Our last day, nay, last morning in Manhattan revolved around two major events: 1) Sarah’s audition for Carnegie Mellon, and 2) Getting our flight home on time.
Carnegie Mellon is actually in Pennsylvania, but they hold auditions in New York (and possibly other places), probably because places like New York are a good source of people aspiring to work in the theater. They had rented studio space on Eighth Avenue, about a ten minute walk from our hotel. Sarah needed to be there at 8 am. Her audition would be some time after that. Our flight for Charlotte departed at 12:59 pm. Janet’s sage advice, and our experience from Thursday, told us we needed to be leaving Carnegie Mellon no later than 10:30 am, sooner if possible. But what if Sarah’s audition didn’t get through in time?
I formed a back-up plan. There was a later flight from JFK to Raleigh-Durham, which is about 80 miles from our home. If we had to, we could take that flight, and my wife would come and get us. Clearly, it would be wonderful if we didn’t need this plan, especially since it depended upon the nice folks at American Airlines transferring our tickets, and it would put my wife out having to make a 3-hour round trip to pick us up. But more than anything, I didn’t want Sarah to be worrying about how we were getting home. I reminded her that the whole reason we were there was for her auditions. If she flunked the audition because she was concerned about getting home, then what was the point? “We’ll get home somehow,” I told her. “Just worry about giving a great audition.”
We checked out of the hotel and made our way to the audition, well ahead of schedule. Since we were leaving straight after, I went in with her and sat with her, along with the other candidates and parents, through the orientation. The people running the audition handed out forms for each applicant to complete, which they handed in at the table (see picture) along with a head-shot. When Sarah delivered hers, she told them she had a flight to catch at 12, so if at all possible, she’d like to audition early. They made a note and, sure enough, when they called the first group of five, she was among them.
Sarah’s audition was in two stages. The first concentrated on her acting. She prepared two monologues for Carnegie Mellon: one as Ophelia from Hamlet, and the other as Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady. She would have done the latter for Juilliard, but they didn’t want to hear her do an accent. Carnegie Mellon were more receptive to this, however, much to Sarah’s delight (and I can vouch for her skill at sounding like a Brit). The second stage was the singing part. I don’t recall what song(s) she had prepared, but this was the part she was most nervous about. Strangely, she’s more comfortable singing a cappella than accompanied. This was fine for Juilliard, but here she had to sing with a pianist. I gave her some pointers (I’m a musician and her father, it was my duty!), but I’m sure she did fine despite my advice. 🙂
Those blessed and most generous Carnegie people put Sarah in the early group for singing, too, which meant we were out of there by 10! Woohoo!! Now we needed to get to the airport. Janet had warned us that they would be doing work on the E-line, so we needed to take the E-train on the F-line. (Yes, it does sound really confusing to a non-New Yorker–it’s not just you. Can you believe New Yorkers talk like this all the time? “Take the 1 to 6th at 34th and the F to the Q on 112th at 59th where you get the 2 at 10th at 45th…”?!!?!) There was a station on Sixth Avenue we could go to, which wasn’t far from us. However, our week-long, unlimited MetroCard was only good for one person (we had hoped to be able to share it), so I needed to buy a single-trip MetroCard for the train ride to the AirTrain. Not all subway stations have card dispensers, and I couldn’t remember if the station on Sixth Avenue had one, so we detoured to Penn Street Station. Penn Street is a large hub, where you can not only get a subway train, but you can get on Amtrak or get a bus. It took much longer than I had hoped to find a ticket dispenser.
On the way out, a man in one of the Amtrak lines collapsed with his hand gripping his side. Men in uniform rushed over, and someone called for medical assistance. It was like a scene from a movie. I don’t know what the man’s problem was. He didn’t grasp at his chest, so I don’t think it was a heart attack. It might have been a ruptured appendix from where his hand went, but he also had crutches, so maybe there was another issue. I felt bad hurrying away, but there was literally nothing we could do, and we were in a bit of a hurry. As we left Penn Street Station, we saw an emergency vehicle come screaming down the street, no doubt either coming for, or containing our poor friend.
We reached the station on Sixth Avenue, and then searched for the correct track. We found the F-line. Were we were headed downtown or uptown? Once we decided where JFK was, we then followed the arrows to the correct track, or at least what we hoped was the correct track, and waited for the E-train. While we waited, I recalled the map of the subway system, and how each line is separate, and began to wonder how you could have an E-train running on the F-line but going to all the correct E-train stops. How does that work? Are we really going to get there, or are we going to find ourselves at some F-stop without a clue how to get to our E-stop?!! But Janet said, take the E-train on the F-line. She knows New York better than you. Trust her. If she’s wrong, you can mock her mercilessly on your blog. And hers. Assuming you get home and are not stuck going around in circles on the New York subway for the rest of your life…
An F-train pulled into the station. We let it go. The next train came. Another F. I looked at Sarah. “If the next one’s an F, let’s just take it and see how far we get.” We let it go. The next train came. An E! We climbed aboard. On the side opposite us was a digital display showing what station we were at, the rest of the stations ahead of us, and how many stops away each of them are (very useful). I recognized the names of some of the stops from Thursday. Under the station name about 20 stops away, it said “JFK AirTrain.” Woohoo! It was close to 11 by now. I was glad to be on our way to the airport at last, but I was still a little nervous.
We needed to take the AirTrain to Gate 8. We were getting on at the stop before Gate 1! Checks the time… deep breaths… Thankfully, the gates aren’t far apart, and a couple were not on the route (or didn’t exist at all–I’ll let your imagination decide which sounds better), so it only took about twenty minutes. We then crossed the terminal, up escalators, down escalators, and along corridors until we got to security. I expected long lines, given this is JFK. It was almost deserted. We sailed through security, and found our gate, just in time for boarding.
Except the flight had been delayed, and wouldn’t be leaving until 1:30.
Don’t anyone try to convince me the Lord doesn’t have a sense of humor. 🙂
The rest of the trip home was uneventful. I was glad to be back. It was nice visiting New York, but I don’t think I could stay there for an extended period of time. Sarah can’t wait to go back. She would live there if she could.
To finish up, here are some lessons learned/tips for those planning a trip to New York:
- Don’t pack more than you need. I took a duffel bag which contained clothes, my travel mug, a short story I needed to edit, a book to read, travel-sized toiletries in a clear bag, tea bags, and a pad and pencil. There was nothing more I needed, and I used all these items. Neither Sarah nor I needed to check any luggage, so we could leave our plane and head out immediately. Also, we didn’t have a lot of luggage to carry getting to the hotel, or returning to the airport.
- If you are a tea drinker, check ahead of time to see if your room comes with a coffee machine, or some kind of hot water dispenser. If it doesn’t, either find another hotel, or make sure you locate the nearest Starbucks.
- If you’re used to spending less than $10/person when you eat out, be prepared for a shock, or stick to fast food. You will need a good dining budget.
- Make sure you have opportunities to charge your phone. Either take a portable charger, or find places you can charge up your phone (e.g., hotel, Starbucks, a literary agency…). Don’t wait until you’re at 5% and stranded somewhere on Tenth Avenue to think about this!
- If you have a smart phone, Google Maps is your friend. Especially if your sense of direction is as bad as mine. Seriously, though, aside from letting you know where you are in relation to the rest of the city, it displays all the landmarks and places of interest. If you don’t have a smart phone, get maps of the city and the subway.
- If you intend to walk places, wear good walking shoes.
- Don’t linger on sidewalks. Walk with purpose. If you have to stop to get oriented, move to the inside edge of the sidewalk, or into a building.
- Smile. Be friendly. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help. I spent over an hour walking the streets and didn’t once feel threatened.
And finally, a word for my writer friends–especially those who frequent Janet Reid’s blog. Some of you might think I’m something special because I got to visit New Leaf and have an audience with Janet. Not so. I did nothing that any of the rest of you couldn’t do. Namely:
- I frequent the comments enough that Janet knows who I am. This is not required, but if she’s seen your name in the comments, or you’ve won a contest, she’ll be less guarded than if you tell her “I’m a writer who reads your blog” but she’s never heard of you. It’s common sense, really. If you were in Janet’s shoes, wouldn’t you be a bit warmer toward someone you’ve had previous contact with as opposed to a total stranger? The more you know an agent, and the agent knows you well enough to know you’re not a jerk, the more open they will be to giving you some of their time. Again, common sense.
- I emailed Janet to let her know I would be in town. Janet extended an invitation to me, but I could have just as easily asked to stop by. Whatever you do, don’t call Janet, and don’t just turn up. If Janet wants you to call her, she will tell you when she emails you. Don’t assume permission until it’s granted. By the way, this applies to all literary agents, not just Janet Reid.
If you do get a chance to visit Janet (or any agent for that matter) be respectful of her time. We visited around lunchtime, but when we got back, Janet had work to do and she pretty much left us alone. If she hadn’t invited us to use the conference room, we would have left.
Sorry I didn’t have a lot of pictures for this installment. We were too busy trying to get to the airport to stop and take photos. Once we arrived at JFK, however, I did take this one, just for my friends over at Janet’s blog. They’ll understand:
Thanks for reading! Feel free to use the comments for any questions you might have about my time in NYC, or just to comment!
P.S.: Here are two VERY different musical takes on the New York experience. The first is by ex-10cc members Godley and Creme, giving a somewhat cynical foreigner’s view of the city in 1979. The second is by Billy Joel, a native New Yorker, pining for his home town from California in 1976.