Dirty!!” That was the unhesitating first response given by most members of the Foxcroft Academy Chorus when asked to describe their first impression of New York City. “There was litter everywhere!” exclaimed Jennifer Fearon. “Even the air was grimy!”
In April, Fearon and 110 other students from SAD 68 traveled to the Big Apple on a field trip organized by chorus director Arnold Poland to see “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway and to make a whirlwind exploration of the city in the three days they were there.
Many students had been outside Maine; some had visited Boston, but almost none had been to the sky scraper capital of the world.
“It was like the Grand Canyon!” one student marveled.
Jennifer Gerrish said the towering buildings made her feel “closed in.”
“I thought it (New York) would have more … sparkle,” commented 17-year-old Audra Gore, “but it wasn’t that different from Boston — just taller.”
The trip to the city, all agreed, was an adventure. After spending a night in the suburb of Latham, where the group performed a concert at the local high school, the travelers were taken to a “five-star” hotel in Manhattan. It was, said students, more like a fort than an inn.
“It was surrounded by a chain-link fence and barbed wire!” exclaimed Wendy Raymond, 16. “And they had special locks on all the doors.”
“It made us all wonder why!” said Becky Grant, a sophomore.
The view from 16-year-old Stephanie Johnston’s room ran a sharply contrasting gamut from the heights to the depths. Just below her window was an alley where drunken street people congregated.
“They were so noisy!” she commented.
Above was a perfect view of the Empire State Building, for many decades the tallest building in the world.
Some students were more intimidated by the dangers of the “big city” than others. One tenth-grader had to be coaxed off the bus because, she admitted, “I was so afraid a mugger would be waiting for me!”
The group’s sight-seeing expeditions took them out to the Statue of Liberty (“There aren’t any windows inside!”), through Central Park (“It was bigger than Dover-Foxcroft!”), down Wall Street (“It looked just like it did in the movie!”), and within eyeshot of most of the city’s classic landmarks. At one point the bus driver had to pull over because he was blinded by popping camera flashes.
In Battery Park, the group got out to stretch their legs and were immediately accosted by street vendors. Sophomore Christian Raymond gave a lively description of the incident: “All of a sudden, I was surrounded by foreign guys waving T-shirts at me and shouting, `T-shirt, five dollah, T-shirt, five dollah!’ My friends said you could just see the top of my head bobbing up and down in the middle of all these waving arms!”
Audra Gore laughed. “The ones who couldn’t speak English at all just waved handwritten signs in our faces!”
It was apparently hard to resist such high-pressure sales tactics — nearly every student came back to Maine with at least one souvenir T-shirt.
Students were disturbed by the numbers of homeless people they encountered everywhere they went.
“Near the hotel we saw a homeless man with just one leg sitting on the sidewalk. His (prosthetic) leg was laying on the ground next to him,” recalls Becky Grant. “It was so sad.”
“Lots of street people would come up to us and start talking,” said Jennifer Fearon. “It was a little unnerving.”
Fortunately, students had been given careful briefing by Poland on how to deal with such situations — stay together, don’t make eye contact and keep moving.
The undisputed low point of the trip — at least aesthetically speaking — was the 30 minutes the group spent trapped in a traffic jam on the “blue strip” of Manhattan’s 42nd Street, perhaps the 10 most X-rated blocks in the world.
“You wouldn’t believe the stuff we saw in the windows!” one girl exclaimed.
The unanimously acclaimed high point of the trip — “The Phantom of the Opera.” When students were asked if they thought the show was worth the $60 and several month’s waiting period required to secure each ticket, the answer was an enthusiastic “Yes!”
“The special effects were awesome!” bubbled Wendy Raymond. The lightening, fog and “lake” created on the live stage made even the boys whose tastes ordinarily ran to “Terminator II” or “Aliens” exclaim, “Wow!”
The most beautiful sight outside the theater, said many students, was the city’s lights by night. “Now that really was dazzling,” sighed one junior.
Most students admitted that on re-entry into Maine, Dover-Foxcroft looked “awfully tiny.” Nonetheless, everyone was glad to be home — everyone but Christian Raymond.
“I loved New York! And I can’t wait to go back!”
Cheryl Seal of Monson is a free-lance writer.