Tracy McAllister loves New York City so much, she made it her job to be there as often as possible.
Looking for some extra money, the 49-year-old Upper Arlington nurse started Tracy's Trips, which whisks Central Ohioans off to the Big Apple for 36-hour weekend journeys jam-packed with fun.
It all started with an obsession with Marlo Thomas--that girl. Even at age 6, McAllister didn't miss the 1960s sitcom following the antics of a young, independent woman determined to make it in Manhattan. "I loved watching all she encountered," McAllister said. "I longed to roam the streets of New York City."
Columbus would be as close to big city as the girl from Portsmouth would get to call home, but that didn't keep her from visiting as often as she could. In 2008, though, McAllister's husband was without a job, and her seasonal shopping trips stopped. Her nursing salary wasn't enough, and she eventually found herself in need of extra cash.
"Everyone said, 'Do what you love,' " she remembered. "I thought, 'I love nothing more than Manhattan.' That's how my business was born."
For the trips, which cost $99 per person, McAllister's customers board a big bus on Bethel Road at 8 p.m. on Friday. They arrive in New York City at 7 a.m. Saturday, explore at will and jump back on the bus-shopping bags in hand-at 10 p.m. They arrive back in Columbus on Sunday morning.
"They are free to spend the day as they wish," McAllister said. "I am there to provide as much or as little guidance as they like."
McAllister also works to make the journey part of the fun. The trip includes chick flicks, raffle prizes and games en route. Then it's lights out, so travelers can conserve energy for their whirlwind day.
Sue Kimble, a 46-year-old caregiver from Upper Arlington, was too excited to sleep. The fall bus trip she took with a group of girlfriends was her first to New York City.
"It was a blast. We did so much sightseeing, shopping, eating," she said. "I can't wait to do it again."
McAllister prides herself on preparing clients and helping some put together a plan of action.
"There's nothing worse than a group getting off the bus and one person wants to go here, another wants to eat there," she said. "I work with them months in advance to be sure they make the most of their time in the city."
McAllister also tailors the trips for special occasions. There's a "Last Fling Before the Ring" trip. An "American Girl Doll Adventure" for mothers and daughters. Even a "Botox and the Bus" excursion.
As Tracy's Trips has taken off, McAllister now plans to expand her schedule and possibly add more cities. But none will replace the city she loves. Realize it or not, like Marlo Thomas, McAllister's made it in Manhattan. If only for a couple of days at a time.
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