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Finding the Joy of the Season on a Solo Trip to New York City

by on December 17, 2019 4:30 AM

The holiday season is upon us. And there’s no better way for those of us living in Happy Valley to contemplate the good tidings and blessings of the holiday season and the condition of your fellow man/woman/person than a solo trip to New York City. 

That’s right. A trip by yourself to New York City – the most populous city in the United States with 8.4 million people – is just the opportunity you can use to think about what the holidays really mean to you. That might seem antithetical to the spirit of the season, but let me assure you that being by yourself in and on the way to the Big Apple can provide some helpful reflective moments. 

And how do I know this? Well, I did it myself just last week.

Hear me out. There are two excellent reasons why a trip on your own to New York City can enhance your holiday spirits and make you appreciate life all the more.

First, the traveling portion of the trip itself will provide you with hours of meditative time. If you’re driving or riding in a car, you’ll have a minimum of four hours of free time each way. Taking a bus will give you five hours. Catch a train from Lewistown and you’ll have five-and-a-half hours. Spend the big bucks and fly and your average flight time is well over four hours and involves a plane change in Detroit or Philadelphia. (Oh, if only there was a direct flight from State College to LaGuardia!)

Second, when you arrive, with over 27,000 people per square mile compared to Centre County’s 140, if you want to reflect on humanity you’ll be encountering almost 200 times more of it every square mile. Plus with the seasonal decorations, trimmings and trappings on display in abundance, thought-provoking reminders of the holiday season will be around every corner.

On this particular trip I chose to drive and because I was on my own I had complete control of the musical selections in the car. 

Normally I would use my classic holiday season mix when taking a long drive at this time of year, but I decided to plug my phone in and let it randomly select songs from my normal mix of music in the hopes it would provide an interesting counterpoint to the season. And the random-music-selecting function did not disappoint. 

As I departed Happy Valley in the evening, “Steppin' Out” by Joe Jackson played:

Get into a car and drive
To the other side
Me babe, steppin' out
Into the night

“Steppin’ Out” is a very upbeat tune about a night out on the town in New York City. In fact, the phrase “steppin’ out” was supposedly coined in and about New York City back in the 1930’s, and New York City   was just where I was headed.

Then as I was driving through the Lincoln Tunnel, “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N' Roses came out of the speakers: 

Welcome to the jungle, we've got fun and games
We got everything you want honey, we know the names
We are the people that can find whatever you may need
If you got the money, honey we got your disease

Not exactly the holiday spirit I was hoping for but it certainly took me back to my first-ever visit to New York City as a teenager. The singer Axl Rose had a similar experience as a kid and said it was the genesis of the line, “Welcome to the jungle.”  Driving up out of the tunnel into the neon lights last week contrasted with my visit decades ago and made the current welcoming atmosphere all that much more inviting and festive. 

Then while waiting on red lights, left turns and crosstown traffic, I finally got close to my hotel as “The Weight” by The Band started playing:

I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin' about half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?
He just grinned and shook my hand, "no," was all he said

Luckily I had a reservation and a warm bed waiting for me, but even though the Nazareth in the song is in Pennsylvania (where we also have a Bethlehem), the biblical connotations and timing of “no room at the inn” were not lost on me at that moment. 

After checking in I settled into my room for a long winter’s nap. As is normal in midtown Manhattan, there was a clatter outside my window, and looking down on the bright lights of Times Square gave the appearance of midday to objects below. Although there was no miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer – it was still almost two weeks until Christmas Eve – holiday decorations were everywhere.

As I walked the streets of Manhattan the next day, past the festive beauty of Bryant Park, the glow of Rockefeller Center, the multitude of decorations in Madison Square Park, all the storefronts and lobbies resplendent with shiny trees and wrapped presents, and all the people – the never-ending mass of people — well, it certainly made me think that New York City, this grand experiment of millions of Americans living and working harmoniously within tightly-packed square miles, is a testament to the natural goodness of humans. If New York could do it, so could we. All of us. 

So as you wind your way through this holiday season, celebrating whatever festive occasion your heritage, religion or individual choice draws you to, I wish you a holiday moment of your own, an opportunity to feel the joy of the season in a way that speaks to you. And if you need any help in finding it, may I suggest a trip to New York City? 

Happy holidays! 

John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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