The cabbie, with one hand pressed firmly on the horn and the other making exasperated gestures, crammed his way between a city bus and a gray Rolls Royce while keeping up a running Senegalese-accented and highly colorful dialogue with a colleague on the phone. Dirty snow from last week’s storm fought with piles of black garbage bags for space on the sidewalk. Sirens wailed, seemingly at random. Pedestrians jay-walked with impunity every few feet, tossing occasional glares at drivers who inched too close and completely ignoring the chirping sidewalk signals. Voices, engine noise, and the roar and clang of building construction echoed off canyon walls of concrete, stone, steel, and glass that rose impossibly high. Arctic winds funneled through those canyons, whipping at scarves and high-buttoned coats. Steam rose, as it always does, from vents in the street, while neon flashed and paraded in wanton glory.
It was, unmistakably, New York City.
In Grand Central Station, tourists craned their necks to take in the zodiac signs painted across the famous, cathedral-high green ceiling dotted with tiny electric stars, while a TV shoot wrapped and a hundred black-clad crew members packed up their gear. Business people in expensive suits brushed past homeless men shuffling through garbage cans, and young people spilled up the stairs from the subway, their flirting and laughter echoing against marble steps as they headed into the subterranean shopping court to pick up some soup or falafel or perhaps a new handbag.
It was, iconicly, New York City.
Patrons packed the lobby, escaping from the cold sidewalks and frenetic flashing lights outside, tucking hands tightly into coat pockets to warm them. Then the doors opened, and the 1920s-era theater filled with aficionados, newbies, locals, and those few tourists brave enough to stray from the Wicked ticket lines. The house was as painted and as costumed as its actors—all ornate style and passion, red and gold, velvet and plaster, beautifully adorning walls and ceilings saturated with decades of poetry, music, death, love, anger, intrigue, despair, insight, joy, and broken hearts. But those walls were ready to hold more, to expand just enough to welcome the creativity pulsing, nearly unbound, in that night’s performance.
It was, dramatically, New York City.
And I was there. For a few days only. For a conference. The Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators conference. Eleven hundred other creative souls and me, listening to keynote speakers discuss perseverance, opportunities, honing of craft, targeting of audiences, social media, voice, inspiration, pure dumb luck, big-dollar contracts, failure. And story. Always story. Thankfully story. Relentlessly story. Outside, New York City ignored all the stories but its own.