Tom Viola: Positively 14th Street

by Tom Viola

Tom Viola is the executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA), the nation’s leading industry-based not-for-profit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization.  In 2010, Tom received a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre.  BC/EFA presents several major annual events each year – The Broadway Flea Market, The Gypsy of the Year Competition, The Broadway Bears Auction, The Easter Bonnet Competition and Broadway Bares in addition to other on going efforts and scores of other one-time fundraising events.   Mr. Viola lives in Manhattan with two madcap mutts – Maggie and Squirrel, and three shady cats – Ed, Earl and Puddy.  He vacuums as often as he shaves.

Congratulations on the happy success marked by the 25th anniversary of the Chelsea Pines Inn.

In New York City, where tastes constantly change and what was hot and new one year is tired and forgotten the next – from Cats and Sex and the City to Lindsay Lohan and Donald Trump (please!) – nothing lasts for this long that hasn’t in some way become a distinct and beloved addition to the neighborhood and an inexplicable but undeniable part of the emotional make-up of its neighbors.

Try as many do, that cannot be built into any business plan, represented by an expensive design or created by marketing experts.   It simply is.

And so it is at the Chelsea Pines Inn.   Without a doubt, the personable attention to comfort, privacy and expectations that your guests experience when visiting the city springs from the same warmth and generosity of spirit that you have personally shared with your friends and community over two and a half decades.

Twenty-five years is long time.  It’s the difference between a tux that a guy like me wears to pass hors d’ouevres to one that’s worn to the Tony Awards.  It’s realizing that wishing doesn’t make it so; starting does.  It’s the time it takes to understand that a life without consequences is a life of little consequence.  That from days steeped in nearly unbearable pain and loss would come moments of profound joy and accomplishment.  Love tempers all, but a little temper can help make your point.  Some of what seemed so important would be first to evaporate from memory, while the smallest acts of kindness can be imprinted on the heart forever.   Shit happens.  Assholes sometime win.  But everything changes, a day at a time.  It’s not what you say, it’s what you do.  But what you do isn’t all that you are.   (That one is still a work in progress).

For me 14th Street in 1986 was about the most incredible donuts available on the north corner of Seventh Avenue as you came out of the subway.  Continuing west past Eighth Avenue, there were many sad afternoons spent at Reddin’s Funeral Home – one of a very few that would embrace both the bodies of those who had died of AIDS and the intense and angry sorrow of some soon to die and others who would amazingly survive.  In those days now so long ago, many evenings were blissfully passed with a pal who lived off the beaten path in a loft on the south corner of Ninth Avenue.  There we could get into just about every kind of stupid fun and trouble imaginable to try to forget those aching afternoons.  And often did.  (See “consequences” in the preceding paragraph.)

Now, twenty-five years later, the donuts are still there but without the white counter to enjoy them over a 75 cent coffee.  Two blocks west, avoidable trouble has been traded for unaffordable fashion.  My buddy moved home to North Carolina and “hoping to forget” has given way to the understanding that life goes on, sometimes joyfully and sometimes just because it does.

Little did I know then that what would mean the most to me now 25 years later is what you, Tom and the Chelsea Pines Inn represent in that same walk across 14th Street from Seventh Avenue to Ninth:  Success brought about by hard work, indelible ties to the community and the ability to create family and home for yourselves and others, like myself, fortunate enough to make your acquaintance and walk up the steps of #317.

Congratulations guys – to you, Charlie and all at The Chelsea Pines Inn.   May your doors remain secure and your hearts open for years to come.

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