Hub dropped me off at the bus terminal at 7:40 a.m., in plenty of time to make the 8:00 Greyhound to New York City. A 2-½ hour ride, I would be discharged into the Big Apple’s streets by 10:30 in the morning.
A few anxious moments ensued as the terminal’s PA system announced a delay in departure time. Meeting friends for lunch at 11:45 before seeing the Broadway production Kinky Boots, I had all the tickets in hand (actually in my oversize bag) and could not be late.
We planned this reunion months ago. Finding a Wednesday matinee day everyone could make proved challenging, but four friends converged on Manhattan the last Wednesday in June.
The bus pulled into the Atlantic City bus terminal bay about 8:20, and by 8:30 drove out again. Three-quarters full of single men and women like myself, a few couples and family groups, some with suitcases but most without, we settled into comfortable seats for the ride north on the Garden State Parkway.
I pulled out a paperback and settled into reading mode. The bus remained quiet, a couple of muffled conversations occasionally heard. Most people settled into their seat, eyes closed, others checked emails and played games on electronic devices. Electric power outlets next to the seats allowed long-term use without worrying about dying batteries.
A traffic backup entering the Lincoln Tunnel into the city the only delay, the bus pulled into the basement of the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 11:00 a.m. Everyone quietly filed out of the bus and into the bustling terminal, maneuvering upstairs and outside onto busy, intensely sun-drenched city streets.
The restaurant a four-block walk, I meandered slowly along Eighth Avenue. Or tried. Too many people jostling each other, walking in all directions, entering and leaving stores and restaurants, humanity spilling over sidewalks and curbs onto the street. Some did not move at all, a hand stretched out begging for a dollar, street vendors imploring passersby to purchase their wares, tourists posing while companions snap pictures.
Entering the restaurant, on the other hand, a quiet, muted atmosphere greeted me. A half hour early, the place was just beginning to fill with diners eager to fill their stomachs before heading to the theater.
I settled into our table, the first of our group to arrive. The other three soon wandered in, hot and disheveled after bumping crowds in the increasingly hot sun.
Following a leisurely lunch we walked around the corner to the Al Hirschfeld Theater for the day’s main event–Kinky Boots.
The 2-½ hour production knocked our socks off, as the saying goes. From the moment the lights lowered until the very end, we laughed, clapped, and listened intently to the story of a failing English factory that found an offbeat way to extend its life.
Based on a true story, the Northampton, England factory confronted the fate of businesses across England and throughout the industrialized world–a drastic loss of business due to foreign competition. The show takes liberties with the details of the story, but the premise remains true.
The 100-year-old men’s shoe factory faced the prospect of closing. A chance request for women-styled shoes strong enough to withstand the stress of a man’s weight energized the factory owner. He accepted the challenge, designing footwear for transvestites.
The result is a hilarious 2 ½ hours of fun.
Unfortunately the postscript on the true story is not as cheerful as the show’s ending. The move into transvestite footwear bought the factory additional time but eventually closed, the victim once again of fierce overseas competition.
Kinky Boots is a story of the struggle for survival of a company and the people it shaped, a tale about seeking alternatives when life appears stacked against you. It is also a story of tolerance - accepting folks different from yourself, and acknowledging who you are. As the performers belt out in the show:
Who you wanna be.
Never let ‘em tell you who you ought to be
Just be. With dignity.
Celebrate yourself triumphantly.
The bus home left the city on time, the first part of the trip slowed by rush hour traffic. As the city receded, the energized urban atmosphere transformed into a quieter landscape of green, fewer people, buildings, vehicles and noise, and finally the scent of salt air. A summer day in the city is fun, but summer at the shore is heaven.