The east coast still has my heart

Monday, June 30, 2008

1988: The year that changed everything. Twenty years later and I still look back on that summer as the most pivotal time of my life.

The comment on my previous post is from my dear friend Donny who shared that summer with me. Young, naive and impressionable we set out to take on the Big Apple when the furthest east either of us had been was probably Idaho. It was only my second time boarding an airplane! Like I said, "naive".

Hearing from him opened the floodgates of those memories and I had to find my scrapbook and re-live those incredible 9 weeks. It was midway through my sophomore year of college and I hadn't yet secured a summer job. A friend from the dorms suggested I go work for her brother's company. He owned a business that hired college students to paint houses, wash windows and clean gutters in the wealthy suburbs of Chicago, Boston, New York and Connecticut. (they had also begun hiring European students who wanted an American summer experience.) When I shared the idea with my sister and a couple friends they all said, "Let's go to New York!" Being "Miss-Good-For-Her-Word" I promptly contacted my friend's brother Marty, filled out all the paperwork and bought my airline ticket. As departure day loomed the rest of them decided it wasn't such a good idea and decided they'd be staying in Seattle. YIKES! New York by myself was not in my plan. Luckily Donny was the adventurous type and when he heard everyone bailed on me he bought his ticket to join me a week later.

My parents took me to the airport and I arrived at LaGuardia airport and NO ONE was there to greet me. I thought I'd been scammed. Shortly thereafter a station wagon full of 19 & 20 year old co-eds arrived to greet me. We drove to Yonkers, NY and Elizabeth Seton college where they had all been staying for the past month. (I was on a quarter/tri-mester system) They were sweet gals and tried to make me feel welcome but to say I was out of my comfort zone would be an understatement.

Two mornings later we left at 6:30 a.m. to gather 20 minutes away at the guys' dorm for our daily assignments. (the owners were Christians so they always added a 10 minute devotional which was really cool). Since the all-female window washing crews were full, I joined three guys to slug it out in the humidity--which I had never experienced. We painted houses for 10 hours a day! It was then I realized how very spoiled I was. I came back to my (non-air-conditioned) dorm and cried myself to sleep every night. On the fifth night I called home and informed my parents that I was coming home. My mom's response: "your airline ticket says you can't return until August 20th." Being an inexperienced flier, I was unaware that one could walk up to the airline counter and pay $50 to change a return trip. This ended up being the biggest blessing my mother could have given me.

I returned to my room and knew I had a choice to make: I could make the most of the next two months or be completely and utterly miserable. I'm so glad I chose the former over the latter because I ended up having the time of my life. My eyes were opened to a much bigger world than I ever knew existed and I couldn't get enough. We spent the 4th of July in the Boston harbor, road tripped to Washington D.C., took the train to the city almost every night, returned at 1 a.m. and got up the next day to work and do it all over again. (reminder: we were 20). I met people from ALL walks of life. Two precious ladies from Ireland (Freda and Katherine) joined us around July and we all fell in love with them. I had never even KNOWN a person from another country. In addition to all of this I experienced the value of really hard work on very little sleep for the first time.

When I returned to Seattle I realized this: the confidence one builds from moving somewhere completely foreign, having to find your way around a new city and make friends is an experience I have always wanted for everyone--especially my kids. When I hear that one of our friends is having to do just that I get so envious. I would have been a great military wife.

Sidebar: I returned a second summer and then tried like mad to land an internship there as part of completing my degree in 1990. I got a job with Travel & Leisure magazine but couldn't find anywhere affordable to live. Shortly after I started dating my husband (who's from the east coast) we packed our bags, returned there and settled in the Washington D.C. area for the first four years of our marriage. We then went on to Charlotte, NC for six years and God brought us back to the NW in 2001.

I realize that it is not God's plan for everyone to do what I did and when I share this I'm not saying I believe everyone has to have the same desires. Leaving our comfort zone looks different for each of us. What I am saying is that it can never hurt to broaden our perspective and oftentimes it's easier to do when we leave the security and familiarity of our "homeland." I've never met a person who has done that and looked back with any regret.

As much as I do like it here in the Pacific Northwest, I've never felt more at home than I do on the eastern seaboard. That part of the country remains in my heart. Perhaps I will return there one day or I may end up living out the rest of my days here in Bellingham. Whatever God has for me, I continue to cherish those experiences, treasure those friendships made twenty years ago and be thankful I got a humbling taste of a different culture.

Here are some pictures from those unforgettable days.

Gotta love the big hair!! Grace (on the far left) was my roomie.

Donny and I waiting to board our plane back to Seattle.

We were required to do a service project for one weekend.
This was a Christian rehab center in upstate New York run by Manhattan Bible Church.

On the left is Bojan "Bo" Kostic from Croatia. He stayed in New York, got his citizenship and completed his education. He was living the "American Dream", working in the World Trade Center as a bond trader, when his life was lost during the September 11th attacks. May you rest in peace, dear friend.


3 Responses to “The east coast still has my heart”

kimberly said...

Wow, wow, wow! Thank you for sharing all of this with us!

donald said...

Hi Dana,

Thank you so much for the incredible recap of our days in New York, they were exactly everything you remembered them to be and more. Ironically, it was the exact same experience for me, I really enjoyed those times and we should get together and share our memories and photos. I have long since wanted to keep a journal, but I have made many excuses and have lost some of the sentiments of times in my life that I have experienced and certainly wish that I have recorded them. Therefore, I would like to thank you for your beautiful words, keep writing.

Love, Donny

Service Unlimited

George said...

just to add - 7 years later - Bojan Kostic was from Belgrade, Serbia - I was in Belgrade the day he was killed and miss him very much