Being that I was actually born in Kansas, this does ring true for me, although, I spent time in Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee before landing in the Big Apple.  But I am, indeed, no longer in Kansas – heck, I sometimes wonder if I’m in the United States at all!

I live in an area of Manhattan known as Inwood.  Other terms of endearment include The Singer’s Ghetto (it’s the “cheapest” part of Manhattan so all the singers live up here) and Little DR (Little Dominican Republic – there is a large number of Dominicans living in this area of Manhattan).  I affectionately refer to it as the developing world of New York City. Let me share an anecdote to illustrate my point.

I am subletting a nice little (400 square feet) studio apartment on a quiet street that backs up to Inwood Hill Park, a gorgeous, huge park with tons of trails. I really love it, though I am paying in rent what most of the US would pay for a mortgage on a 1600 square foot home with a yard, garage and driveway (I truly miss those things).   My landlord requested that I get a P.O. box from the local post office as he and his wife still use the mailbox associated with my apartment (oh, the joys of subletting).  So at the end of November, I mosied on down to the post office to get my P.O. box.  The post office looked like it had not been touched by new paint, tile or a mop for that matter since 1920. It kinda stank, too.  After looking around for a moment to figure out where to get my P.O. box, I spot the appointed window. There was already a man waiting to speak to the woman behind the window.  As I was patiently waiting in line, I realized that the woman “working” behind the window was actually just listening to music to her headphones and singing.  I asked the man in front of me if she was helping him, and in very broken English, he said, “She say she not ready now.” I tweaked my head, and looked at the woman. Yeah, she wasn’t ready, because she was too busy having a party in her head.  But what amazed me even more, is that this man was willing to stand there and wait until she was ready! What New Yorker, heck, what American, would put up with that!  So I waited a few minutes and then went around the man to the window.  The woman would not acknowledge that I was there. Like a typical American, I was on a schedule, so I left.

A week or so later, I went by again.  This time, no one was at the window, and the line for the other windows was extremely long, so I left again.

I decided to make another effort when I returned after Christmas.  This time, I went in and the woman was actually working! I knew the gods were shining upon me.  I went right up to the window and requested a box.  She gave me an application. I guess the US postal service wants to make sure I’m not a terrorist, so I dutifully filled it out and handed it back. She said someone would call me to tell me when I could get the keys.  Feeling victorious, I left.

Alas, the feeling of victory would not be long felt.  A week went by without a call. Another few days went by. No call. 10 days after filling out the application, I decided to venture back to the post office to figure out what was going on.  After waiting in line at the appointed window, my request for the P.O. box was answered with, “Our system is down.”  I looked at the woman and I said, “How long has it been down?” “About a month” Indignant, and mouth agape, I said, “How is someone supposed to get mail when your system is down!” “I dunno” “Well, when will it be fixed?” “I dunno”.  Obviously, I was getting no where fast.  I definitely was NOT in Kansas anymore.  What part of the United States operates this way?! One would certainly not expect things to run so terribly in New York City…the city of advancement and technology.

Absolutely at my wits end, I called the USPS phone number, was connected to a person and I filed a complaint.  Lo and behold, the next morning at 9am, I received a phone call from the post office saying that the system had been fixed and that I could come get my P.O. box!  Oh, the happiness I felt. Single-handedly, I managed to bring the post office to its knees and make them fix their system! (evil laugh)

So, off I went with a bounce in my step, happy to know that I would be able to get my P.O. box.  But before you get excited with me, the story is not over. I arrive to get my box. They have lost my application. I am going to have to fill out another one and wait. I must confess, I lost it.  I was not rude or mean, but everyone in that post office heard me share the piece of my mind that had had it with this whole system.  The head of the post office replied, “Oh, well…just fill out the application and we’ll give you your keys.” I replied with a curt “Thank you.” And finally left with my keys.

During the 25 minutes it took to get my keys, a line of about 12 people had formed behind me, because, you see, the lady who actually gave me my application the first time I walked in to the post office, was not the one to actually give me my keys.  I had to talk to someone at another window (apparently, all she’s allowed to do is hand out applications and party with her headphones).  And while at my window, everyone else working a window went on break, leaving the rest of the poor people in line seething and cursing me under their breath for being the one to hold up the line.  But, they waited. I would imagine that some of those folks are still there waiting – and they will wait, because, this isn’t Kansas, and apparently they have all the time in the world.

But, in the meantime, I conquered the post office and got my P.O. box! (super hero music)

Where in the world am I?

January 26, 2008

I realized after sending out my latest (well, first newsletter) that I had failed to mention to anyone what I’ve been up to in the last 6 months.  As I have been gallivanting around the world, I have failed to inform anyone outside my inner circle as to my whereabouts. For that, I sincerely apologize. Thank you to those of you who have emailed asking me, “Where are you?” It was a reality check and reminder that ESP doesn’t exist for the mass populous.

The last that many of you knew of me was that I was on my way to Austria to sing for the Summer.  Which I did do, but not without it’s challenges.  As many of you know, my husband Tim and I are swing dancers and teachers.  Well, three days before I was to leave for Austria, he and I were teaching at a workshop in Knoxville.  One night we were to give a group performance, so we were practicing one of our dance tricks.  To make an extremely long story short, during the trick, the front of my neck managed to land squarely against his forehead, causing immediate hoarseness.  I knew I’d done some damage, so I went to the doctor. Sure enough, I had managed to bust a blood vessel and bruise the vocal cord.  Now, I’ve known other dancers to sprain ankles, hurt shoulders, break toes, but how many dancers have ever bruised their vocal cord? One – the opera singer. So,  I had to delay my departure by a week, but aided with a week of steroids (in addition to major mood swings, and the realization that I now can hit a record number of homeruns in a season) and vocal rest, I was cleared to leave the country.  I was unable to sing for the first couple of weeks in Austria, but the voice healed up and I was cleared to sing.  It was a great experience. I met some absolutely amazing people and was able to spend time in a Germanic culture, my second home (but don’t tell the Austrians I used a word that sounds mysteriously close to “German”, they wouldn’t like that very much).

Unfortunately, my trip was cut short by the unexpected death of my brother Chris.  To know more about that, you click on the Chris page.  I returned immediately to Texas, where my family is, for the funeral.  While my husband and I were in the midst of that, his grandmother passed away, and we were immediately swept to California to be with his family.  It was a very sad and trying time.  I wish it on no one.

After leaving California, I had about a week at home before I came to NYC to sing with Dicapo Opera (yes, that is the correct spelling for all you opera nerds out there).  Right now, I am a Resident Artist with the company. What that means is that I cover (understudy) leading roles, sing small roles, sing in the chorus, and perform in concerts put on by the company.  So far, I have been involved with every production, so I am very happy for the opportunities that have been offered.  The other singers are incredible people and musicians. I couldn’t be more blessed to work with such great people.

Tim and I are separated at the moment. That is not easy, but we are making it work. Tim’s company has been really supportive, so we cannot complain.  We see each other every other weekend.

My next move will be to Princeton, NJ to sing with New Jersey Opera this Summer. After that, who knows! We’ll see what comes down the pike!

Welcome to the Jungle

January 24, 2008

One of my favorite rock songs has now become my theme song for what is also known as the Big Apple. When I first arrived in New York City, a fellow opera singer hailed my arrival with “Welcome to the Jungle!”. I laughed it off, but now, 4 months later, I realize how grossly I underestimated her description of the city. I have now come to embrace this description so dearly, that I almost named this blog “Welcome to the Jungle”, but considering I will post about other things than the city, I engaged the witty brains of my husband to think of a name. I can always count on him for succinct, clever copy. Brevity has never been my forte, so we’ll see how this blogging thing goes. I was forced into it by my aforementioned husband, who was so entertained by my daily musings, he convinced me I should share it with anyone who cared to read. So, if you are reading this, thank you. I appreciate your patronage. Hopefully, I will do a decent job of keeping it updated, brief and adequately entertaining.

Yes, New York is a jungle. My first realization came when I boarded the subway. Now, I consider myself a well traveled person. I have lived in Europe, traveled to Australia, and ventured across both our northern and southern borders. I have maneuvered airports in countries where I didn’t speak the language, managed to find the correct train, leaving from the correct platform at close to the correct time in Italy (that is quite a feat). I have enjoyed the public transportation systems of Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden and Munich.

But nothing prepared me for the New York subway system.

One would think that in the “city that never sleeps”, where time is money, where impatience is the virtue, that the main mode of transportation would have some semblance of order, punctuality, common sense! Alas, no. In my first two weeks here I managed to board at least 2 trains a day going in the opposite direction than I wanted because I could not understand the asinine, abbreviated signs above the platform. Though written in English, no person could understand. I manged to miss at least 1 connection a day due to several factors 1)the train conductor simply chooses not to inform their passengers of the next stop 2)the train conductor speaks with such a heavy accent, and so quickly that no one can understand them 3)the speaker is turned down too low and crackles 4) combination of 2&3 and 5)the train suddenly runs express with no warning (meaning it doesn’t stop at every stop). Now, granted, the hoity, toity trains running up the East Side came to the realization that having a computerized voice in conjunction with a computerized scroll board announcing the next stop was ingenious. Too bad the rest of the city can’t enjoy such a luxury. Those poor tourists!

The other thing I realized in my first few weeks here is that the train/bus comes when it comes. Where time is more important than money, one would hope one could count on a train/bus to come at it’s appointed time. Alas, again, no. After my many years of German transportation with signs that tell you how many minutes away the next train is, the land of outraged people should a train/bus arrive 10 seconds late, I had arrived in the United States version of Italy. I can’t even count the number of events I was late to, because I actually expected the trains to run on time. How naive of me.

And my final beef with New York’s subway system… Somewhere in the planning stages, it escaped the minds of the engineers that people might actually want to go from the east to the west side and vice versa on a train north of 42nd Street (for those not familiar with New York, Manhattan extends to roughly 220th Street). Instead, these unfortunate souls (yours truly included) must resign themselves to getting on a bus to go “crosstown”. Mind you, in a normal city, this may not be a big issue, but in New York rush hour, it is faster for me to walk across the park than take the bus.

For it’s ills, New York’s transportation is convenient as far as getting you where you want to go – just don’t expect to get there fast.