Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Arts in Frisco, TX- Why the Controversy?

When I ask people about the arts in Frisco, TX, I am shocked when I see a visceral reaction of negativity and fear.  It is palpable.  I'll get a terse smile, a deep breath, and I can tell words are being carefully crafted before daring to be spoken.

I grew up near Chicago, IL, a city that deeply understands the great public value of arts and culture.  It's not questioned, it doesn't need to be justified; it's simply part of the daily conversation, intentionally woven into the very fabric of the city.  I have to say, I miss it.  I miss it terribly.

What has caused this black eye in Frisco's history with the arts?  What happened that has turned something so innately beautiful and unifying as the arts into fractured, broken pieces?

Let me pull back the curtain to reveal what I've learned about this complex history.

In 2000, a nationally award-winning Millenium plan was put in place for the city of Frisco.  It included a vision for the arts that states, "The City of Frisco should develop a community center for all ages, and/or cultural facilities (museum, performing arts center, etc)."  That was the vision for the arts in Frisco, 14 years ago.

In 2002, a project came to the table called the Arts of Collin County, or later renamed the Arts of North Texas.  It was a joint effort of neighboring cities to create a 2,100-seat performing arts venue as a regional cultural arts magnet.  There was a bond election at the time, and Frisco voters approved $19M towards creating this facility.

In 2006, a Comprehensive Plan was formed for Frisco created by citizens who had a vision for Frisco's future.  One of the objectives was, "Establish Frisco as a center for arts, education, and entertainment."  Other points included: "Increase cultural opportunities and choices through initiatives including more public art venues," and "Enhance the role of downtown as the cultural and social center of the city; reinforce and strengthen downtown as the heart of Frisco."

With this Comprehensive Plan in place, a new bond election occurred in 2006, and voters approved $5M towards Frisco's own "science and cultural arts facility," a separate bond from the larger Arts of Collin County project located in Allen, TX, right on the outskirts of Frisco.

In 2010, the Frisco Discovery Center was born.  It was created by converting the former aerospace building on Cotton Gin Road and the Dallas North Tollway into the Sci-Tech Discovery Center (a children's science museum), a 120-seat Black Box Theater, an "Art Gallery" (one hallway and central lobby space in the building), and a back-of-house space that could be used for special events.  Frisco Association for the Arts, the city's official arts agency, was chosen to be the managers of the entire space.

In 2011, all hell broke loose.

I can't pinpoint how it all started, but I can say, it was BIG.  Big enough to recall the 2002 bond measure for $19M that was already approved, big enough to have so much campaigning and politicking for or against the bond measure that it caused irrevocable damage to the community's understanding of the arts.  Friends became foes, lines were drawn in the sand, and the city became divided. . . over the arts.  Being pro-arts was considered fiscally irresponsible, rhetoric like "needs vs. wants" or "arts is a hobby" became pervasive, and there was no middle ground.  You either supported Frisco's infrastructure and safety, or you were a crazy arts person.  You couldn't be both.

Essentially, Frisco voters were given an opportunity to change a bond measure that had already been approved in 2002.  How did that happen?  Why was it targeted?  That in itself is disturbing.  But what's just as disheartening is that the project was less than $300,000 away from getting the shovel to the ground, and had it started before 2011, there would have been no turning back.

The end result was that in 2011, Frisco voters revoked the city's authority to issue the remaining $16.4M from the original $19M.  The City Council members stated that they couldn't support a performing arts center that was not in Frisco.  If it were located in Frisco, some councilmen assured, they would have voted for it.

Once Frisco pulled out of the 3-city project, it died.  There was no recovery.  Frisco was blamed for ruining the project and having no vision, but on the flip side, Frisco was also called a hero by those who believed it was the most fiscally responsible thing to do in an economic downturn.  And again, it wasn't in Frisco.

It's 2014.  Suddenly, a perfect storm has arrived.  A judge ruled that the 3 cities involved in the Arts of Collin County project will receive a small portion of funds back from their initial investment.  A week later, I gave a presentation with 2 other volunteers/arts advocates and the Community Development Corporation president to the 2015 Citizen Bond Committee in favor of a Cultural and Performing Arts Center IN Frisco and BY Frisco, asking for $20M in bonds to show the city's commitment to the arts and to attract a quality, dedicated partner.

The very next day, there were 4 forms of media asking our team's input on this issue: KRLD News Radio, Dallas Morning News, Community Impact News, and Channel 11.  The number one question?  What do you say about Frisco voting down the Arts of Collin County project in 2011?  Is it too early to be asking for an arts venue in Frisco given the history?

Is it too EARLY?  I submit it is 14 years TOO LATE!

As we get close to entering the new year, we must change the conversation about the arts in Frisco.  Art is the most beautiful form of human expression, a universal form of communication.  Art unites, it does not divide.  Art inspires, it does not create enmity.  We must remove the fear and negativity that surround the arts in Frisco.  No one likes a nagging wife who can't let go of an issue and keeps bringing up what didn't work, especially after it has been resolved.  That's how this 2011 issue is treated; we have to LET IT GO.  If we just keep looking back at this dark history, we will never move forward.

I believe that this 2015 Bond election is a litmus test in time.  Future generations are going to point to this moment, this particular bond election, and make a determination about what we value.  The character of the city is on the line.  What is Frisco all about?  Are we designing a well-rounded city?  Are we preserving our culture and creating sustainability for the remaining 40% left to build?  Or will we continue to be known as the best place to raise a professional athlete because of our public commitment to world-class sports facilities?  Will we only focus on the bones of the city (infrastructure), and neglect the heart and soul (arts), which is what gives every city its unique identity?  Will we decide a facility for the arts can wait another 5-7 years until the next bond election in 2020?  Or can we finally fulfill a 14-year vision for the arts to create a balanced face for Frisco?

These are all questions that I will be bringing to the table at our Citizen Bond Committee meetings in January 2015.  I expect opposition, but I know I am in the right place at the right time for this issue in Frisco.  And I hope that someday, the arts will become part of the very fabric of Frisco as it is in all great cities, and that we will be known as the place to be for the arts, not in spite of it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Open Classical- Part 2: Classical Open Mic Night

I interviewed Mark Landson, Director of Open Classical, about the concept of the popular Classical Open Mic Night, an innovative way of introducing the public to classical music.  Here's our conversation. . .

T:  So tell me, what exactly is Classical Open Mic?

M:  Classical Open Mic is an opportunity for anyone to come out and perform classical music in a casual, social environment.  It's a fun night where the audience and artist can interact and enjoy classical music together.  It is free and open to the public, usually hosted at a restaurant or coffee house.  We increase customers, and they provide the venue; it's a win-win!  We also supply the sound equipment, keyboard, and offer an accompanist, making it very easy for anyone to participate; just bring your instrument, your music, and play!

NOTE:  Here's the Facebook link to Classical Open Mic in Frisco, TX to view pics, videos, and sign up to play!

T:  Is it limited to only classical music?

M:  No, just mostly classical!  We want to hear music that generally doesn't get to have a voice in our current culture, but we've definitely had lots of variety: a few jazz musicians, pop vocals, originals, and even Metallica performed by a crazy Korean violinist.

T:  Ha!!  Moving on. . . so what makes Classical Open Mic an important part of Open Classical events?

M: Well as you know, the classical audience is getting smaller and smaller, and we want to change that.  Classical Open Mic builds and nurtures this audience so that the Dallas Symphony and other orchestras around the US have more patrons in the future.  Not only do we bring classical music to audiences that would never hear it to create a hunger and appreciation for it, but we also create a ladder for aspiring performing artists.  In the current classical system, there is no ladder; it's all top-down.  If you win a competition, you get to perform.  If you don't, it's almost impossible to build a fan base: you have to spend hundreds of dollars renting out a church or venue, advertise and market yourself, practice for hours and hours and hope that at least 10 people who aren't related to you show up to hear all the work you've done.  Classical Open Mic inserts a performance layer that currently doesn't exist.

T:  So Classical Open Mic is essentially an arts ladder?

M:  Yes.  It is an audience-building tool that allows artists to take more control over their own career and development.  It is modeled much like the pop music world which often times starts with playing at an open mic.  There’s a stair step, a hierarchy to build your fan base in the pop world.  Why can't that happen in the classical music world?  We have literally thousands of musicians out there who could be performing regularly but with no venue, no first step, no bottom-up approach.  We need to create opportunities for classical musicians to gain fan bases by performing regularly, networking, and connecting with an audience.  That's what Classical Open Mic does.

T:  Ok, that's great for the aspiring performer.  But let's say I'm a suburban mom who listens to Justin Timberlake while I work out and maybe some Adele with a glass of wine at night because during the day I've been accosted with Dora the Explorer songs.  Not that I'm describing my life AT ALL, but how would you convince me to come out to a Classical Open Mic night to hear boring classical music?

M:  First, I KNEW you were a Timberlake fan!  But secondly, I'd say you need to come out because it's fun!  Classical Open Mic at its core is a social activity; you get to hang out with old friends, meet new ones, and get to know the artists performing in a very casual environment.  It's always a great time and uniquely different at each one.  Yes, there is classical music, but we are taking the stigma out of it by bringing it dressed down, not dumbed down.  When you get to be up close and personal with talented musicians just a few feet away from you, hearing what they create and watching their fingers fly, I think you might change your mind about classical music!  It's good for your soul; it takes you on an intelligent journey of emotions and gives your mind space and freedom to imagine without limits; you might be surprised at how much you love it if you are open to it.

T:  So I'm hearing you say that Classical Open Mic is both beneficial for the musician but also the audience?

M:  Classical Open Mic is great for the community at large.  It's an outreach program and the strongest one we have.  It brings people together from all walks of life, races, and ages.  Music unites people and when you have a community that values the arts, you have a stronger community.

T:  What about professional musicians who have made it to the top 1%?  Is there a reason for them to come and play at a Classical Open Mic?

M:  I would ask them to attend and perform not because they need to build an audience for themselves (which probably already exists), but to inspire a future audience for classical music in general.  If we have symphony musicians and performing artists volunteer their time to play at a local Classical Open Mic, it's a bit like having a professional football player come to a student game and play on the field with them.  They are essentially celebrities offering community service to nurture the next generation of classical musicians, both performers and supporters.  As our current listening audience is slowly dying off, this is a perfect way for professionals to connect with the public, sharing their talent and ultimately resulting in people who fill seats at their orchestra concerts!

T:  Speaking of the next generation, how about kids?  Are they welcome to attend a Classical Open Mic?

M:  Definitely!  We have had lots of parents eager to expose their children to quality classical music without the inconvenience of a high-priced ticket or the stuffy environment in a concert hall!  And another benefit of bringing your kids to Classical Open Mic is that they get to interact with professional-level musicians which inspires them to continue learning on their own.  We need to change the idea that music lessons are merely for the purpose of recitals, competitions, or formal concerts; many students drop out of lessons or playing their instrument once they reach 12th grade because there is no model for what comes next.  Either you pursue the very difficult career path of music, or you will stop playing regularly as you find another career.  We want to change that!  Classical Open Mic offers a place to continue playing and listening to others, and it shows the next generation that music is a lifelong gift!

T:  I completely agree with you and you know how much I love Classical Open Mic.  It has allowed me to play in ensembles again which I haven't done for decades, and I've also returned to practicing great classical music that I've missed so much!  It's feeding a part of me that has been starving for years.  Let's circle back to something you said earlier: if Classical Open Mic is the first rung on the new performing artist's ladder, what comes next?

(To be continued. . .)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Open Classical- Part 1: A Game Changer in the World of Classical Music

I discovered Open Classical on my birthday last year, Sep. 10th, 2013.  I had no idea what to expect when I arrived with my violin for Classical Open Mic night at Buzzbrews in Dallas, but I was curious to see what it was all about.  I couldn't have asked for a better gift on my birthday!  It was an incredible convergence of quality classical music, a casual atmosphere, and great fun!  Open Classical has literally changed the course of my life in the last few months, and as I've brought it to my town of Frisco, TX, something very exciting is happening; an arts community has begun to form!

I recently interviewed Mark Landson, director of Open Classical Dallas, to find out in his own words what people should know about Open Classical.  Here are the highlights from our conversation. 

What is Open Classical?

Open Classical is a non-profit organization committed to bringing the community together around great classical music.  We produce and promote events that place classical music into the heart of everyday popular culture.  Classical music is the social glue used to bind people together from all ages, races, and walks of life. 

Why Classical music?

Classical music is an incredible art form that speaks directly to the soul.  It takes you on an intelligent journey of emotions and allows you to tap into something outside yourself.  Classical music helps you understand the world on another level and immediately connects you to those around you.  Listening to classical music also gives your mind and soul space to think, to imagine, and to create without limits or boundaries.  Every measure of a classical piece is not dictated by someone else and the message of the music is not spoon fed to you; instead, the beauty of classical music is in its abstract nature, the freedom for each individual to hear it, get lost in it, and make sense of it in his or her own way.  This kind of experience nourishes the soul, and because listening to classical music creates a healthy, balanced life and connected community, it should be a fundamental part of our culture.  

What is the purpose of Open Classical?

The ultimate goal of Open Classical is to open more doors for classical music in our culture.  We want to create more opportunities for classical music to be played and in doing so, grow new audiences who can enjoy, appreciate, and support classical music and musicians.  Right now, public access to quality classical music is too complicated, too elitist, too top-down.  If you want to hear a good classical musician play, you have to schedule a time when you are available for the next orchestral concert, pay a hefty admission ticket, and drive miles away to get there.  It's no wonder that classical music audiences are shrinking in size and age, and all at the expense of the most beautiful music ever written.  The problem is not with the music itself; it's with the current structure surrounding classical music.

What do you think is the cause of the diminishing classical audience?

One of the contributing factors is that in the classical music world, the decision of who gets to have a musical career comes from the top.  If you want to become a piano soloist, you have only one way to get there: win a major piano competition like the Cliburn International.  Without that, your chances of becoming a famous pianist are slim.  If you want to be a part of a world-class professional string quartet, you have to win the Fischoff National Chamber music competition.  Right now, there is no middle ground for the thousands of professional-level musicians who all have the same dream of performing and sharing their talent.  Either you make it in that top 1% or you end up feeling like a failure even after practicing for countless hours.  There are scores of disillusioned music majors who leave with a degree in their hand, beautiful works of art they have crafted, but no place to play.  What happens to them?  Some hobble through for a few years trying to make a living by performing, but most will eventually take on a completely different career (someone has to pay the bills!) and their instrument sits alone collecting dust.

The classical music structure has been the same way for 75 years, and it's not working.  Orchestras are declaring bankruptcy and music is being silenced.  Students don't seriously consider a career in music because their chances of success as defined by the system are so slim.  We have essentially choked the life out of classical music by doing the same thing over and over.  However, if you look at the pop music world, it is completely the opposite.  They are well known for innovative practices and staying current, resulting in rising stars, millions of album sales, large audiences, and plenty of radio time.  They adapt and change with every decade since tastes change, trends change, and what was valued in the 70's is no longer valued in the 80's, etc.  Change is embraced, not feared.

How does Open Classical change the game of Classical music?  

Open Classical offers the public multiple entry points into the world of classical music.  A ticket to the symphony shouldn't be the only time you hear classical music.  We believe that classical music can be played and enjoyed as regularly as pop, jazz, or rock and performed in the same venues as these other genres.  As classical music begins to take root in our culture from the bottom up, we nurture future patrons for the arts and keep this important genre alive for the next generation.

This will require innovative practices that break the chains of the elitist attitudes we often find in the classical music world.  For instance, some believe that if we are listening to Beethoven, the audience must remain reverentially quiet and come dressed ready to meet the queen, and definitely no noisy children allowed.  Unfortunately, that's not very inviting to much of the public and it's not going to gain new audiences!  However, if we take away the stuffiness surrounding classical music, we are left with the genius of the music, which by itself is powerful, wonderful, and life-changing.  We need to expose the simple beauty of classical music to the public in new ways so that they learn to love it and want more, and that's at the heart of Open Classical. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Multicultural Minute

This year we started something at our elementary school called the Multicultural Minute.  I've had a lot of people ask me what it is and how it works, so here are the answers to some frequently asked questions!

1.  What is the Multicultural Minute?

It is a short segment during our Friday morning school assembly where we feature a child whose parents were born in another country or whose family speaks another language at home.  The child comes on stage, says "Good Morning Bledsoe (Elementary), my name is ____" in their language, counts to 10, and teaches us how to say "hello" and "goodbye".  The child and his family are also featured on the bulletin board in the main hallway which includes a large map of the world; this helps the student body learn their geography as well as get to know their multicultural peers.

To get a quick overview of how we implemented the Multicultural Minute at Bledsoe Elementary in Frisco, TX this year, here's a video we created:

2.  How did the Multicultural Minute get started?

It literally came from a lunch conversation I had during a PTA conference in Austin last summer.  After attending a few Diversity/Inclusiveness breakout sessions, I heard a lot of interesting facts about the changing demographic of our schools in TX, and I realized that we didn't have a consistent way to highlight these different cultures.  I shared with our PTA president my idea about featuring a student/family during the morning assembly and calling it the "Multicultural Minute."  She loved it and we shared it with our principal, who was also totally on board.  I wasn't sure if we would have a lot of participation in our first year, but we ended up having 21 countries represented, 24 languages, and 43 student speakers!

3.  What is the purpose of the Multicultural Minute?

The mission and purpose of the Multicultural Minute is to celebrate the diversity at our school, help kids feel proud of their heritage, and open the minds of the entire student body to the value of each person regardless of racial differences.  Personally, this is such a stark contrast from how I felt growing up as a 2nd-generation Korean-American; I was embarrassed by my race, hated speaking a different language at home, and was ridiculed by others for being different.  The Multicultural Minute does the opposite and allows kids to see that being different is not bad- it's actually special and should be celebrated!

4.  What's the process to implement this at my school?

I recommend the first thing to do is talk with your PTA president and your principal to make sure you have their support.  After that, you can follow some of these processes I used this year.  Feel free to change and modify anything to best fit your school!


Create a flyer describing the Multicultural Minute and ask people to sign up if they are interested in participating in the program.  Ask for the child's name, grade, teacher, parents' email, country of origin, and language to be spoken.  We sent out the flyer during the first 2 weeks of school and I collected them throughout the year.  I also passed out the flyers during Meet-the-Teacher Night later in the fall.


Based on your responses from the flyer, organize a schedule of speakers.  We started out with a speaker every other week at the morning assembly and that worked well.


Using a map of the world (I purchased one at the local teacher's store), create a bulletin board that displays the following:

- Continents and Countries
- Speaker's family picture
- Name and grade of speaker
- Name of Country and Language featured
- "Hello" and "Goodbye" written phonetically in their language
-  Arrow pointing to the country featured
- Gold star placed on the country featured

Having a bulletin board displayed through the week helps the student body (as well as visitors) learn about the program, speak a new language, and get to know the participating students and their families.


Send out an email questionnaire to the speaker's parents 2 weeks before they are up for the Multicultural Minute.  Ask for the following information:

- Birthplace of the parents
- Birthplace of children
- When the family moved to the US
- Name of the country and language featured
- Written words for "hello" and "goodbye" in their language
- 1-2 interesting facts about their country
- Ask for a family picture (or an email with an attachment which I then printed out for the bulletin board)
- Ask students to wear any traditional clothing for the assembly. (One little girl wanted to keep wearing her traditional outfit from Pakistan all day long!)
- Ask students to practice saying "Good Morning, my name is _____", counting from 1-10, and saying "hello" and "goodbye" in their language.

Note: Some of the families did not use email.  In those cases, I sent a hard copy home with the teacher.  Also, there were times throughout the year where I had 2-3 different speakers for the same language, so I would combine and have them come on stage together.


Once you obtain the information from the questionnaire, write out a complete script of what you will say during the assembly and who will say what.  This should include everything in the questionnaire that you think is relevant and can fit within 1-2 minutes.  Send this to the parents a week before their turn so they can practice it with their children before the kids come up on stage.  In some cases, parents also wanted to come on stage and participate with their children, which was really special.  (We had a mom from Ghana sing their national anthem, and a mom from Australia help teach the Aussie war cry!)

Note: Our first few times, I did not write out a script and several of the kids froze once they got on stage.  It's difficult to get up and speak when you have 500 eyes staring at you!  I found that once I wrote out a script and asked parents to practice it with their kids at home, the stage fright greatly decreased and kids were more prepared for what was going to happen.


The most visible part of the Multicultural Minute is coming up on stage with your speakers and presenting them to the assembly.  In my script, I wrote out exactly what I'd say so that I could memorize the interesting facts about each country, introduce the student by name/grade/teacher, and make the "interview" feel really personal.  I don't think it's necessary to memorize the script, but it certainly made it easier for me to be more comfortable on stage.  It also helped to practice saying "hello" and "goodbye" in all the different languages beforehand!


After the Multicultural Minute was complete, I would put everything back into a folder that had a file for each country.  The file includes the printed words for "hello" and "goodbye" in their language that I used for the bulletin board, name of country/language, and the script used for the presentation.  This helped organize the countries/languages we featured this year in order to prevent overlap and repetition.  I would ideally like to see new countries and new speakers in the next year!

5.  Is there anything you would change for next year?

Yes.  I need help!!  It was a lot of work to undertake this on my own, and I would recommend having a team of people to help you with the flyers, the bulletin board, gathering information from parents, printing pictures, writing the script, and presenting at the assembly.  I am hoping to divide up the responsibilities next year so we can have a rotation of people who will present at the assembly.  Right now I have one other volunteer to present, but I could definitely use more!


Hope that helps!  If you have any other questions, feel free to comment and let me know how I can assist you.  I think you will find that this program will bring your school's community together and create a very welcoming and inviting culture!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Does playing metal mean I'm losing my religion?

I've recently purchased an electric violin.  It's something I never thought I'd play, but I borrowed one over Christmas break, and the sounds that came through my amplifier made me feel like I was playing an electric guitar!  It has catapulted me into wanting to hear and play the craziest guitar-driven songs, primarily. . . metal.

I wasn't allowed to listen to pop music growing up, let alone metal!  My days were filled with Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, as well as some Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Debussy.  I was trained classically on the piano and violin, and with all of the practicing required of me, I didn't have a chance to explore any other types of music unless I stealthily changed the channel on my radio while I was studying late at night.  That's when I was introduced to bands like Depeche Mode, Erasure, New Order, and also Chicago,  Cheap Trick, U2, and of course, George Michael.  "Got to have faith. . . yeah, yeah. . . got to have faith, faith, faith!"

Interesting point George.  I do have faith in God and a personal relationship with Jesus, but now that I am listening to Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, Baroness, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC, Guns 'n Roses, etc., does that mean I've lost the faith?  Can I listen to some of their dark lyrics yet still call myself a Christian?

Here's my answer: Yes.

Why?  Well first, I'm actually not listening to any lyrics, so I'm not looking to change my life philosophy.  I'm only interested in the music, and can I say, these metal guitarists are mad talented!!  It's not easy to play their riffs, and they have created some very innovative melodies that when stripped from high-octane lyrics and performance antics, are incredibly beautiful and technically challenging.  Dare I say that some riffs are practically on par with Paganini and Mendelssohn as far as level of difficulty?

I'm also finding that when I take the skeleton of the song and put flesh on it with the electric violin, it becomes a completely different animal.  Is there a name for it?  Violinist David Garrett calls it "Rock Symphony," pianist Scott Davis refers to it as "Rockfluence," my name for it is. . . "Metalin."  I never dreamed I'd listen to metal and then want to play it on the violin, but it is my newest hobby and has completely taken over the hours of 10:30pm-1:00am almost every night.  I just plug in my headset on the electric violin, and my family doesn't have to be bothered while they sleep and I practice!

But the other thing about my faith is this: I believe that God loves me, and because He loves me, He takes joy in my joy.  Just as I take great delight in my children's delight of something I've given them, I believe He delights in my love of music.  He's the Creator of music, and when I play, I play for Him, regardless of what genre the song comes from.  Colossians 3:17a says, "And whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord."  That means that everything counts; everything I do can be an opportunity to give God glory, whether it's washing the dishes, making a meal, teaching lessons, or practicing metal on the electric violin!  God desires to be at the center of everything I'm doing, and when I give Him the best in every aspect of my life, it's all about Him and not about me.

So no, I don't think playing metal means that I'm losing my religion.  In fact, I lost my "religion" a long time ago- I don't like that word anyway!  Playing "metalin" allows me to spend time enjoying the gift of music that God created, and there's nothing I love more than being in His presence, playing for Him.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Trip out of Frankenstorm: Part 6 (The Amazing Race Home!)

When I walked into the Philadelphia Airport at about 5:15am after being dropped off by Gabby, I saw on the screen that the 2 flights before me heading from Philly to Dallas were canceled.  I went to the ticket counter and asked if they knew why those previous flights were canceled and if my 11:20am flight was at risk.  They said they didn't know why and that it was possible my flight would be canceled, especially since planes were not coming in that were necessary for the connecting flights.  I felt a wave of panic, wondering if I might be now stranded in Philly, but it subsided a little when I received a boarding pass in my hand.  The flight wasn't canceled. . . yet.

I had 5 hours to kill and probably should have slept since I was running on a total of about 3 hours of sleep in 2 days, but all I could think about was whether or not I would be boarding that plane.  I was now so close to getting home that I could almost taste it.  If the flight remained intact, I'd land in Dallas at 2pm, drive to my house by 2:30 (my car was in the airport parking garage), and surprise the kids when they got home from school at 2:50pm.  Then I'd have a little time to settle in, change, and get ready for our Halloween Block party starting at 4pm in my yard.

I sat myself down at an airport restaurant where I could plug in my phone and get some breakfast.  I ordered food but couldn't eat because my stomach was in knots, waiting to see if my flight would be canceled.  I just drank hot tea and checked the computer screens every half hour to see the status of my flight.  There were still some lingering dark clouds outside, so I asked people to pray that God would clear up the skies.

At about 10:30am, the sun began to shine, and I had hope that I was really going to be getting on that plane.  When they announced we were boarding, I almost cried.  I took a picture of the plane and posted it on FB so people could rejoice with me that I was going home!!

I slept the whole way, and when I awoke, we were in Dallas- earlier than expected, at 1:45pm!  I felt an incredible amount of relief and thanked God for the safe journey.  However, I knew I wouldn't fully rejoice until I actually pulled up into my driveway; this trip had already shown me that every leg of traveling was up for grabs.

Boy, was I right.  I got off the plane, walked to baggage claim, and waited, and waited, and waited.  After about 30 minutes with no bags appearing on the conveyor belt, a lady walks in and announces, "Sorry ladies and gentlemen, there is a jam on the conveyor belt.  We are working on it.  Thanks for your patience."  I laughed.  "Patience" was the operative word this week!

While I waited, I was able to secure communication to my girls through friends that I was really coming home but was running late, I enlisted help in getting some extra Halloween candy since I had forgotten to purchase it, and a friend was going to pick up some Korean food for me to eat so I'd have energy for the party!  Things were coming together; I just needed to get home!!

I finally got my luggage and was racing to my car.  I was SO ready to rip out of the airport!  I tried to unlock the car with my remote, but nothing happened.  I pressed it again- no beep.  I then manually unlocked the car and got in.  I thought it was strange that no lights turned on; what was going on?  I tried to start the car- nothing.  No engine, no sound, nothing.  I froze; this couldn't actually be happening. . . my car won't start?  What??  God, really, is there some reason you don't want me to go home??

I called Todd; no answer.  I then decided, "You know what?  I need to get home.  I am leaving my car here and getting in a cab right now."  So I posted my dilemma on FB because it was too crazy not to report, and then got in a cab headed out of the airport.  About a minute later, I got a message from my friend John who was 3 miles from the airport and said he could jumpstart my car.  I couldn't believe it!  I immediately told the cab to turn around and take me straight to my car in the parking garage.  I paid him for his time, and then waited for John.

He was there within minutes and had everything he needed to get my car started!  The only weird thing was that my car would not stop honking.  John was trying to figure out how to stop it, but I said I didn't care if it honked all the way home; I was driving it ASAP!  He turned the car off and started it again several times, and finally the honking stopped.  I thanked him profusely and he made sure I drove out safely to the exit.

It was now about 3:15pm.  I was going to make it to the party!!  I just prayed nonstop that I would not get into an accident on my way home. . .

I drove into my driveway at 3:45pm, and as soon as I got there, the doors flew open and my girls were ready for hugs!  I held them tightly and told them how much I loved them and missed them, and they said the same through tears.  They were so excited I was home for the Halloween party, so we got changed quickly and started setting everything up outside.  People started to trickle in around 4, and it was a great party with lots of celebrating!  Several friends came up and told me that they had been stalking me on Facebook for updates, or that I was the topic of conversation at work, or that they considered themselves weather experts on Superstorm Sandy now, just because I was there.  A few admitted that they really were scared that I wasn't coming back, but they didn't want to say anything to me at the time.  It was so interesting to hear others' perspectives on my trip and how they handled the stress;  I was touched by all their stories and glad to have a happy ending to the madness!

At the end of the night, I practically fell over from exhaustion, but I gave thanks to God for my family, friends, and even Facebook for getting me home, supporting me through the scariest night of my life, and being part of a story that I'll never forget as long as I live!  Each kind stranger, every text, phone call, FB note, or private prayer for me during those few days was critical and sustained me, truly.  I may never know how many people prayed for my safety, but I can tell you I'm here because of it.  This whole blog series has been a way for me to process what happened, but also to thank everyone in my life who cared so much and showered me with love!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Trip out of Frankenstorm: Part 5 (Gabby saves the day!)

So, how would I get from NYC to Philly?  No planes were flying out of La Guardia, the subways were flooded and no buses were traveling, but Amtrak was selling tickets.  I purchased a ticket that left at 7am which would leave me plenty of time to get there for the 11:20am flight to Dallas.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

We got a call from Ken and Angie saying that they could barely find a taxi to drive them back to Battery Park City since the roads were flooded, so we should just stay where we were in Midtown for dinner.

Peter and I decided to go out to dinner- to Korean BBQ of course!  We left around 7:30pm, hoping the lines might be shorter, and they were a little.  We enjoyed an awesome meal and he introduced me to soju (Korean vodka).  I had never had it before, and Peter said if I wanted to remain his sibling, I must enjoy some with him.  I was getting to know all sorts of things about Peter that I hadn't before this trip!

When we got home, I got a phone call; Amtrak was canceling all trains due to flooding in the tunnels.  I freaked out again; I was desperate to get home.  I called every airline to see who was getting to Philly; at one point I was going to rent a car to drive 2 hours to Scranton (yes, the Office hub) to fly out to Philly.  When I told Peter my plan, he looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Tam, stop and think!  The roads are flooded, it's dangerous, you could get stuck somewhere out there all by yourself.  Just stay here another day and be safe."  I shook my head adamantly and said, "I can't!!  It's unacceptable!!  I WILL find a way to Philly!!"

After about 2 hours of researching and calling around for options, I finally admitted defeat.  It was about 12:30am, and I called my neighbor Stephanie (who is a night owl too) and told her that I wasn't going to make it to the Halloween block party after all.  We went over some details of what time things were being set up at the house, where my girls costumes were in their rooms so she could help change them, other odds and ends.  Since all the flyers had said the party was held at my address (and there was no way to inform the whole subdivision that it was changing locations on the day of), we decided to keep everything stationed there, but she would come over and help set up, letting everyone know I was stuck in NY.  I remember saying, "I can't believe I won't be there after all this planning.  I can't believe I have to tell my kids I'm not coming home again.  I just need to get to Philly; there MUST be a way!" when I got a text from my college friend Gabby who lives in Philly.  I shrieked a little and told Stephanie I'd call her back once I talked with Gabby.  My heart was racing; I knew this wasn't coincidence.

And it wasn't!  Gabby was working at the hospital, and her charge nurse had almost sent her home at 7pm.  Gabby's power was out at home, so had she gone home then, she would have missed my Facebook post pleading for help to get to Philly!  Instead, she was there at the hospital and finished around 1am, checked her email and Facebook to find out how things were going with the storm.  She saw my post and immediately texted me, asking if I was still awake.  I texted back "YES!" and then called her.  She said, "I'll come get you and bring you to the airport right now."  My mouth dropped open; I couldn't believe it!  I hesitated and asked, "Gabby, that's a 2-hour drive, and it's in the middle of the night.  Are you sure?"  She said, "I'm already driving and on my way!  Where can we meet?  Just find a place that's not in Manhattan so we don't get stuck there."  

I had tears of joy and gratitude; I couldn't believe God had arranged a personal ride from a good friend that I hadn't seen in 15 years to be my way out to Philly.  He had shut all the other doors of transportation so I could ride in a car and catch up with Gabby Brinton!!  I laughed when I visualized myself like a child throwing a tantrum screaming, "I need it NOW!" and God holding me tightly saying, "Just wait a little longer and trust me- I've got it all figured out for you."

Peter was in shock too and said, "Now that is a good friend."  Poor guy was so exhausted but waited up for me as I took a shower, got my stuff ready to go, and was trying to figure out where we could meet up that would be a safe place.  I certainly didn't want to be standing around somewhere in NYC in the dark!  We were looking for 24-hour CVS Pharmacy locations across the Lincoln Tunnel (the only dry tunnel) into New Jersey, but none of them were answering the phones.  Finally I chose a parking lot of a supermarket in Weehawken, NJ as our meeting place and called Gabby with the location.

I gave Peter a big hug and said thanks for everything during this whole time, and he went to bed; it was about 3am.  I got a cab on my own outside the building and prayed for the best.  We drove through the tunnel and on the other side into New Jersey, it was pitch black.  There were no lights on anywhere, and the only way we could see was through the help of a few police car sirens lighting the way.  We wouldn't be able to find this supermarket, so I called Gabby and she said there was a McDonalds that was open by the JFK turnpike in Weehawken.  We got there safely and I had the cab driver take our picture; it was a HUGE blessing to see her!

What we didn't know until later was that most of lower Manhattan, Hoboken, and Staten Island had flooded and there were no cabs driving out of NY to NJ.  There were even some reports of flooding in Weehawken the next day, but somehow, by God's grace, He made a way for me to get a cab and drive out on dry land to NJ in the dark.

Gabby and I picked up some coffee at McDonald's and then started on the road.  We laughed that we were both pulling an all-nighter like we used to in college!  We chatted about what we did after college, talked a bit about our mutual friend Gloria who had passed away in August, and told each other what life was like now being married with kids; we picked up naturally like we had just seen each other yesterday.  Friendships like that are so rare!  2 hours went flying by, and we arrived at the Philadelphia Airport at about 5am.  I gave her a huge hug and told her I would never, ever forget what she did for me.  She said it was exciting for her to be part of the adventure, and that she knew how much I wanted to get home so she was glad to help.  I still couldn't believe that she was willing to drive for 4 hours in the middle of the night, after work, and not even hesitate about it for a second.  If you know her, you know how special she is.  And if you don't, I hope that you will have the honor of meeting her someday.  I am blessed to have a friend like Gabby!