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May 27, 2009

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Rowayton, Connecticut

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Greetings from Connecticut! This week, we finish up our trip to South America in style as we travel from Argentina to Rio and check in to one of the world’s most famous hotels: The Copacabana Palace. You won’t want to miss this or one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. We then spend Memorial Day in my favorite place in the world – with friends and family in the Nutmeg State. Shhh … can you hear the music? That’s 50 Cent singing, “It’s my birthday, it’s my birthday!” Dance, everyone! It’s my birthday ... on Sunday!

This past weekend, we celebrated Memorial Day in the United States. It's my favorite weekend of the year and there's no other place I'd rather be than in Connecticut with my family and childhood friends. I grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut (42 miles outside of New York City) and people who come from this neck of the woods understand that Memorial Day weekend is more than just honoring our soldiers, although that’s the most important part. It's also the (unofficial) first day of summer as the weather is finally warm, the landscape is full of color, the beaches are open, the boats are in the water and most importantly, everyone is in a great mood, walking around wearing summer clothes and big smiles.

Many of my friends and family live in a section of Norwalk called Rowayton. Anyone with ties to Rowayton knows that there's no better time of year to come back than Memorial Day. Besides all the reasons listed above, this is the weekend that everyone who grew up here has deemed an annual sort of homecoming. Natives travel from all over to make it back for this one special weekend, which kicks off Friday night with a casual martini party on Bell Island. This was the 35th anniversary of the party and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.

The weekend is filled with countless barbecues and soirées. The granddaddy of all the parties -- the Memorial Day Parade -- begins at high noon on Sunday. The parade is small. It lasts maybe 25 minutes -- but it's special. The best part is that practically everyone knows everyone who marches. Marchers range from the Rowayton Fire Department to the nationally renowned Brien McMahon High School band, which has performed at huge venues like the Rose Bowl and Yankee Stadium. After the parade, an emotional ceremony takes place at the canon. Everyone takes their hats off, puts their hands on their chests and pays tribute to our fallen soldiers, as well as all those guarding our freedom right now. If the playing of Taps doesn't give you goose bumps, I don't know what will.

After God Bless America, everyone walks over to the firehouse for free hot dogs and soda. Then it's time for me and my friends to head to the field where we play our annual stickball game. Growing up, we played every day in the summer. Now, this is the only time we play all year. The perfectly lined oak trees are slowly disappearing (kind of like my hair), and the field has been turned into a dog park. Nonetheless, this is still the highlight, as the old-timers take on the young guns. Of course, we're not that young and the old-timers aren't that old. Just a few years separate the teams. This year, we 'young guns' rallied five runs to tie in the bottom of the ninth and since most of the players had to go home to their ticked-off wives, we called it a tie in the tenth!

After the game, my family and friends surprised me with an early birthday (it’s on May 31) party in Harbor View. I knew something was going on when Natalie and my sister Carol and her family flew in special for the weekend. But I had no idea so many friends and family who I haven’t seen in years would show up. A special thanks to my sister Georgie Jet for making it happen and Laina for giving us the space.

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