Monday, December 06, 2010

Hear the beat of dancing feet. It’s the song I love the melody of, Forty-Second Street.

Although I will not be racing back there anytime soon – once bitten (by a bed-bug), twice shy -  I love New York.

Even though my first glimpse of The City was out of the smudged window of the Trailways bus from Worcester, heading down Amsterdam Avenue, it was love at first sight.

I don’t remember if I saw Times Square on that first visit. It’s not the sort of place that would have a drawn a couple of seventeen year old Catholic school girls.  We had our sites set on the sights: Statue of Liberty (we climbed up), Empire State Building (we elevated up), the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall (the movie was How To Succeed in Business)… We stayed with my friend Kathy’s aunt in Queens, and I found the subway to and from Long Island City into Manhattan especially exhilarating.  Sure, I’d been on the Boston T plenty of time, but this was so much faster, more crowded, smellier. Just plain old more interesting.  Kind of like New York City, overall.

But I do believe that we passed on Times Square.

Not so a decade later, when I started going to NYC more regularly.

In my twenties, I was in a kind of ‘try it even if you know you’re going to hate it’ mode when it came to some elements of raunch, so I actually did a couple of old-time Time Square things.

I went to a down at its heels bar (jazz bar in its heyday?), the Metropole, that had strippers dancing on the bar. These were hardly glamour girls, that’s for sure. In fact, they looked like what my friends and I would have looked like stripping, if we hadn’t gone to grad school instead.  I remember that you had to buy two beers each to sit at the bar. I believe the price was $5.50 for two beers, which was an exorbitant amount. And I believe the beers came mismatched: no two bottles alike. One bottle, as I recall, was Rheingold.

We stayed about five minutes.

I’d seen enough.

Ditto the peep show, although I doubt I lasted 5 minutes.  Five seconds would be more like it.

But I was in my twenties, and I wanted to see what stuff was like.

The Metropole and the peep show were pretty much as I imagined they would be: seedy, tawdry, scummy, nasty, depressing.

Which pretty much sums up the Times Square of that era (mid-late1970’s).

Everything I needed to know about Times Square could actually have been accomplished by watching Midnight Cowboy.

When my sister Trish was heading off to college in 1977, my boyfriend (now husband) and I decided that she needed to see New York City. And that meant a walkthrough of Times Square, on the way to dinner at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central.

Trish was being an independent eighteen year old, walking a half dozen feet in front of us, looking very cute in her black turtleneck and black hat.

She walked ahead of us until a pimp in a doorway yelled to her, “I thought I told you not to walk your honky ass on this side of the street.”

Needless to say, Trish bolted back our way and walked between us.

Ah, Times Square.

For the past 30 years, Times Square has been cleaned up and prettified.

No more Metropole; no more peep shows.

Now it’s fancy new office buildings, and chain hotels, chain restaurants, and chain stores. What a relief.  Now tourists from across these United States can spend time in the Big City, secure in the knowledge that they can eat at Applebee’s, and buy a stuffed Little Mermaid at the Disney Store.  Or – no guts, no glory – go into a non-national chain souvenir shop and buy a foam Statue of Liberty crown or an I-heart-NY tee-shirt.

Next month, with the opening of the 11 Times Square office tower open, marks the “official” end of the redevelopment of Times Square. (Source: NY Times.)

Needless to say, there are two pronounced camps on whether the redevelopment effort represents an improvement or not.

On the yay side:

Success is evident. Crime is down significantly from the days when pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts and dope pushers prowled Times Square and the Deuce, as that stretch of 42nd Street was known. The number of tourists is up 74 percent since 1993, to an estimated 36.5 million last year, and attendance at Broadway shows has soared to nearly 12 million.

That’s a pretty hefty “yay”.

The nay-sayers, of course, bemoan the plastic, Disney-fied, theme-park (them = consumer excess) that Times Square has become. They claim that they could be in Anytown, USA, that there is no longer anything inherently New York-y about Times Square.

I am no big fan of plastification, homogenization, Disneyfication, or any of the other “fications” that are blanding up the world.

I like things one-off, I like things local, and I don’t want the only choices in the world to be between TGIF and Outback, Holiday Inn and Courtyard by Marriott, Macy’s and Macy’s. Bor-ing.

Yet when the local and one-offs are peep shows, rent by the half-hour no-tell hotels with pimping, whoring, and drug-dealing habitués…

It’s not like we’re talking about the good old days of mom and pop candy stores, the third generation cobbler, or Milly’s Millinery. 

Besides, while any of the individual chain stores in Times Square could arguably be found anywhere else in the world, it’s the glorious agglomeration of all of them. Plus the traffic. Plus all the signage.

Sure, you can find plenty of crowd, glitz, and glimmer in Las Vegas.

But where else you going to find a statue of Fighting Father Duffy, chaplain of the glorious Fighting 69th?  All those honking yellow cabs.  All those Broadway shows.

Not to mention this Duane Reader billboard that my niece Molly snapped in Times Square during her recent visit to New York City. I’m quite sure my sister (Trish of honky ass fameBed bugs) wouldn’t have taken Molly to stroll around the Times Square of yore, but if you’re in The City, buzzing through Times Square is a fun thing to do, especially on a Friday or Saturday night during good weather.

I sure love New York.  Too bad about the bed bugs.



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