When I go to New York for Fashion Week I always try to take some time to look up young people from Kansas who are living and working in the Big Apple.
This year, I got to visit with two people whose jobs are truly different.
Alex "Allie" Ammar works at Carnegie Hall as managing editor of its publications. He has been there since 2008, which is three seasons in Carnegie talk. With between 160 and 180 performances a season, Allie stays busy making sure all of the colorful programs and monthly publications are proofed and perfect before going to the printer.
"We're doing a 150-year anniversary book and that's been quite a project," Allie said. "We did a lot of digging of the Carnegie treasures."
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He showed me parts of Carnegie Hall and, let me tell you, it was nearly a religious experience. Such beauty and grandeur. And to think of the artists who have been there. I found myself whispering. No photos allowed, darn it.
Allie graduated from East High, then got bachelor's and master's degrees at Northwestern. He always wanted to live and work in New York and now he's living in the Chelsea district of Manhattan.
Allie gets back to Wichita occasionally to visit friends and family. He was back for Christmas and extended his stay for his dad's birthday. Allie is the son of Alex Ammar of Wichita and Marti Farha Ammar of Beruit, Lebanon.
Work didn't wait while he was on holiday. He had a deadline to meet on a brochure announcing the next season at Carnegie Hall.
"So there I was working at the Starbucks at Rock Road and Central," he said.
He says he's doing what he likes but will be happy when the $200 million "Raise the Roof" renovation of the hall is completed. "The building cost $1 million when it was built," the dapper and very charming editor noted.
Even with his cool job, I thought I detected that he missed something about Wichita besides family and friends, so I asked him about it. Without hesitation, he said, "Dillions."
"I have to go to several different stores to get the brands I want," he said. "And I'm not talking about specialty stuff. I mean brands like Kellogg's."
Away she went
Brooke Rowzee bought a one-way ticket to New York City last year and hasn't looked back yet. She had never been there before, but decided that "if you're interested in theater, this is where you have to be."
She's a graduate of Maize High School and last year completed her bachelor's degree at Southwestern College in Winfield. When I talked to her, she had moved the day before from New Jersey and was thrilled to tell me about her new home.
"It's in Harlem, and it's called the 'Bunker,'" she said proudly. She saw the look on my face and started to laugh, which is something she does very easily.
"It's called that because you go up the stairs, then outside, then go through the door and down the stairs. Harlem is kind of the up-and-coming cool place. And I have my own room!"
Brooke said that going to New York was out of character for her. "I'm not a risk taker. When I bought my one-way ticket I almost threw up," she said.
Theater means auditions (she loves singing, dancing and being a stage manager) and her first audition was to be an elf at Macy's Santaland. She was worried that she might not be "Christmasy enough," but considering her tiny build and bubbly personality, it's not surprising she got the job.
"The elf breakroom was the best place," she said. "We had a ball trading Santa and kid stories."
"We had about 15,000 people a week come through. My elf name is Pippin — my mom came up with that — and I would sing and dance when I got bored. I smiled and smiled and talked. I hate cough drops now because I bet I had 10 a day."
She made some good elf friends, several who also are interested in theater. "I had a blast and I want to do it again next year. Maybe I'll get to be in the parade."
But now she's a nurse at FAO Schwarz, the huge toy store on Fifth Avenue. A nurse, you're probably asking?
"I'm the nurse for the Middleton Dolls," she said. "They look real and they feel real and I 'adopt' them to kids. And I wear a nurse's uniform that looks like the 1930s."
Both Brooke and her twin sister, Abby, were inspired in the eighth grade by actresses Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett. "They are my best friends but they don't know it," she said.
Her parents, Penny and Mike Rowzee, have moved from Wichita so she doesn't get back much. "I miss Kansas," she said. "I miss the nice people. And it's not always easy."
Where does she want to be in five years? "Out of the bunker," she said, laughing, then added, "Working in theater and having a place of my own. But I wouldn't change this experience for anything, no matter what happens."
Besides, look at all she has learned about being a New Yorker: "Be a pro at getting around on the subway and walk with confidence so they don't steal your wallet."
After our lunch she was off for an interview for a stage managing job at Juilliard, a job where she won't have to be "Christmasy."