5 November 2015
Been to Times Square at night lately? A megawatt bleach of LED light has turned the ‘Great White Way’ into an operating theater. What was once a softer neon night has turned into the perpetual day of the Arctic Circle, only not a northern half-light, but a bright squinting light. And because of that illumination, we have a greater ‘getting to know you’ intimacy with our fellow citizens, more than any of us could ever have hoped for…an illuminated sea of bus-tour touts, handbag sellers, commuters pressing to get home and theater-goers, carried by a tide of tourists agawk at walls of digital billboards that makes the word ‘overkill’ seem bucolic.
And the crowds at 6:30 at night…ten abreast on sidewalks moving as slowly as if barefoot on a TSA security line at the airport. And more desperate than the walkers and gawkers, at the end of their patience, were cabs and cars jammed up by crowds crossing against the lights. In the city’s impresario’s spirit…if much is good, more is better…this human cavalcade was inflated by a pumpkin patch set in the midst of Broadway (it was two days before Halloween), where kids could frolic amongst the pumpkins set on hay on top of the asphalt with Parks Department folks in bib overalls lending a touch of farm authenticity.
Problem was, I had a small fortune invested in theater tickets to ‘Beautiful’ and we were two blocks from the theater with twenty minutes to show time. Molasses could run through an hourglass faster than the foot traffic to 43rd Street was moving, so it was going to be close. Fortunately, the southbound flow made a sudden left turn on 43rd Street, moving toward a group of costumed super heroes. It was just the break we needed. Once on 43rd Street the crowd fever broke and we ambled casually into the theater with five minutes to spare…calm as royalty… without a trace of fluster we felt just five minutes before.
The City is like a high-maintenance ‘love of your life’. It’s difficult, but the rewards are breathtaking. “Beautiful” was brilliant. Carol King’s songbook is already a part of the American songbook. And if you have any notion that America is faltering, as some suggest, flow with the tide to 43rd Street and have your spirit renewed.
Five nights later another foray into a different neighborhood of the City. And again, high-maintenance, it takes a little bit out of you to take advantage of it. This time a subway to 59th Street, change to a different line to Grand Street and a six-block walk to the Eldridge Street Synagogue, now a City Landmark, once in the heart of Jewish New York, but now a lone Jewish outpost in spreading Chinatown. Just the signage we couldn’t read a hundred years ago (Hebrew) has been replaced by signage we still can’t read (Chinese). The more things change… That night a group of three violinists and a dulcimerist(?) played klezmer in the sanctuary, joined after the concert by other klezmer musicians in the audience who “jammed” with them. But the show didn’t begin until everyone had a turn at the buffet table…no one should listen to a concert on an empty stomach.
There goes NYC again, winning our hearts, while giving us a bit of a hard time as well (a six block walk and two subways back).