had awful experiences that move you to pick up the phone and tell the head hospital that there is a prime candidate for a restraint bed walking our streets.
Perhaps you have avoided one or all out of fear, out of lack of opportunity, out of disinterest. Perhaps you simply could give a goat’s hind leg about it all.
But you should. And I know because I was like you before I took the proverbial plunge and felt the soothing waters of understanding.
I submit that each has its negatives.
The Grand Canyon is a long hike from home and is a marriage of both desert and mountains, either of which can be off-putting to some.
Washington is a civic mess, difficult to understand and to navigate and imposing in its formality and focus.
New York is crowded, loud and expensive, sometimes scary, often overpowering and physically challenging.
Make no mistake that I love Kentucky, the dirt from which my roots sprang into a creation sturdy enough to endure half a century, and I cherish the Low Country of South Carolina, where ideas and inspiration seem to rise from the marshes like so much mist.
I couldn’t argue against the majesty of the Rockies, the magnitude of Texas, the everything-in-one-place power of California or the rocky coasts of Maine.
Each has its wonder and entrancing, seductive touch to our souls, but my top three is my top three, and I know now it always will be.
I determined that this would be my sermon last week, when my wife and I jetted away for a few days in New York City, a place we visited often (think a few times a year) before little children invaded our home, our time and our bank accounts (surely you can sympathize).
It was a week filled with all the usual stops: a Broadway show (the hilarious if sometimes uncomfortable Book of Mormon), Little Italy, Chinatown and Greenwich Village, window-shopping on 5th Avenue and a sampling of cuisines familiar and wonderfully new.
Our goal is always to invade the culture of the city, immerse ourselves in small places and unique flavors and let its depth and foundation surround us and embody us.
On this trip, too, we got the unique opportunity to see two of the city’s famous parades – the Parade of the Americas and the Columbus Day Parade – in whose wonderful walks north on 5th Avenue we admired waving hands, smiling faces and embracing cultures.
And we even went looking for the Occupy Wall Street people, though on Wall Street on a holiday all we saw were a few police officers, lots of barricades and one guy with a sign.
In dozens of visits for the past four decades, I have had the opportunity to spend New Year’s Eve in Time Square and have watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from along the route. I’ve seen the nightlife and the trends, visited all five boroughs, walked Manhattan for at least 95 blocks north from the tip and jogged across the Brooklyn Bridge. I’ve seen dozens of shows, been to Yankee and Shea stadiums and Madison Square Garden. I’ve run through Central Park and walked through the stores.
And I can’t think that I have seen half of what I want to see, need to see and would learn from seeing. As my wife says when we leave, it’s a sad thing. There is something magical about that place, a mystique for all of us.
A foonote: This visit also provided one full circle that I found an amazing lifetime link of the sort that the Chinese call “Red Threads.”
In 1975, I first flew to New York to cover a basketball player drafted No. 1 by the New York Knicks. I was scared to death as I tagged along with his agent and family. I feared my life would be lost in those canyons of concrete. We were there only one night and lodged at the old City Squire Hotel.
Last week, by sheer chance, my wife booked us into a hotel on 7th Avenue, a building that after a day or so I came to realize was the old City Squire.
If this was to be my last trip to New York, the circle was complete.
It began on an arc of fear and wonder and closed again with a stitch of unyielding attachment.