Look Up and Let Go

It’s time for another round of Wandering Wednesday: Guest Post Edition! Up today is a guy named Jason Clark, singer/songwriter/author extraordinaire. His new book, Prone to Love is now available, and it’s fantastic. I am so stoked to feature him today with his humorous wandering tale to New York City.

Jason Clark, "Prone to Love"

Grand Central Terminal. Spring of 1993 – late afternoon…

“I’m here!” I thought to myself.

“Don’t look up and don’t let go of your bags.” Echoed in my head.

It was a new beginning, a beautiful day! After an 18-hour bus ride, I arrived to meet my new employer in the greatest city in world history. At least, that’s what New Yorkers always tell me. I’d been hired to be a roadie for Phil Driscoll, one of the world’s greatest trumpet players. At least that’s what Doc Severinson said- Trumpeter for the Johnny Carson show.

“The terminal feels dirty,” I thought as I got off the bus. I was comparing it to all the movies I’d watched over the years. OK, I suppose I was comparing it to Superman. “Well not really dirty, just used,” I revised, as I nervously eyed my fellow travelers while wondering what I should do next.

“Don’t look up and don’t let go of your bags,” shot through my head again.

I had twenty-nine dollars and thirty-one cents in my pocket. I’d started out with thirty but the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup at one of the stops in western NY had called out to me. It had been a nice touch to the potato chips, apple, and peanut butter and honey sandwich mom had packed for me. When it comes to peanut butter mixers, the Canadian in me prefers honey over jelly…

My folks didn’t have any money at the time of my NY trip and this was before credit cards were a way of life. So I had just enough cash to buy the twenty-five dollar ticket back to Rochester NY in case my employer ended up being a no show.

Everyone was heading out of the station. I stood next to the bus paralyzed by fear. My Walkman was still attached to my hip, White Hearts “Freedom” blaring.

“That’s when you find you’ve got to rely on the song that is hidden within, in the song that cries out to begin…”

I had been hired as a roadie… two months earlier I hadn’t even know what a roadie was.

I had left home confident that I was mature enough… two months earlier I borrowed money from my dad to buy a garage sale ATARI system.

I had looked at a map before leaving… two months earlier I’d gotten lost in a mall. What if I went in the wrong direction?

I realized I had to make a decision. I clutched my bags, put away the Walkman, kept my head down, and joined the flow one timid step at a time. I felt nothing like Superman but a lot like Clark Kent. Eventually I found myself standing on Park Ave. The same Park Ave that had eluded me in many a family Monopoly game, except this Park Ave had thousands of seemingly frustrated people pushing past each other while hundreds of yellow cabs blasted horns and whizzed by.

I was 18 years old and had never been alone in a city this size. I was internalizing terror while feigning casual boredom. I was insecure and unsure. I was in crisis.

“Don’t look up and don’t let go of your bags.” Echoed through my head again…

I found a pay phone. Instead of using more of my precious twenty-nine dollars and thirty-one cents, I called my parents collect. In those days, cell phones weighed twenty pounds and were only used by Michael Douglas.

“I’m here, in NY City!” I said.

“Is an adult there to pick you up?” My mother asked.

“No mom,” I answered, quietly irritated at her question, “But I think I will try to hail a cab to the hotel and see if I can find them.” I said in my best adult-like voice.

Mom wanted me to buy a return ticket and catch the next Greyhound home. But this was my chance. This job could be the adventure of a lifetime and I knew what a real adult would do. A real adult would take a cab.

“Don’t look up and don’t let go of your bags.” That was the last piece of advice my Dad had said in my ear as he hugged me goodbye the day before.

I clutched my bags and kept my eyes forward, determined not to look up. I wasn’t sure what would happen if I looked up, but I knew it must be bad. Determined to hail a cab, determined to get myself to my new employers Hotel – the Marriott Marquis right on Times Square – I walked shyly to the street curb and raised my hand just as I’d seen the adults in the movies do.

The map my dad and I had looked at before I left had shown the Hotel to be only four blocks from Grand Central Station, “so this is do-able” I thought. The street was filled bumper to bumper with yellow cabs. Still feeling more the bumbling Clark Kent then Superman, I timidly waived my arm. There is nothing timid about NYC. The cabs sped past, unconvinced.

While I stood, attempting to feign boredom, I contemplated my next move. It was then that I noticed something dreadful. I was looking up.

Shocked at how easily I had forgotten, I brought my focus back to street level. I literally jumped back, startled by the older fella whose face was mere inches from mine. He looked to be in his mid fifties, I couldn’t say for sure. His hair was wiry and mostly grey, he had a distinctly unpleasant body odor but what most stood out was the patchwork of bandages that lined the insides of both arms.

I’d seen that in the movies too, I knew what it meant, this guy was definitely a troublemaker.

“Where are you going?” He asked. He was missing a front tooth, and the one he had was black.

I nodded, “I’m fine sir, thanks.”

He leaned closer. “Need a cab?”

I just wanted him to go away. “I’m fine, thanks.”

“Where are you going?” He asked again, bluntly.

“I shouldn’t have looked up,” I thought, and then, because of my good upbringing, I answered the question. “I am staying at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square?”

“I know where that is. You don’t need a cab. Five bucks and I’ll take you there.”

Before I could answer he literally snatched one of my bags out of my hand and crossed the street. “Don’t look up … and don’t let go of your bags,” I thought one last time as I frantically followed the man who had taken my bag. I began praying fervently. “Jesus?” …

On a spring day, at the age of 18, I timidly followed after a smelly fella who carried my bag through the streets of NY. I was cursed at by an old lady for getting in her way, jostled, pressed, bumped, cursed at again as I awkwardly trailed in the wake of my stolen bag.

I was taken to the wrong hotel, told it was the right hotel, cursed at – this time by a cabbie that honestly had every right to upset as I was forced to either run in front of his car or lose my newly acquired tour guide as well as his newly acquired bag. And finally I was delivered to the correct Hotel.

In the next hours I would meet a mythic trumpet player and his crew, be led through the bowels of Madison Square Gardens while the National Democratic Convention for Bill Clinton was winding down, pass by a reporter in an ugly purple coat jacket, recognize that he was the reporter I’d just seen on the hotel TV as he was still wearing that ugly purple coat jacket, witness the Rev Jessie Jackson give a speech while standing at the edge of the gay pride parade on Times Square, and then be flown off in a personal King Air (plane) to begin my grand adventure as a roadie.

And that’s the story of when I left home for the first time. It was another step in the search for my Father.  It was a search I have been on since I took my first breath.

If there is anything I have learned in the days since, the best stories, the ones that have God’s fingerprints all over them, the ones that reveal your destiny and settle the crisis of identity, they are discovered when you do the opposite of my Dad’s NYC advice.

For the best stories, you have to look up, and you have to let go…

Jason Clark, "Prone to Love"

Jason Clark is a singer/songwriter, author, speaker, and pastor. Jason’s passion is to know the love of God more each day. He lives to see a generation step into their identity as sons and daughters of the King and establish His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children. Jason’s new book Prone To Love is available now: www.jasonclarkis.com

  • Rebecka

    Thanks for sharing this great story, Jason!

    • You’re welcome Rebecka! It was amazing of Thomas to invite me. Hope you have an amazing weekend!