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Homeschoolers Hit Manhattan

by Michael Leppert

"Open your wallet on Times Square at night? Ride a subway? Cross a street with a NYC cab at close range? What bravery!" Yes, Link readers, in the name of adventuring journalism I did all of these things and more on our trip to New York as part of an American Student Travel homeschool tour in October. Now that I have returned to my quiet, West Coast suburban life, I relish the fact that I did something even some seasoned denizens of Gotham haven't done -- I climbed to the crown of the Statue of Liberty -- inside, using the stairway, of course. It was tough though. The spiral staircase is narrow and I am wide; it climbs forever toward the sky! But Lennon & I both made the shadowy ascent through the green lady's innards with mastery and courage, as did many of our homeschooling cohorts! What we homeschoolers won't do in our striving for Liberty's lofty crown , eh? While we scaled the heights, Mary captured the front-page "huddle" photo with Liberty in the background.

I was initially reluctant to tour New York, having always felt intimidated by it. I have been to Chicago many times and lived in Los Angeles, and I always thought my life would include a New York trip. A tour would be the perfect way to feel safe without knowing my way around. It was more appealing since it was a homeschool tour; we knew the tourists had something in common from the outset!

Since two of our fellow travelers, Gwen Fleischer and son, Larry, were also from the L.A. area, our "tour" began Thursday morning at the L.A. airport as we boarded our 6:30 plane to Chicago's O'Hare. There, we rendevouzed with the winsome AST representative, Amy Taylor, and three more of the interesting touring families: Barb Lungren & daughter, Brenna; Cathy Lane with daughters, Allison & Rachel, all from Texas, and Linda Melvin & son, Ben, with Linda's sister, Suzanne Young, of Nebraska. Our ranks thus increased, we advanced upon New York on a non-incidental flight, landing at La Guardia in very late afternoon.

Our tour guide met us at the airport with a Greyhound-type bus and whisked us off to Chinatown for dinner, where we met the other two touring families, Janiece Maxwell & son, Terry, from Michigan and Celeste Jordan & daughter, Jenna, from Florida. We munched our way through delicious Chinese cuisine as we engaged in lively conversation and became acquainted. It is always pleasurable to meet homeschooling families from around the country, discovering how we perceive this great lifestyle we have chosen and find out what the homeschool and/or parenting issues are in other states. After a bit of bargain-hunting in Chinatown, we reboarded the tour bus and snaked our way through Manhattan to Grand Central Station which had been re-dedicated that day. Within we were dazzled by the vast art-deco vaults of the railroad cathedral. In the past, for visitors without wings, here a trip to New York began. The bus then wended its way back to our hotel in the heart of the theatre district and we dreamed New York dreams with angry cabbies honking through the night.

Friday morning we jolted ourselves from sleep to enjoy the crisp autumn breezes, a quick breakfast, subway ride to Battery Park and then ferryboat journey to the Statue of Liberty. Our guide advised us how to jockey for position if we wished to climb the Statue. Even in autumn, the waiting line can be "hours" long and we only had a bit of climbing time. Lennon & I heeded this advice, placed ourselves among the first in line, and made the ascent in approximately 20 minutes. After a 10-minute nap on the observation deck (joke) I was ready to descend and join Mary, who had explored the island and taken pictures.

We then ferried to Ellis Island, which until 1925 was the point of entry for non-first-class passengers on ships from Europe. (First-class passengers went right to New York City.) If you trace your ancestry to Europe, it is likely that your great-grandparents passed through Ellis Island. You may find it worthwhile to experience a piece of your family's history -- see the walls and windows they saw as they anxiously awaited processing; imagine their fear and sense of excitement as they waited to begin a new life! This era was before "green" cards for immigrants and the hopeful entrant from Europe passed through the Ellis Island battery of tests for "intelligence" and health. If the prospective American succeeded, s/he was a citizen upon descending the last set of stairs from the testing area. It must have been an incredible feeling for the people who had traversed the Atlantic under trying conditions, hopeful all the way. As our guide was informing us of these facts, I was thinking of the closing scene of "Fiddler on the Roof", where the villagers are discussing "when we get to America" plans and that the real villagers passed through Ellis Island. Of course, failure to pass all of the tests resulted in deportation to one's country of origin. Families were often separated at the bottom of the last staircase, as the "passees" entered the New World and the "failures" were turned away at this spot. I was very moved by these thoughts of the crucible of Americanism, in proximity to the Statue of Liberty, and the poignancy of Ellis Island was palpable. After lunch in the breezy autumn sunshine, we ferried to the mainland for a walking tour of the Battery area, with much Colonial-period history, the old Customs House and the Wall St. district. I realized why I have seen so few fat New Yorkers in the Los Angeles area -- if you are in Manhattan, you WALK . . . FAST. . . and a lot.

In our four swirling, autumn days in New York, we attended two Broadway plays, visited Times Square, rode the subways, took a chilly, overcast walk through Central Park, visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art (See Lennon's Room for his impressions of the Met.) and toured Radio City Music Hall. A highlight for me was our visit to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). We took in an impressive display of 19th-Century paintings by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, and two of my all-time favorite pieces -- "Starry Night" by Van Gogh and "The Persistence of Memory" (soft watches) by Salvador Dali. I felt privileged to so closely examine the thick brush strokes Vincent applied in his coffee-driven frenzy and view in person, the beachscape which Dali placed in the background of his surrealist masterpiece.

Our last day, we subwayed to Greenwich Village for a walking tour. The noise of Manhattan disappeared and we were in a quiet, urban neighborhood. There we solved one of the bona fide Mysteries of the Universe: If you have worked in the restaurant business and wondered where the term "86" originates, our guide informed us. During Prohibition a speak-easy known as Chumley's was located at 86 Bedford Street in the Village. It possessed a secret rear exit and numerous methods of escape. The proprietor catered to many well-heeled New Yorkers and whenever the police raided Chumley's, they always provided patrons ample time to clear out so no arrests were made. After a time, a raid on Chumley's became known as an "86" and eventually in the restaurant business this came to mean either running out of an item on the menu or ejecting a patron -- usually for rowdiness.

I am ending this piece with a great homeschooler's anecdote. Our guide was preparing us to enter the incredible Metropolitan Museum of Art and related to us that he knew when he met us at the airport that we would be a unique tour group, because he asked Jenna Jordan, the nine-year-old homeschooler from Homestead, Florida, what she wanted most to see in New York. Based upon experience, he expected to hear "the Empire State Building" or "the Statue of Liberty". Jenna in true homeschooling form responded enthusiastically, "The Metropolitan Museum of Art!" He was impressed and puzzled, having never heard such an answer before. When he queried her as to why -- without missing a beat -- avid Egyptophile Jenna answered: "Because they have the second-largest exhibit of Egyptian artifacts in the world, next to Cairo." If I could have planned an introduction for him to homeschooling as I see it, I couldn't have written a better script! On behalf of all of us homeschooling families who are striving to preserve and carry our torch in the darkness of late 20th Century America, thanks, Jenna!!

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