An Ozian New York City Adventure

The view of the New York City skyline from an airplane landing at LaGuardia.
The City of Wonder Awaits

Whenever I fly I always have a window seat. I never get bored watching the clouds, the quilted landscapes of rural America, and the intricate layouts of cities that resemble motherboards of the world. The New York City skyline at sunset did not disappoint, as the plane descended to the runway the city beckoned me to come to explore the wonders of metropolitan life. As the plane taxied to the gate at LaGuardia I was overcome with the immense largeness of the airport. I may be a middle-aged woman, but in my heart, I was a small-town girl visiting the city of OZ and the airport was the doorway to the Emerald City. While walking the corridor from the plane to the gate, I received a message from my cousin Steve, (who is a lot like the scarecrow in L. Frank Baum’s Oz series) asking me which terminal I was in. Now, one problem I have when I fly is my ears typically do not adjust to a change in altitude, leaving me in a world where voices sound like the garbled language of an adult in a Peanuts Universe, so I did not hear which gate or terminal we had arrived in.  I looked around for a sign and stumbled upon the glorious gate attendant who magically drew the letter “D” in the air and directed me to follow the arrows to the curb pick-up destination.  After I informed Steve of the terminal he assured me that he would be at the curb and driving a red Subaru Outback.  Sure enough, my carriage awaited as soon as I exited the terminal doors, and Steve, his wife Sue, and I headed off to the Big City. The New York City adventure begins.

The Strand Bookstore…food for the brain

A table showing the banned books at The Strand bookstore
Banned Knowledge

That evening we went to Union Square to explore the outdoor Holiday market and to visit the large independent bookstore, The Strand.  If you want to learn the culture of a location, go to the bookstore and the grocery store.  There you will see what is important to the people who live in the area, and what it is that they absorb into their life. The Strand bookstore is a cornucopia of knowledge consisting of 3 floors of new and used books. I highly recommend a plan of attack before going or else you could get lost amongst the book racks for hours. My eyes were immediately drawn to the table full of books that have been banned over the years for one reason or another. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein was banned in 1988.  A few people believed that because the boy continuously took from a female tree until there was nothing left for the tree to give was sexist. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White was banned in 2006 because talking animals were ‘blasphemous and unnatural.’  The Strand bookstore is a bastion for knowledge seekers willing to remove their emerald glasses in order to see the true colors of the world around them.

The Strand bookstore was just the beginning of the expanding world of culture I was to encounter.

Off To See The Wizard

Riding in Convertible on 5th Avenue
Are We Cool Yet?

The next morning we rushed to get coffee and then drove into the city. I had an appointment to meet The Wizard for lunch at Odeon. It was a beautiful sunny day, so Steve drove his Lexus convertible and we cruised down 5th Avenue in style. Once we found our parking garage it was a mad dash to the subway (Don’t touch anything). The subway adventure is mostly a blur from running, we were late to meet the wizard for lunch.  We arrived at Odeon and there he was, The Wizened Wizard of the Web, Asher Black, sitting with his back to the wall and wearing his flat cap. I’ve had several Zoom meetings with this man in the last couple of years but this was the first sit down and get to know you lunch. This Wizard of the Web and the guru for my art business, sent me on my way to find the inspiration I was seeking.

The Tin Man aka David Byrne

Obligatory Food Shot

After lunch, we made a mad dash to the subway again and hopped on a train to the Modern Museum of Art.  Where the artistic muses began to do their work.  The trips to museums were altogether fascinating and deserve their own story, so stay tuned for that.

The muses worked up our appetites, so Steve (who has now become more of the protective guided Scarecrow of the journey) and I headed for dinner at BLT Steak on 57th St. in NYC where our appetites were satiated with steak and a dessert of croissant bread pudding with a salted caramel sauce. (Worth every calorie)

David Byrne in action at American Utopia
The Tin Man himself David Byrne


After dinner, we rushed through Times Square to get to the St. James Theater to see David Byrnes American Utopia. Simply WOW, he seriously burned down the house.  You can catch the show on HBO but to see it in person is a completely unique experience. We had fourth-row seats for this inspirational soul-shaking performance. The simple art direction of a curtain of chains, with a cast of people in grey suits and moving across the stage in their bare feet, forces the audience to focus on the humanity in the show. The only thing that is truly important is the people. The bare feet give a feeling of grounding and a connection to the earth,  where the click-clacking of shoes on the wooden stage would distract from the humanizing, united appearance that they put forth.  The artistry of the show was so exhilarating and inspiring.  David Byrne is truly a man with a heart full of passion for creative projects.

Coney Island Baby

Man dancing on boardwalk
A Real Cool Cat

On the last day of the visit to New York City, Steve, my Scarecrow cousin, took me to Coney Island. It was a cool, overcast, dreary day in December and not many people were out on the Boardwalk.  A perfect day for exploring, actually, isn’t every day a perfect day for exploring? Steve was armed with his camera and I with my iPhone as we were surrounded by photo opportunities from all directions.

Upon our arrival, one of the first encounters we came across was this man dressed as a cat or maybe a bear, it doesn’t really matter. On a cart nearby was his amplifier and sound system playing a jazzy beat to brighten the dreary day.  He danced as if no one was watching and without a care in the world, enjoying the simplicity of just being. Displaying the courage of being himself and putting a little joy in the world.  Even though the amusement park was quiet and the rides were still, the laughter and smiles of the summer fun still lingered in the air and whispered in the wind, “Play.”


There’s No Place Like New York City

There are events that happen in our lives that change us and may even put us in a dark place for a while, but it is just for a while.  A friend of mine has this wonderful mantra, “It came to pass. It didn’t come to stay.” My adventure to the Big Apple helped get me out of a dark place after the passing of my sister. It awoke a sense of wonder that was lying dormant yet urging me to come out and play.  Two years into a pandemic the world can seem pretty dismal, yet New York City keeps on inspiring and encouraging. Everywhere you go there are businesses and people making the most of what they have instead of what has been lost due to the pandemic. Life is about what is ahead of you, not what is behind you. We can stay locked up in our cocoons and feel snug and safe or we can spread our wings and fly, leaving the cocoon behind us. New York City slapped me in the face and said in its best Cher imitation, “Snap Out OF IT!”

It’s time to CREATE. Create art. Create dreams. Create experiences. CREATE YOUR LIFE.

Food for thought: The Wonderful Wizard of OZ book by L. Frank Baum has been banned numerous times since its publication in 1900.  The reasons for banning the book were; the book had no intrinsic value, animals were given human qualities and could talk, it encouraged girl power, and the belief that witchcraft is bad so therefore there could not be any “Good” witches.


Coming soon…..Seriously.  Art doesn’t have to match the couch.

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Melissa Whitaker

Artist | Illustrator | Photographer Currently Looking for her lost shaker of salt. 🍈

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