Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

MJ Hanley-Goff

NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill: A Real NYPD Blue Blood


Arriving at Police Plaza, NY 

One Police Plaza sits to the north side of the off ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s hidden in the shadows of a cluster of buildings: the mighty Municipal Building at One Centre Street, St. Andrews Church, a high school, and the bridge towers. It’s tricky finding the exact point of entry with my GPS telling me to go left, but the street sign reads “no entry” and is barricaded with cement blocks. With just a few minutes to spare, I get to my parking spot, and begin the journey through the security checkpoints; my bag is scanned, photo is taken, driver’s license checked, and I’m questioned at each stop.“I’m here to meet with the Police Commissioner…I have an appointment.” I‘m getting used to the questioning looks from the guards, but after a phone call upstairs each time, I’m given passage.  This was pretty cool.

Addressing/thanking police officers at the 1st Precinct station house in Lower Manhattan in the days after a terrorist drove a rental truck along a West Side bicycle path, killing eight and injuring a dozen others.

Having finally reached the lobby of Police Headquarters, the officer at the desk waves me in and greets me by name. A member of the Commissioner’s security detail is already standing by, ready to escort me up the elevator, to his office. Given that this building is probably on the list of U.S. targets by some bad people, I get it — I’ve never felt safer in my life.

Exiting the elevator, I’m led down a hallway, and into a “fish bowl” of an office, surrounded by floor to ceiling windows. I join the NYPD press photographer as the Commissioner arrives and greets staff members on his way to our 11 a.m. meeting. He’s a commanding figure in his blue suit, no more department uniform as I will hear about later. Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill enters with a neighborly, “MJ, how are you doing?” We lived on the same block in Orange County, watched our kids grow up and shared community barbecues. As a journalist, how could I not request an interview? However, I went through proper channels, and after a few weeks of back and forth emails with his staff, I was given 30 minutes with the man who has one of the most challenging jobs in the country, let alone the world.

Visiting a public school in the Bronx and chatting with kids and Police Athletic League members on the basketball court.

We exit the fish bowl, walk into his office. O’Neill then excuses himself for a few minutes, affording me the opportunity to take in the room’s grandeur and history: the position of Police Commissioner and many of the artifacts here have been around since 1901, when the first commissioner was appointed by Theodore Roosevelt, then Governor of New York. On each wall, there are shelves with pictures, memorabilia, medals, autographs, and O’Neill’s own extensive collection of challenge coins – medallions from all branches of the military and sports organizations created as proof of membership and handed out as souvenirs. There’s a Teddy Roosevelt presence in portraits on the wall, and in fact, as O’Neill says, “that’s Teddy’s desk over there,” pointing to the well-kept brown desk across the room.

Testifying at a City Council Budget Hearing

About the Present Police Commissioner

On the force for almost 35 years, it was surprising to hear that O’Neill was no longer a police officer. “This is a civilian position,” he explains, one appointed by the Mayor. When asked if there was a “term limit,” the answer is: “I serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.” He’s quick to add that of all the questions he’s asked, the most common is this: “How is it working with the Mayor…it must be difficult.” Not so, O’Neill says, “The Mayor and I get along very well…he cares very deeply for the safety of the city…and he’s a real supporter of the NYPD.”

I asked about what inspired O’Neill to become a cop, where there any heroes while growing up in Brooklyn? Without skipping a beat, he says, “My Uncle Bill…who unfortunately died last year.” His Uncle was on the force, and once retired, taught criminal justice for many years. “He was my hero…. such a great guy. When I joined the force, many of my colleagues had had him as their teacher.”

Meeting with Cops on the Street about to be Deployed at a Manhattan Detail.

About the Job

While there’s no such thing as a typical day, O’Neill starts out at 5 a.m. for a daily morning workout, a brief window of time for himself. “After all,” he says, “I’m getting in around 9:30 – 10 p.m., and most nights I’m at an event for a line of duty family, a retirement, or a speaking engagement with a business or community organization.” He’s not a “drop in and go” kind of guy, preferring to use these events to “get to know the officers, their families, and see people from all the five boroughs.”

One event, held this past January, was particularly memorable. O’Neill joined the Mayor to dedicate a plaque to the late Detective Steven McDonald, shot and left paralyzed by a teenage gunman; his story made the front page with every improvement in his recovery. Det. McDonald returned to the force in a wheelchair and on a ventilator, and spent his remaining years calling for peace and forgiveness. “I was a police officer in the Transit Police Department (now defunct) at the time of the shooting but didn’t get to meet him until he was in the wheelchair. Since then, I got to know the family, Patti Ann and Conor – who’s a member of the NYPD, too. I visited Steven in his final days and spoke at his funeral at St. Patrick’s.”

Addressing the Room at the Det. Steven McDonald Plaque Dedication at the Central Park Precinct.

About the Drop in Crime

I came prepared to ask about the city’s impressive drop in the crime rate, with the cases of murders, robberies and assaults down since he took over. “It’s a combination of an additional 3,000 cops added during Mayor David Dinkins term, and the initiation of CompStat during the 1990’s when Bratton was police commissioner.” (CompStat is a system that tracks smaller crimes, and the neighborhoods where crimes are clustered.) Plus, there’s O’Neill’s own contribution from his days as CO: neighborhood policing philosophy, which has greatly improved interactions between the police and the community. However, the department is always looking to improve on how it does its job and is testing out a pilot project which uses algorithms to predict where and when crimes may occur. Its potential is still being examined. “We have all the technological equipment that’s out there,” he explains, “but we still need the human element to track and interpret it.”

  Shaking hands with Police Officers on New Year’s Eve in Times Square.

Of the “see something, say something” initiatives, O’Neill says it’s been successful, and wants to make sure that everyone continues keeping an eye out. “We want people to feel comfortable about calling,” he says, “no matter what it is… if they feel uneasy about something, we want to know about it.”

About New Recruits

The department, O’Neill says, is never at a loss for new recruits, although there’s greater emphasis placed on those with good people skills, which fits right in with O’Neill’s neighborhood policing approach. “With all the many cultures in the city, we want to have the officers out in the neighborhoods, aware of the diversity of the city’s population and most of all, building trust.” Since this story is for Woman Around Town, O’Neill had the numbers ready on the percentages of females on the job. Of the 36,000 NYPD officers of various ranks, 17.9% are women; of the more than 18,000 civilian employees, 68.1% are women. And, the total number of females (uniformed and civilian-combined) is about 19,000. The EEO department holds yearly workshops on harassment in the work place, and there’s a lengthy NYC policy and manual available for employees.

Addressing Two Recent, and Separate, Promotion Ceremonies at One Police Plaza

About Tom Selleck and Blue Bloods

No interview with the current NYPD Police Commissioner would be complete without a question about the top-rated TV cop show, Blue Bloods with Tom Selleck in the title role. What does he think of it? “I’ve been on the set twice and met the cast. I think they do a good job, although I told Tom he should lighten up a bit,” he says with a smile. O’Neill shares that he was on a panel a few years back with representatives from TV police shows, and while he did not single out any one show, the message he brought was that the shows, in general, give unrealistic expectations about crime-solving. “Our stories aren’t always neatly wrapped up in an episode,” he explains.


Before we concluded the interview, O’Neill gave me a tour of the office, pointing out some of the highlights from his career. He’s been collecting challenge coins for some time and must have hundreds displayed in his front office, and more in a back office/mini gym. There’s so many, but the one that jumps out at me is the one from the New York Mets. A hockey fanatic, there are framed jerseys on the wall next to an aerial shot of him walking along the large cable that towers high above the Brooklyn Bridge. A feat he did two times, and although not a fan of heights, he was told that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The perks of the job.

Working in his office, sitting at a desk once used by Theodore Roosevelt. (K9 Tori, a counterterrorism “vapor wake” dog, is seated on the floor next to the commissioner.)

Another side of the job is captured in a framed photo taken by an Associated Press photographer and featured on the front page of The New York Times, dated September 17, 2016. The date is significant for two reasons: it was the Police Commissioner’s first day on the job, and also the day Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood was rocked with a bombing that injured 31 people and blew out store front windows. Just the afternoon before, O’Neill had been sworn in. 

Asked if he’s learned anything new about the people of the city of New York over the past year, he takes a few seconds to consider his answer. “As I go about the city, talking to people, I hear that we all want the same thing: to be able to work, come home, and live in peace.” When asked if he knew what he wanted his legacy to be, he shrugs and says he doesn’t believe in them, and then he pauses. He does have an answer. “That during my time, the department moved forward.”

All photos courtesy of the NYPD.

Top photo: Holding up Austin Tuozzolo, son of murdered Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo, at a NY Rangers outdoor hockey practice in Central Park

Suzzy Roche and Daughter, Lucy, Keep the Folk Scene Alive on Bleeker Street


Suzzy Roche returned to Bleeker Street with her daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche on February 17 for one show at The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture, hosted by WFUV’s DJ Dennis Elsas. The duo collaborated on a new album called Mud and Apples, and are touring the country together. It was great to hear the luscious harmonies and quirky lyrics that made the original Roches: Maggie, Terre, and of course, Suzzy, so beloved by their, sometimes modest, but always extremely loyal, fan base. Between songs from their new CD release, mother and daughter shared stories from their lives, tried to explain their complicated family tree, and announced that new family members had been born. They also shared for those who didn’t know, that sister, Maggie passed in January 2017, and their 96-year-old mother, Jude, died four months later.    

But, despite mentions of loss, there was some hilarious banter between the performers. Lucy recounted conversations with her nieces and nephews as she put them to bed and their smarmy responses. During one conversation, Lucy asked her nephew what their next album should be called, and his answer was “mud and apples,” which, we were informed, was eventually used. They joined Elsas in a conversation about the folk scene when the Roches were first starting out. Suzzy shared that she and her sisters would go from nightclub to nightclub, playing until 5 a.m. in the mornings. “I never knew why we always played until 5 a.m.,” she wondered aloud, and then shrugged. Both volunteered that they haven’t strayed too far from the No/Ho East Village neighborhood as they live just blocks away.     

During the Q & A session after intermission, Elsas read questions from the audience. One asked about what life was like on the road. Lucy responded drolly that life on the road with her mother meant that they were less than three to four feet apart at all times whether on stage, in the car, or in side by side bathroom stalls; Suzzy beamed and added that for her, it was the excitement of driving off to their next show, leaving early in the morning, and watching the sun rise. One other question concerned Lucy’s desire to enter the music field after getting her Master’s Degree and teaching in Manhattan. She said that originally she wanted nothing to do with music, but years away from the business proved her wrong. “I missed it,” she said.  They also had some interesting stories about their “house concerts” — intimate musical gatherings held wherever they‘re invited to play. One rainy night, they drove all the way out to the tip of Long Island only to find out they were one day early; Lucy said that these events have been successful so far, stating “We haven’t been axe-murdered yet.” 

Among their folk selections included songs from their latest CD – a protest song recalling a “facebook fight” Lucy was having; an acoustic version of the Beatles’ For No One, and two Paul Simon songs: American Tune and Bleeker Street. Suzzy sat at the piano for two songs, although announcing as she began, “I don’t play.” But, evidently, that’s not the case, as she bravely performed a lovely rendition of sister Maggie’s composition, A Prayer from their Zero Church CD.    

The hall, located on the famed Bleeker Street, is officially known as The Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Center for Thought & Culture, and is a new arts organization specializing in theatre, music, film, and talks. It features a 270-seat main theatre, a 90-seat more intimate theatre, four rehearsal studios, and an art gallery.   

Top Photo: Suzzy Roche and daughter Lucy at the Sheen Center
Photo Credit: courtesy of the Sheen Center

Upcoming events include:
Tom Paxton & The DonJuans, (February 23)
Civility in America: Part 2- The Media, with Chris Matthews & Larry Kudlow (May 2); and
Little Rock, a documentary play of the nine brave students during the civil rights movement in the late 1950’s (May 30 – August 5)


How Hot Is Iceland?


The best thing in my suitcase as I arrived in Iceland was the stretchy cleats that attached to the bottom of my boots. Even though temperatures this past week in a country far out in the North Atlantic were in the 30’s, the nights are colder, precipitation came and went, hence lots of icy spots. If there is one thing you don’t want to do on vacation is slip and tumble, not so much to avoid breaking a bone, but you don’t want to ruin a vacation to one of the trendiest places on the planet right now.  When I say, “how hot is Iceland?” I’m not referring to global warming, but to Iceland’s crazy popularity right now with discounts all over the internet. It’s a mere five hours from New York, three from England, so very easy to get to from points east and west. My daughter and I took advantage of a Groupon discount, and just returned from the country that is roughly the same size as Kentucky, with a population of around 330,000, equal to some of our smaller U.S. cities.

View of Reykjavik from the tower at Hallgrimskikja, the Lutheran Cathedral, and at 74.5 meters high, one of the tallest structures in Iceland.

The intent was to check off another item on our bucket lists: the elusive Northern Lights.  Surely, I thought, we’d see them one night during our three-day stay. However, clouds ruled the skies, with on and off light rain, sleet, hail and snow, with patches of clearing. Did that stop us from enjoying this unique and magical country at a time of year with the least amount of daylight? Six hours. Not in the least. Since tourism and fishing are its two biggest income producers, it was the number of travelers arriving on its shores during the 2008 crash that kept the island on its feet.

Reykjavik, its capital city, is where most of the tourists are heading. It’s also a quick ride from the airport with a very organized and timely bus transit system. We opted for two of the most popular day trips: The Blue Lagoon Spa, and The Golden Circle Tour of Thingvellir, a world heritage site; the Gullfoss waterfall; and two geysers: Strokkur and Geysir, which included distant snow-covered mountain vistas that were truly picturesque.

There is a great sense of humor in the city, and the Big Lebowski Bar, that pays homage to the cult classic. 

Words sometimes fail when trying to describe experiences that are, frankly, out of this world. The Blue Lagoon Spa is one of those times. After a 45-minute bus ride, we arrived for a 5 p.m. entry (times are staggered for crowd control), and in the dark with pelting sleet hitting our faces, we headed towards the warm and dry entrance. Inside, we were given a plush robe, towel, slippers and wrist band with multiple purposes: to click shut the locker, and to make purchases – smart. We showered, pulled on bathing suits, and followed the line through the door, and out into the wintry night, slowing sinking into soothing 100-degree blue mineral waters.  The pool, at its deepest, couldn’t have been more than three to four feet, so very comfortable for swimmers and non-swimmers alike; little ones are allowed, and we saw a few wearing life vests. The lagoon is a mix of freshwater and seawater sent up from 2,000 meters below the surface via a geothermal power plant and along the way the waters pick up silica and minerals. However, for those not into earth science, just know that this is the most heavenly experience one can have on earth.

We stayed in the comforting waters for a good hour, sipping Icelandic drinks, and letting the complimentary mud facial mask do its work. Hesitant to leave, we knew we’d gotten pruney enough, and had worked up an appetite.  So, it was back to the locker rooms, and back to reality while blow-drying our hair.  While there is an on-site restaurant and snack bar, we choose to pace our expenses by getting dinner back in Reykjavik.

Northern Lights Exhibition – The Northern Lights Center

Prices for eating out are on par with fine Manhattan restaurants as many supplies need to be imported, but all of our meals were four stars.  All sorts of fish are available, like tusk and char, with other local favorites like whale meat and ram’s testicles (you heard me right.) While my daughter went for everything fish-related, I went for burgers and pasta, and was never disappointed with price, taste or presentation. Every restaurant is unique, and there’s an old-world charm and graciousness, with every meal.

Each day we eagerly awaited word about that evening’s Northern Lights bus tour, and each day we were disappointed that it had to cancelled due to clouds, and impassable roads. (Note: to avoid this, you may wish to take a boat excursion to the Northern Lights, or with a private guide so that more options of destinations are possible.) To save the day, the Northern Lights Center, about a five-minute walk from our Center Plaza hotel, offered a permanent exhibition on the lights as well as a seven-meter-wide screen showing a 25-minute film loop of the lights. We learned how the lights form, and why they show up at earth’s north and south poles, and the myths and legends that sprang up over the centuries. At a very reasonable $16 per person, it was a very enjoyable alternative since viewing the real thing was not going to happen.

Even Iceland’s city streets can’t escape artful graffiti. 

Speaking of myths, a story about Iceland would not be complete without a mention of the hidden people, elf-like creatures that have been dwelling in the mountains since time began.   The story goes that Adam and Eve were hiding their unwashed children from God, and so God said something like, “if man hides something from God, God will hide something from man.” If you think it’s just myth, there is a story on Iceland’s news blog about how just recently, the hidden people, in protest of a drilling project, caused mishap after mishap for the crew. A representative from the company mediated with the people, forged a peace, and the drilling resumed without any further delays. (If you think I am kidding, check out the link below.)

With our trip ending, my daughter and I were already making a list of what we would do on our next Icelandic visit.  For such a little country, there’s great big charm, beauty, and experiences left to explore.

Construction disrupted by elves or hidden people in Iceland

Disney, Entertaining Families with Animal Conservation Messages


“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” – in a presentation to the United Nations by Baba Dioum, internationally renowned environmentalist from Senegal

The jeep pitched and swayed along the bumpy road, passed lush landscapes, immense boulders, watering holes, and open green fields. Elephants took slow labored steps, giraffes nudged each other, flamingos posed in low lying water; crocodiles, cheetahs, and lionesses lazed in the sun. It was a picture perfect day for a safari, and this 22 minute jeep ride didn’t disappoint. In less than a half hour, the 16 of us lucky riders viewed the most majestic animals that walk the planet. This time, though, they were the ones roaming free, and we – the humans – were contained, and spoke in hushed awestruck tones, in deference to them. This is Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and it is awesome.

Animals have always figured in Disney projects — why even its first venture featured a mouse! — so it’s no surprise that this park celebrates founder Walt Disney’s love and respect for all creatures. Advertised as “a world beyond belief,” and “celebrating all living things,” Animal Kingdom opened its doors on Earth Day, twenty years ago. The design behind the park began seven years prior as the creative Disney team searched for a theme to entertain and provide adventure, all with a conservation message. And rather than a traditional zoo, they wanted to provide a sanctuary for their inhabitants. The African and Asia landscape and the endangered species from those lands gave them the ideal combination. Of course, the success and crazy popularity of Disney’s The Lion King, both the Broadway show and classic movie, provided that extra boost of encouragement. At a live performance during our park visit, Pumba and Timone appeared along with some very large African animal puppets singing and dancing and carrying on for an immense and enthusiastic audience.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge, adjacent to the park, joins Disney’s roster of hotel accommodations that come with their own unique experiences. Continuing its African theme, visitors can choose the Jambo House (jambo is swahili for “hello”) with its opulent royal decor, or the more low-key Kidani Village.The day’s schedule includes African-inspired meals, drum ceremonies, and kids’ activities; there’s a watering hole by the pool, and the Hakuna Matata playground. You get the picture. Set in a horseshoe curve, the buildings overlook four savannahs — immense tropical fields – giving the animals plenty of room to graze and do what they do with protective fencing preventing guests from entering the area.


There’s a Wildlife Spotting Guide pamphlet describing the animals along with their particular characteristics. Representatives of 30 species roam the savannahs, and can be safely viewed from guest rooms and overlooks. Zebras, giraffes, hogs, vultures, wildebeest, pelican, impalas, flamingo, storks name just a few, and if you want to know more, Disney staffers are on hand to help. In a personal tour by a Disney Concierge staffer, we learned that the park is a licensed zoo, and has the zoo keeper accreditation which means that staffers go above and beyond to maintain the animals’ health and welfare, and educate the public. In a recent blog entry by the park’s Director of Animal Science Operations, Scott Terrell, we read the following: “Back in August, we were thrilled to share the news about the birth of two endangered Sumatran tiger cubs – the first tigers to be born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom… Disney is supporting the efforts of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and their partners to reverse the decline of Sumatran tigers by conducting a tiger population survey in Indonesia and taking steps to increase the wild population of Sumatran tigers by 25 percent in the next decade.” 

As our day at Animal Kingdom and the Kidani Village was drawing to close, we jumped on one last ride: the Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, a zooming roller coaster that flies inside Mount Everest, and drops 80 feet, in our chase to view another creature: the evasive, Yeti, based more on myth than on fact. But maybe it is real….when Disney is involved, one never knows.

Tours to Africa are “booming,” according to a recent Forbes online story, with travelers looking for the real Africa experience: safaris (but with luxurious amenities), getting close to rare animals, its culture and history, and for a real “getaway.” Disney has embraced this concept like only Disney can, providing an exotic vacation for those unable to take extended time off, or who don’t have the budget that the real McCoy requires.

Other cultural activities include:

The Na’vi River Journey, family boat ride through the rainforest.

The Maharajah Jungle, self-guided walking tour of Southeast Asia.

Nocturnal Encounters, explore the wilds of the Harambe Wildlife Preserve after sundown.


Like all Disney parks, one needs more than one day to enjoy the gazillion other activities, rides, shows, and exhibits, so consider their discounted multi-day ticket packages. For more information go to the website for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

For tips on gaining access to park activities faster, without the long wait – a MUST to get the most out of your Disney day – go to the website for Disney fast pass.

Photo credits:  MJ Hanley-Goff.

Christmas Is Now Official in New York – Darlene Love Sings at BB Kings 


“And now, I’m going to do David Letterman’s favorite Christmas song,” Darlene Love announced at her holiday show at BB King’s this past weekend, and went into a fiery Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) to the delight of the SRO crowd.  When Love performs in NYC, she knows two things: that her tour is winding down and that it’s Christmas time. “Next month, I can take a vacation,” she says before soaring into another number. Love is performing three shows this weekend at the Times Square club (and one in January) sharing her memories about Phil Spector, the Rolling Stones, Elvis, and Bruce.  

Love’s story is featured in the award-winning film, 20 Feet From Stardom which chronicles the lives of rock and roll’s early backup singers. After joining the Blossoms, she backed up Sam Moore and Bobby Darin, and one story goes that as part of the Blossoms, she sang backup on a record but when it was released, all credit went to another Spector group, The Crystals. She watched as He’s a Rebel topped the charts. It was Spector who changed Darlene Wright to Darlene Love, and who gave others credit for songs she sang, but although life has been full of ups and downs, she’s immensely grateful because of those songs which fans still want to hear. At one point in the show, after concluding one of her classic numbers, the crowd jumped to its feet, and Love stood with head and eyes gazing upwards, arms outstretched, as if giving thanks.    

As rock and roll changed, and her backup singing career floundered, she was out of work, and cleaning homes in LA.  It was during a cleaning job that her Christmas song came on the radio — the one she now sings on Letterman’s show and has since the late 1980’s – that she realized she was born to sing and that her songs still entertain. She borrowed money from friends, and resurrected her career, catching the attention of Bruce Springsteen who invited her to join him on stage at his concerts.  And tonight, how fitting was it that after introducing her own backup singers, Love left the stage to give them the spotlight.  

Included in her set, Love sang White Christmas, Joy to the World, It’s A Marshmallow World, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and shared stories of running the talk show circuit this week with appearances on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, The View, and Good Day New York.  In 2011, as Bette Midler inducted Love into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Midler said, “to one of the greatest voices in the history of rock and roll…Listening to those songs, you had to move, you had to dance.”  And then added that it’s not Christmas until she “wails” Christmas, (Baby Please Come Home).

It’s now Christmas.  Thank you, Darlene.

Photos: MJ Hanley-Goff

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show Delights Young and Old


The most successful children’s puppet show in New York history continues to delight children and their parents at the DR2 Theatre on East 15th Street and Park Avenue South.  It’s no wonder that it’s such a winner since it’s based on one of the most beloved children’s series of books of all time by writer Eric Carle. The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show is perfectly paced and gently performed, with brilliantly colored puppets and a talented quartet of young puppeteers.   

We say perfectly paced and gently performed because four of Carle’s stories are recited calmly and slowly, as if being read before bedtime. Hand gestures, animal voices, lighting techniques, and backdrops accentuate the stories about the Big Brown Bear with friends, the 10 Little Rubber Ducks lost at sea, the Very Lonely Firefly mistaking various night lights as family members, and the big finale: The Very Hungry Caterpillar himself munching through an eclectic mixture of food.

The puppets have been cleverly designed and move like the real things. The Big Brown Bear appears first, climbing slowly, lifelike, up four steps to the stage with the two handlers moving the puppet carefully and with precision. Even the oldest amongst us will be enthralled at the puppetry. The youngsters in the audience are mesmerized, they clap and laugh as new puppets take the stage. A few in the audience even brought their own copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar book, which debuted in 1969 and became an instant classic, selling 43 million copies worldwide. Once the caterpillar chomps its way through a selection of fruit, a pickle, a slice of pizza, ice cream, and the like, it curls up in its cocoon to emerge as a stunning butterfly.  

When Carle was asked why he choose the word “cocoon” over the more scientifically correct, “chrysalis,” he responded with a story from his youth.  “My caterpillar is very unusual. As you know caterpillars don’t eat lollipops and ice cream, so you won’t find my caterpillar in any field guides. But also, when I was a small boy, my father would say, ‘Eric, come out of your cocoon.’ He meant I should open up and be receptive to the world around me. For me, it would not sound right to say, ‘Come out of your chrysalis.’ And so poetry won over science!”

At about an hour long, the timing is just right for the pre-schooler set (though it’s advertised from ages three months up to 96), and at show’s end, the puppets make an appearance for photo ops and big waves from the crowd. Before the show begins, instructions are few: “stay in your seats, laugh and make noise as much as you want, and tell your grown up to put their cell phone away or they’ll get a time out.” If the child wants to linger in the lobby afterwards, there’s a souvenir table, and coloring station with artwork that’s not taken home tacked up on the walls. 

The Very Hungry Caterpillar opened in New York in February 2016 and has been performed in Australia, New Zealand, London, with a limited run in Dubai. It’s been winning award after award including a Drama Desk Award, and Best International Performance (2017), with nominations for Best Family Show (2016), and Unique Theatrical Experience (2016).  

Once the show is done, especially after hearing all the foods the caterpillar has gnawed through, you may find yourself very hungry, too. 

For tickets: The Hungry Caterpillar Show

Photos by Russ Rowland 

The Ride’s Downtown Experience Is Virtually the Best NYC Tourist Attraction


It’s a bus ride, it’s 3-D history, it’s moveable theatre. The Ride is opening up the door to a new world of tourism and historical entertainment, and it’s doing it right.


You may have seen The Ride taking on passengers at its Times Square departure corner. It’s a big bus, seemingly windowless and inside, there’s a lot of good fun going on with trivia, songs, waving at passersby, and silliness. Now, The Ride has gone downtown for a virtual glimpse into the beginnings of our favorite Island, purchased for nearly nothing by the Dutch from the Manhatto Indians.

Rory is our hostess for the tour, a bubbly performer who greets us on the corner of Water and Fulton Streets, and escorts us to the bus.  Inside, on comfy seats, we’re told that a unique adventure awaits. Not your typical tour, but 516 years of history waiting to be shared.  We learn that there was no secret code in how streets were named, like Wall Street, so named because of the WALL that was there at the time; Water Street, so named because there was WATER over there.  The Flatiron section was called that because the streets were FLAT, and the corners came together like an IRON. Too funny.

The amount of some very cool information about SoHo, Tribeca, Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Holland Tunnel, how the island’s borders were altered six times over its history, and oh and why Battery City is so named. Now, that alone makes for a very engaging and entertaining 90 minutes. But, no, there’s more.

Rory Lipede says we aren’t just going to hear the stories, and see the sights, we are going to EXPERIENCE it. “Put these on,” she says, and a helper hands out virtual reality glasses. From this moment on, the bar for historical tours has just been raised. The glasses fit via Velcro straps, and yes, if you wear glasses, you can keep them on. We watched a variety of 3D, totally immersive videos, with 360 degrees of action going on around us..sort of.  We were right there on the boat when it entered New York Harbor after a month’s voyage, we were right there when George Washington entered Federal Hall to take the first presidential oath, we witnessed what happened to one executive when the Stock Market crashed in 1929, we flew up to the top of the Freedom Tower by helicopter and saw four states from its grand view. Wait, was this just a 90 minute ride?

There’s no way I can recount all we learned, all the “oohs” and “ahhs,” and rightly so. One must experience this ride in person, with your visiting family and friends, or on your own. Everyone is family once you’re on the ride. A good deal of credit has to go to our hostess who was filled with history, not just dates and facts, but heartfelt stories. (Ask her about the Brooklyn Bridge. Let’s hear it for Elizabeth Roebling! Enough said.)

And, if there is one moral to this whole story, it is that we ARE all immigrants, we’re ALL members of this great country, and more bonds us than divides us.

This was not just a bus ride.

The Downtown Experience is a brand new historic adventure of Downtown Manhattan, enhanced with the magic of TimeLooper virtual reality. It’s the first sightseeing tour to have a fully integrated virtual reality experience that allows guests to witness full- scale, 360 degree reenactments of some of NYC’s iconic moments as if you’ve traveled back in time. For information, tickets, and dates, visit the website.  

Book Expo 2017: The Javits Center Hosts the World’s Book Industry


The 2017 Book Expo’s big celebrity appearance was not your traditional top-selling book writer, but none other than former first lady, former presidential candidate, and now full-time grandmother, Hillary Clinton.  Of course there was a book to promote – two, in fact.  Her experiences from the recent campaign combined with her advice and encouragement for the country, and a children’s book based on her 1996 bestseller, It Takes a Village.  She sat with another equally bestselling author, Cheryl Strayed (Wild) who, as moderator, asked Clinton about how she dealt with the blow of receiving 65 million votes yet, lost the election, and the direction the country is taking. Clinton remarked that her post-election days were filled with long walks and Chardonnay, and then shared her real fears for America due to the policies being put into place, “that may do irreparable damage, and that will test our Constitution.”  She encouraged the SRO auditorium crowd to stay involved.  The one-hour event was a “feel good” experience, and an opportunity for her supporters to stand and applaud the first US woman presidential candidate.  It ended with Strayed inviting Clinton to hike the Pacific Coast trail with her, to which Clinton seemed to genuinely accept.

Mary Higgins Clark

But, back to the Expo. Every year, usually in Manhattan, most everyone in the publishing industry attends this three-day book festival to promote new books, new publishers, new writers, or new gadgets. It’s librarian “heaven,” as representatives are feted big time with their own comfy rest area, special events, and discounted prices for bulk orders. Lines are the norm as popular book giants like John Grisham, Scott Turow, Mary Higgins Clark, and Lemony Snicket signed copies of their latest, or in the case of astronaut Scott Kelly, a picture souvenir in anticipation of his upcoming memoir.

Neil Patrick Harris

Since the mid-2000s, there has been less and less exhibitors each year, and the poor new exhibitors are always relegated to the Siberia of the immense Javits’ main floor.  The printed material handed out to inform press and attendees is not as helpful as it used to be when short blurbs of the books being given away were included.  If anything, the Book Expo’s event booklet has the opportunity to show the need for printed material.  For instance, at any one time, there may be 50 books being handed out either at autograph tables, or specific exhibitor booths.  How does one decide which book to get?  If you’re a librarian making purchases for the YA market, you’re out of luck, unless you physically go to the booth to see the book.  The frenzy of the event makes the app, which involves four “click-ons” to get to the book blurb, frustrating and annoying.   (Plus, though there are charging stations, most of us would want to save precious cell phone battery for picture-taking, and keeping up with colleagues rather than sit for half an hour while the phone recharges.)

Maria Shriver

However, I’m not here to bash this wonderful, much looked-forward-to event.  Other highlights of the annual event include the quest for the hottest tote bags, like Capstone’s “I love reading” heavy duty bag, and the McGraw-Hill’s blood red bag, zippered and super-sized.  Once a good collection of bags are dangling from our shoulders, the quest begins for books and more books autographed by the author, where possible.  Some require tickets, like Neil Patrick Harris’ The Magic Misfits, Mary Higgins Clark’s new release All By Myself, Alone, and Nelson DeMille’s The Cuban Affair.  The one surprise was Maria Shriver’s Color Your Mind: A Coloring Book for those with Alzheimer’s and getting thisclose to a Kennedy relativeBesides the books, there are lectures and panels throughout the day on subjects ranging from “how to build your author platform,” to the Monks of New Skete (with doggies in tow) who spoke about their successful dog-training tips and stories, all featured in their collection of books and training videos.   Ed Asner appeared with Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss their new politically-slanted books; Alan Alda and James Patterson appeared at the Audio Publishers Association tea geared to librarians.

BookCon 2017, a similar event specifically for the public happens the two days immediately following the Expo, and was only introduced in recent years.  Something is telling me that both events will eventually morph into one to cut costs and allow exhibitors to get more bang for the pricey exhibitor bucks.  However, one thing is clear, we are reading and writing more than ever, we’re still all very excited about books.  And, at the end of the day, for those that love them, that’s the best news ever.

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