A Country Bumpkin’s First Impression of The Big Apple

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It was 4 am, our planned arrival time so as to avoid the infamous traffic.  My eyesight is very poor for nighttime driving so I was calling out the turn by turn directions to my daughter, Toni, who was driving.  It was drizzling for the first time on the trip, and the moisture was creating smears across the windshield that added yet another dimension to our fear of the unknown.  After leaving the safety of the well-lit and nearly vacant Lincoln Tunnel, we were making our way into the lane we needed for a turn, two tenths of a mile ahead, when a car stopped right in front of us.

Driving somewhere we are comfortable or familiar with, this would not have been a situation to cause us alarm.  But our well laid out plans of arrival time turned out not to have been such great plans after all.  The streets were no less crowded than they were in the daytime in the “city that never sleeps”.  We were literally stuck in the traffic behind this stopped car with a never ending barrage of taxis, limousines and the occasional “normal” cars zooming by, all of whom would blare their horns as they made their way around these two cars just sitting there in the right lane!

But the streets weren’t the only things that were packed with traffic.  People were everywhere! Loud and boisterous people, who were screaming and motioning to anyone he or she could get the attention of.  After having just traveled the long, dark quietness of the New Jersey Turnpike, this sudden change had us quite a bit on the edge of our nerves.  And in the midst of all this, I looked up and saw the largest horse I had ever saw in my life! Forgetting that some of the New York City Police Dept use horses on duty, this beautiful, huge animal had my undivided attention and I wasted no time in speaking my mind on this matter to Toni.

It is at this point that I was brought back to reality quite suddenly, as she screamed at me “I don’t care about the stupid horse, help me get out of this mess!”  Let me say here that my daughter is extremely careful over her car.  She routinely checks for scratches and nicks and is a professional now at what products work best to remove them.  In traffic, she is so nervous that her car is going to be hit by other traffic, that if possible, she has someone else drive, namely me.  This night that was impossible due to my blindness and here she sits in front of me scared to death!About this time, someone knocks on the window next to me!  We turn to see a group of guys walking beside the car.  Toni and I just sit and stare at each other.  The guy keeps knocking until he finally reaches the back of the car and leaves.  This was all it took for Toni to force her way out from behind the car and its rude driver.

The next step on our road trip map of directions would have had us turning right onto a one way street – going left!  So we had to do some calculating of our own to back track a street and finally arrive at our hotel on the East River.  But upon finding it, where were we to park the car? The streets were lined with tall buildings and sidewalks – no parking places.  Directly beside the hotel we spotted the entrance to a parking garage so we stopped there and Toni waited in the car while I went in to get us registered.

Everything went smoothly for me.  The hotel had our late arrival noted on our reservations and I was quickly and efficiently given our room card keys and told to unload our luggage and leave it with the attendant in the lobby while we drove behind and beneath the hotel to the parking basement.  I felt relief!  We had finally made it safely and were within moments of a place to rest!  When I got to the car and began telling Toni to help me with the luggage, again she didn’t want to hear anything I had to say!  “Just get in the car” she repeatedly told me with such a sense of desperation that I finally just gave up on the luggage and got in.  She said there was a man who had walked around the car several times and was standing over to the side watching us.  As I spotted the stranger, the dread of hauling our heavy luggage all the way to our room suddenly diminished as we made our way to the basement.

Little did we know we were in for yet another unanticipated initiation to the city.  The parking attendant spoke or understood no English.  We were met with a waving motion of his arms and we thought he was telling us to park the car.  After creeping slowly through the first level of the basement and finding no empty spaces we proceeded to the lower level only to find the same problem.  Cars were parked three deep with what appeared to be less than an inch between them.  We made our way back to the attendant and he greeted us with more waving, a ceaseless stream of “sounds” we couldn’t understand and finally a simple, quiet hands up signal to STOP.  He motioned for our car keys, took them and opened the trunk, motioned for us to remove our luggage, gave us a claim ticket and waved us towards the exit.

With Toni feeling great trepidation about having just turned her car over to a complete stranger, we were finally on our way to our room.  We had a corner suite on the 16th floor and upon arriving we immediately raised the shades on the almost floor to ceiling windows that encompassed all but one wall of the room.  The side windows overlooked the double-decked Queensborough Bridge and overhead trolley that carried passengers back and forth to Roosevelt Island.  The windows across the front of the room faced the city.  The view was breathtaking.  The lights of the enormous city reflecting on the water of the river cast beautiful prisms of every color imaginable.  We sat staring, trying to calm ourselves from the shock to our systems that we had just experienced for the past hour.  Exhaustion finally took over as we both fell asleep considering an early checkout and a return to less threatening, more familiar surroundings.

We awoke around 11 am, knowing that we had missed the checkout if we were seriously planning on high-tailing it home.  Instead of making a final decision on whether to stay or leave, we decided on what we would most like to see in one day and set out on the adventure of actually getting there.  Driving was not an option, and our destination was Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Centers, over six miles away.  We set out on foot.  We had walked almost a mile when we came upon Bloomingdale’s.  Naturally we wanted to go in this famous store along with what seemed to be everyone else in the city. This store is so huge one would have to actually visit it to understand.  There are many different floors with many different elevators and escalators, all of which looked the same and was a fact we failed to notice until we started trying to exit.  Our mistake was in not noting which entrance we had entered by.  We couldn’t find our way out! A clerk noticed our exasperated confusion and pointed us to an exit, any exit, at this point we just wanted out!

We should have clarified our exit wishes more clearly because the exit she directed us to was directly into – were we country bumpkins ready for this? – the subway! Yes, we needed transportation to Ground Zero, but now?  Were we brave enough to tackle the subways yet? Feeling trapped, we once again had no choice but to do as the New Yorkers do – take a subway.  After procuring our tokens from yet another non-English speaking attendant, I absolutely refused to get on before finding out where we should get off.  I went back to the clerk at the entrance to Bloomingdale’s where we had just exited who I knew had spoken English.  She was very helpful and soon we were speeding along under the city.  I felt a sense of elation!  We were on our way to Ground Zero and everything seemed safe around us on the subway.  Until Toni finally convinced me that we were heading in the wrong direction.  I didn’t want to believe it – we were heading toward Harlem! A little elderly lady sitting in front of us who had been discreetly watching us all along came to our rescue.  She could only understand the words “world trade center” but as she left the train at the next stop she motioned for us to follow and pointed us to another train.  Wishing we knew how to thank her, we simply waved as she hurried away.  Her directions did in fact lead us to our next awe-inspiring discovery.

The first thing we noticed as we saw daylight leaving the subway station was the sound.  The sounds of the city are very loud.  Between the traffic and the people, there was a constant noise that we quickly grew accustomed to shouting over.  Even sixteen stories up in our hotel room, we noticed the noise quickly.  The exit off the subway at Ground Zero lacked these sounds.  Instead, although the traffic and the crowds were dense, there was a silence.  Along the fenced wall of memorials, which would bring tears to even the most hardened heart, sat a man playing the flute.  In the silence, acutely aware of Ground Zero looming to our left, the tune of “Amazing Grace” put a somber mood on the crowd.  My heart wanted to scream, “Take this pain away – why did this have to happen?”  Visions of what we all watched on television on 9/11/01 came to mind, knowing I was standing where all the horror had happened.  The unmatched silence surrounding the area and remembrance describe the sites today better than any other words can.

Coming away from Ground Zero, Toni and I remained quietly to ourselves for the remainder of the day.  We were still in awe of every corner we turned but none of our experiences thus far compared with the deeply introspective mood we found ourselves in.  After dining, we were ready to make our way back to our hotel, and since it was by this time nightfall, we decided to be cautious and not chance the subway.  A taxi would be best but what do we do – stick our thumbs out as if we’re hitchhiking? We walked on until a taxi stopped in front of us letting someone out and we jumped in.  We shocked the driver with our heavy Southern accents so much so that I had to write the address to our hotel down for him to understand.  Minutes later we were back where we had started some eight hours earlier.  We had conquered the city for the day! Fears had been abated enough for us to stay instead of running for home.  We went to sleep with the alarm clock set early, looking forward to venturing out again.

The next day we calculated that we walked over eight miles, most of which was in the rain.  Our destination was Times Square but on the way we just happened upon Grand Central Station, Trump Plaza and Towers, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Central Park, Tiffany’s, Saks Fifth Avenue – I could go on and on.  Knowing we needed rest for the long drive home the next day we bid the heart of the city farewell and made our long walk back to our hotel.  We left early enough the next morning to avoid the heaviest traffic, leaving the city within only minutes and arrived home exactly 12 hours and 45 minutes later.

Overall, our trip gave us a sense of confidence that we had conquered our small-town fears and were able to explore the city for two days.  We took each step, however, with a constant awareness that we could actually reach out and touch what up until this point we had only heard about – culture shock.  Our thanks and hats off go to the Big Apple from these two country bumpkins from the South!  And….to valet parking!

(Written as part of a college English class in 2012, posted today as a memorial to lives lost on 9/11/01)

87 thoughts on “A Country Bumpkin’s First Impression of The Big Apple

  1. What a great story
    It’s not so much you being an outsider
    Anyone who doesn’t live in New York
    Is an outsider
    Trust me I know
    I’m an outsider myself
    And it doesn’t matter how many times I go
    There’s nothing like a New York state of mind
    You just have to take the fear out of the equation
    Thanxs for visiting
    See ya Sheldon

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That sounds a nightmare at the beginning. To be honest, I’m a total country gal too and absolutely hate cities of any description. I certainly couldn’t drive in one! And ours are much smaller than yours!
    Carol.

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    • It was very scary and intimidating at first and I was not kidding when we hit the pillows that night (early morning!) fully intending to turn around and go back home. But I am truly glad we stuck it out – and didn’t meet any real dangers. It’s a wonderful memory now and one that started my desire to travel.

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    • Yes, out of all the crazy things that we came upon that weekend, the WTC site was the most harrowing and the one that stands out in my mind the most about the trip. I can very easily put myself back in the moments we were there and feel and hear what it was like. Devastation – the perfect word.

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  3. kudos for you!! Great job in the big Apple. I still have yet to drive in NYC whenever we went in we always took a bus tour…group of people who will notice if you go missing and always free time to venture out on our own. You are brave indeed!! 🙂

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  4. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog entry! I’m glad you found my blog so that I could find yours. I grew up on a small farm in a small town in Wisconsin. I lived in Chicago for 20 years early in my career, and traveled to New York on business frequently. But I would never dare drive in that city! I always flew into the city, and then got around by foot, taxi, or subway. I celebrated my 40th birthday having drinks with some friends at the lounge on top of the World Trade Towers – quite a different feeling than what you experienced at that site. Now I’m back to small-town living in Wisconsin, but enjoy traveling, too. Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts.

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    • So many people have told me that they would never drive in NYC….I was so blown away by all the other fascinating newness from one moment to the next that I had never stopped to think about what it would have been like to have driven any more than what we did in arriving. Now my daughter and I both know that we will fly on our next trip there – (she talks every year about wanting to be there during the holidays so, Lord willing, one of these years we’ll probably make it) – once we’re one the ground, it’s taxi’s and our own feet!

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  5. This was so well written. I could feel the stress. We will be going to NYC next month for four days before heading north. Last visit was 1978! We’ll be getting a taxi from the airport to our hotel near Times Square so hopefully less stress. In 1978 we caught a bus from the airport to the bus depot and then stood on the footpath wondering where to stay as we hadn’t booked anything. Can’t imagine doing that now. We hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take us to a good cheap hotel which he did and it was perfect.

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    • If we had it to do over, we would have definitely arranged it differently. But we were also arriving after a concert in New Jersey so the road trip was almost the only way we could have done both – the concert and NYC. But it was the trip of a lifetime and I’m so glad I have those memories. Enjoy your trip next month – I love travel posts so I’ll be looking forward to yours!

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  6. I was born and raised in New York and never really stopped to think what it’s like to come to it from someplace small and quiet. Thanks for giving me a glimpse through your eyes.

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  7. Thank you! It really was an amazing trip. I haven’t been back since but my daughter and I are going to try and make it during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays this year. I would love to see the city all dressed up!

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  8. I love New York City! I found the people very helpful and friendly and with so many interesting places to visit, there is no time to waste. It is a bit frightening at first until you get used to the throngs of people and traffic. But you are much braver than I…wouldn’t think of driving in NYC. so a group of us took the bus from Ontario and like you, either walked to our destinations or took the subway. Enjoyed reading about your adventures…they raised some pleasant memories of my visit to New York city.

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  9. Love your writing style! I visited NYC for the first time by myself a few years ago. I couchsurfed (stayed with a stranger, a lady and her parents) in Brooklyn for 4 nights and enjoyed exploring and taking the subway was an adventure. Hooray for conquering your fears!

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    • Thank you! Your posts have inspired me more than words can say. That NYC trip with my daughter sparked a passion for travel that I do not get to explore nearly as often as I’d like – so I am thoroughly living vicariously through posts such as yours. The adventures you embark on all on your own – I sit here and get lost in them, just shaking my head at the freedom you have created as your own. You so very much inspire me and I am very much looking forward to more! ( Alot of repeat words there but accept them as my sincere excitement over the sort of life you are living!) Thanks for sharing that life!

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  10. First, thanks for following both blogs! I hope you continue to enjoy the posts.
    Second, that must have been a real culture shock. I knew someone from Appalachia, an associate professor at the university where I did my undergraduate work. Agnes had some stories to tell being one of thirteen children and her family was so poor.
    Third, I didn’t have culture shock upon moving to NYC. The reason for that is several fold. I grew up not far from Los Angeles, I had been to San Francisco, Seattle and spent summers in Vancouver and around Canada. However, the main reason NYC was a dark cloud was I went to be with my, now ex) husband. Our daughter was very ill and underwent open heart surgery there at Babies Hospital which is part of Columbia Presbyterian shortly before her first birthday. My days and hours were focused on keeping her alive and being there for the other children. New York held no terrors for me.

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    • I have spent time in Seattle and traveled through San Francisco and can understand what you mean – you didn’t experience the culture shock my daughter and I did. And I would love to hear the stories of your Appalachian professor. But most – I truly hope all turned out well for your daughter. Thanks for the comment but sincerely – I pray your daughter is well.

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      • Despite all that the hospital in NYC did for Jacqueline, she only lived another 11 months. Alas, she was subject to malpractice and negligence in California. Fortunately, that ‘chain’ of hospitals were not in NYC. Thank you.

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  11. Oh my gosh!!! That sounds terrifying. I have never actually visited New York City, I have driven by it and kind of through it, but the place is just so overwhelming. Based on your experiences, I am not totally off the mark in thinking this. But it sounds like you had a great time, despite the rocky start.

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    • Yes, to someone whose never been – and does not have someone there guiding them who actually knows the city – overwhelming sums it up perfectly. But, I am so glad we stuck it out instead of high-tailing it home scared because that trip actually became the prod that developed into a passion for traveling – a passion I do not get to explore nearly as much and as often as I’d like. Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love to travel too, but mostly do road trips because I refuse to pay the exorbitant airline fees and be packed like a sardine into a plane and have peanuts thrown at me. Someday – I will travel again.

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    • No, not strange. The whole trip was unbelievable for me…but…if I had to answer the question “What was my favorite thing” and be honest about it…..there was this amazing candy store we wandered into!

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  12. My one visit to New York City was as an immigrant many decades ago and not very pleasant memories. But now I want to go back and visit properly. Enjoyed your perspective!

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    • Thank you for your comment – and yes – you should visit again. Even though that trip held every emotion imaginable for me, it also forged a passion for traveling that I do not get to explore nearly as much and as often as I’d like. That is why finding all the wonderful stories here is so fascinating to me!

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  13. This was such a delight to bump into, and thanks for your visit to me.
    I left Brooklyn in 1994 for the Blue Ridge Mountains, and had much the same shocks in reverse. You brought me to tears telling about your visit to Ground Zero. It hit me so hard to realized that people going to NY had a war memorial to — 9/11, not just the skyscrapers, best pizza, Little Italy, Chinatown, the Met, Lincoln Center, and landmarks of the city’s earlier history, or the civil war statues, or WWII or Vietnam memorials, but 9/11 and it was a shock. Bless your heart for that. I’ll always be a NYer after 30 years there, from the sixties and my youth and grown up, and I’m now on the most west coast. I also loved your description in ”about”, a grandma with machete in the swamps is my idea of okay.

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    • Thank you so much for your comments! They actually made me tear up as well thinking of the tribute that NYC honors those with who lost their lives on 9/11. I will NEVER forget the sound of that silence and I can’t help but imagine that that area today will forever have a touch of that silence as we can never forget that terrible day. I would love to hear YOUR take on arriving in the Blue Ridge Mountains – as the shock would be in reverse!

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      • I think all NYers are overwhelmed hearing that anyone outside the city loves it and it’s people, nobody’s going to forget 9-11 for so many reasons, and thanks again, Tammi.
        Much of my Blue Ridge experience and leaving Brooklyn for there then further west, is documented in my book of short stories (which everyone says is a terrific read!) called The Gandy Dancer & Other Short Stories. It’s on Amazon etc, published in 2004, BD Sparhawk. I’m working on a new novel based in Brooklyn now, and some new children’s books. I write and illustrate them, there’s also a Brooklyn story about my neighborhood and neighbor Angel and his parrot, called CoCo NO! NYC is a potent experience as you’ve found.
        Glad to meet another writer! I like your blog and will go back for more.

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    • Brave or unwise (another way of saying stupid maybe) —— seeing that we knew no one there to help us navigate! But – I look back on it now very fondly – it was the trip that ‘initiated’ me to traveling and I look forward to what few adventures I get to pursue now. But…I do so with more caution these days!

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  14. Thanks for sharing your adventures in The Big Apple. It’s many yea side I was last there but still remember the constant noise. It must have been very strange to stand at Ground Zero without any noise.
    Thanks for reading and deciding to follow my blog.

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    • Yes, I will never as long as I live forget the noise – because of the lack of it at Ground Zero. It’s still hard to believe the silence we ‘heard’. I imagine the area now has even retained some of it because it will never be the same in those spots again. The reverence I felt there that day has never completely left me as I feel it everytime – like right now – that I talk about it. Thanks for the reminder today – and your comment!

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    • Well now THAT is the main reason we almost high-tailed it home! We didn’t know at that time to do moves like the train into the city – and we had attended a concert in New Jersey prior to this drive. But I’m so glad we stuck it out. It became the driving passion for what little I get to travel now. Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Omg. I think NYC is overwhelming. I was lucky on my only visit, my sister lives there and took us on the subway to ground zero and other places, I was glad to see it once, and glad to get home.

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    • That is a mild description of how my daughter and I felt upon our arrival. We were truly exhausted, we had attended a concert in New Jersey prior to arriving in NYC, and with everything that happened we thought we may be in over our heads being there alone with no one guiding us. But, I’m so glad we stuck it out. It turned into the passion that drives what little I get to travel now. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I’ve been to New York, once, many years ago. Your post brought back to many memories, of arriving in NYC via car, being on the subway (it was probably good you skipped that) and walking for hours. What an incredible experience it was! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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    • Yes, that trip was definitely my initiation into the world of traveling. My husband had recently passed away and I had never traveled very much before that trip. Now, I have the attitude of ‘Bring it on!’ – (cautiously!)

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  17. First thanks for following my blog ..I will stive to become more active going forward! Secondly, this was a great post and one I could well relate to. Two of our sons moved to
    New York and we suddenly found ourselves on subways and navigating the streets of Manhatten like mishappen tourists. Lovely post!

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    • Thank you, DiAnne. We have made several trips back since that trip, but it was definitely a big difference than anything we had encountered up until that point. Now, our attitude is “Wow! What a fascinating city!”

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  19. Tammi, I love the way you tell the story, so well written. I applaud your courage and look forward to reading more of your stories…<3 to you and your daughter. X

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  20. Yes! The Bentley is exactly where we were! Such a beautiful nighttime view over the river! We are planning a trip back sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas so we can see the city during the holidays. I am really looking forward to that. As a native, can offer any specifics as to what we don’t want to miss?

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  21. Thanks for sharing this! As a native New Yorker, I always enjoy hearing accounts from visitors. And I agree with you on the noise here, although as you said you do get used to it after a while. Or, our hearing slightly diminishes (I’m only half joking, mind you!). Out of curiosity, were you at the Bentley Hotel? I know that’s on the east side by the bridge…just wondering! Anyway, great post!

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  22. Wonderfully written! NYC is my favorite place in the US! I finally got Judson to go 2 years ago. We took the girls and they love it as much as I do.

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  23. Tammi, I’m so proud of you. When my husband and I were in Bangkok I took the elevated train all by myself and I was scared to death. But I still am so proud of me! Fun post.

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    • I am proud of you too, Rebecca! Bangkok! I’ve heard it said that if you get lost there the city consumes you into itself!! I would have definitely been scared as well. Glad you stopped by!

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