It was 1992 and my second time in New York City—the first time over the holiday season—and I was at the end of a week-long stint for B/E Aerospace, troubleshooting production at the vendor on Long Island that manufactured the refrigerator for our McDonnell-Douglas C-17 project. I’d seen the lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Square, seen the Rockettes kicking high in the icy air with snow falling around them, the World Trade Center and Empire State building alight and adorned at night in Christmas colors. It was a beautiful and memorable trip. And really freakin’ cold.
My last day of that visit, Sunday, December 6th, I had one more thing to do. I wanted to get my 4-year-old daughter Karen a special Christmas gift and knew where to get it. Taking the subway from my hotel near JFK, I got off at the Lexington Avenue/59th Street subway station and walked four blocks to 767 5th Ave. There, at the southeast corner of Central Park, was (at that time) the oldest toy store in the United States. Founded in 1862, FAO Schwarz was a ‘must go’ place on my list of things to see and do while in NYC.
I might have mentioned it was freakin’ cold.
Dressed warmly, wearing far more clothes than I was used to back in Florida, even an overcoat—jeez Louise—and I was still slowly freezing to death. I didn’t know the protocol for the store at that time of year. As I approached, focused on shivering in the bitter cold, I didn’t pay any attention to the line at the right-hand entry that ran down the sidewalk for a full block. I walked up to the front just as someone was leaving through the left-hand door and before it closed, slipped inside. [Not realizing that I had just bypassed about one hundred people queued up to get inside; a store employee manned the entry door to control how many came in at a time.]
The store was packed—I mean fully-outrageously-thronged—with shoppers. I had to push through them to get to displays and shelves and make room for myself just so I could see what they had.
An hour later, purchases in my arms, I came down the stairs from the second floor and at the landing where you turn left into the main floor entry/exit area, there was a side door. It was marked ‘Emergency Only.’ I looked at how jammed the main floor still was, shoppers like sardines in a can, and decided, ‘Screw that,’ and went to reach for the door and duck out that way. Just as I did, it opened and in came a man in a parka followed by an FAO Schwarz employee.
He had his head down and bumped into me. As the man looked up, his hood fell back, and I recognized him. I had read and heard the news on TV that he was in town performing. All I could say was, “Neil Young….”
He looked at me, smiled, raised a finger to his lips—that shhhh, be quiet, motion—and said “Merry Christmas.” Then flipped his hood back up.
“Merry Christmas,” I said and stepped aside so he could get to the stairs.
Two days later, back in Florida, I finally thawed out.