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Aisle Seat: Have Reporter's Notebook, Will Travel

Updated: Feb 10

By Naomi Serviss / New York City


The author’s old-school reporter’s notebook
The author’s old-school reporter’s notebook

When I became


a Newsday family entertainment columnist


in the ’90s,


the world was my oyster.



As in Oyster Bay,


a cozy hamlet on Long Island,


lauded for oyster shucking and ingesting


(if you’re so inclined).


My Sunday column’s purpose


was to inform readers about


regional cultural, historical


and just plain, good old-fashioned


fun activities


for family and friends.


Bonus: My kids Emmy and Ben


were invited cohorts.


Not exactly as guinea pigs per se,


but their preteen perspectives


were duly noted and appreciated.


On second thought, maybe they were guinea pigs.



The Long Island Oyster Festival


was a joyous occasion for all, pre-pandemic.


Canceled in 2020 and 2021,


organizers hope to bring it back


in October 2022.


It’s a big deal.


More than 150,000 participants


traditionally hang out


for the live music, carnival rides


and the star attraction.


We scoured Long Island and Manhattan,


covering the sublime (Broadway!)


to the ho-hum


(an old time-y General Store).


It was a dream gig,


right up my proverbial alley.


As a suburban mom,


I was forever on the lookout


for kid-friendly


creative outlets


and teachable moments.



We learned some stats and fun facts.



The Isle of Long is


118 miles from east to west


and 22 miles at its widest.


The eastern end is divided


into two narrow peninsulas,


the North Fork in Orient Point


and Montauk


marking the far south end.


In the mix we discovered


a plethora of beaches,


from the Rockaways to Jones.


The long split, aka Fire Island,


is a national seashore,


treasured by generations of families


who appreciate its car-free lifestyle.


With Emmy and Ben in tow,


we soaked up the island’s


enticing and disarming sites.


We charged around


Teddy Roosevelt’s historic Sagamore Hill,


the summer home of the 26th president


and his flock of relations.


He had a big flock.


We learned that his Oyster Bay-area estate


Included 83 acres of nature trails,


woodlands, beaches,


a salt marsh and a chicken coop.


But wait, there’s more!


The house tour was fascinating,


in all its stuffy, musty glory.


Sagamore Hill’s library showcases Teddy Roosevelt’s affinity for shooting wild animals
Sagamore Hill’s library showcases Teddy Roosevelt’s affinity for shooting wild animals

We averted our eyes


from the animal head trophies


hanging spookily on the walls.


But learning about


Roosevelt’s prescient conservation efforts


made us feel better about


the dead animal head distractions.


The Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary


was the country’s first


National Audubon Society songbird sanctuary.


The 14-acre park protects goldfinches,


grackles, kingfishers and kingbirds.


Planting Fields Arboretum would make


a nature lover out of the most cynical.


It’s a sprawling, lush, 400-plus-acre


Gold Coast oasis for nature lovers.


Gold Coast as in The Great Gatsby.


The air smells expensive.


Tree tunnels (!) cozy cottages,


fountains and stately structures


impressed us all.


The arboretum played host


to myriad family events in the summer.


What’s not to love?


It’s listed on the


National Register of Historic Places,


meticulously landscaped and nourished


by groundskeepers and horticultural experts.


Two lush greenhouses overflow


with exotic and Crayola crayon-colored blossoms.


Hidden benches beckon and a visitor’s center


has an interactive exhibit


about the estate’s history.


We explored museums in


Nassau, Suffolk and New York counties,


counted our lucky stars


in planetariums and visited a taxidermist.


It wasn’t all light-hearted


reverie and galivanting around, though.


Like other parts of the country,


Long Island has a shameful enslavement past.


Poet Jupiter Hammon (1711-1806)
Poet Jupiter Hammon (1711-1806)

Jupiter Hammon,


the first published African-American poet,


was born into slavery


at Henry Lloyd’s estate


in über-wealthy Lloyd Neck.


He was granted access


to the manor’s library and


educated with the estate owner’s children.


The Lloyd family encouraged Hammon


to attend school, where he learned


To read and write.


He went on to work for Henry Lloyd


As a bookkeeper and negotiator


For the family’s business.


His first work was published in 1760


and he was considered a religious scribe.


While a slave,


Hammon preached to


other enslaved members of the Lloyd estate.


He became a member


of the African-American community


and in 1787,


Hammon delivered a speech


at the African Society of New York.


He was buried in an unmarked grave


on the Lloyd property.




On a more light-hearted note,


we checked out a Long Island game farm,

explored a guitar museum,


played at the Children’s Museum of New York


and ventured backstage


during the run of


Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast.

The kids were young enough


to believe my whopper


when we visited the world-famous toy museum:

FAO Schwarz.


Fun and games at FAO Schwarz
Fun and games at FAO Schwarz

No critics, please.


I didn’t always exaggerate,


only when it served a greater purpose.


My sanity.


Regardless, it was win-win.


Ben and Emmy made music


on the second-floor keyboard


from the movie Big.


I was able to luxuriate among


the over-the-top, futuristic playthings


and insanely priced stuffed animals.


They marveled at


the giant Teddy Ruxpin mechanical bears


taking up valuable real estate


inside the magical establishment.


The bears were all the rage in the ‘90s.

But to be honest, it was a creepy toy,


in a hauntingly sinister Twilight Zone way.


Meanwhile, Emmy caught my Broadway fever


and she got it bad.


She was already a creative, published writer,


and became an entertainment columnist


for ZuZu, an outstanding children’s newspaper.


It’s worth a Google.


But my all-time favorite outing


was to the annual New York-hosted Toy Fair,


where hundreds of toy representatives


hawk their wares to vendors strategizing


for the following year.


Broadway actors love Toy Fair


because they’re hired as


interactive superheroes.


A job’s a job.


They boldly strolled


the three floors decked out to the nines.


Latex and spandex bodysuits


and he-man duds turned the joint


into performance art.

They improvised and goofed around


among themselves and onlookers.


Rainbow-shiny bubbles


freestyled dreamily through the air.



Moods were buoyant.


Toy vendors gamely courted toy buyers.


Free samples and sweets at every booth.


It was a three-floor kids’ party


Shangri-la emporium


teeming with brand-name dolls,


stuffed animals, classic games


and industry stars.


Another year the original Bozo was afoot.


R.L. Stine signed his latest YA book.


Slinky aficionados, of which I am one,


were rewarded when the inventor’s family


showed up to celebrate


the toy’s 50th anniversary


on February 18, 1996.


The late Betty James, co-inventor of the Slinky  (along with her husband Richard), demonstrates the 50th anniversary model
The late Betty James, co-inventor of the Slinky (along with her husband Richard), demonstrates the 50th anniversary model

They were funny, warm


and not afraid to look silly.


After all, playing with a Slinky


is supposed to look silly.


They gifted me with an autographed Slinky Dog


and posed for photos.


Exploring and writing about


Long Island’s unsung treasures


was a dream gig.


The world was indeed our oyster


And each outing was a pearl of a day.


 






Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com

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