Man In A Suitcase

New York, New York

Like most native New Yorkers, whether resident or expat, I have a love/hate relationship with the city of my birth. In my case it might better be described as like/hate or maybe tolerate/hate. In any event, New York isn't a place I'd go out of my way to visit. But when work requires that I spend time there I do make an effort to make the most of it. And New York does have its compensations, from the theatre scene (which even the half-price ticket booth in Times Square can't make affordable, although it does help) to the widest range of eating experiences on the planet. Street vendors are just part of the scene, and are a damn sight more appealing than the death dogs of the typical convention center snack bar.

Walking around Manhattan is fascinating, exhausting and hazardous to your health and wellbeing all at the same time. Every block has something to attract the eye, from the vast array of merchandise in store windows to the incredible diversity of architecture. This isn't a place that prides itself on uniformity: skyscrapers share space with older, less shockingly modern structures, with small surprises tucked into the spaces in between. The exhaustion and danger come from the experience itself, as you dodge a combination of gawking tourists, experienced New Yorkers who don't stop for anything and the motor traffic that comes a poor second to those on foot. Only in New York do pedestrians challenge cars and taxis at every intersection. And only in New York do they win with such regularity. You can only imagine the effort required to take pictures in the middle of all this chaos.

Everything in mid-Manhattan has appeared on film or on television a thousand times, somehow looking a lot larger and far more impressive on screen than in fact. A case in point: the ice rink at Rockefeller Plaza, which in movies always looks like a place you could hold the Olympic trials or battle for the Stanley Cup. On the far left you can catch a glimpse of the set of the Today Show. If this were a couple of hours earlier there would be a small crowd of people watching Katie and Bryant doing their thing, which the camera crew would magically transform into a large crowd. On the right you can see a real crowd: people hoping for tickets to Letterman. They arrive many hours before the show is scheduled to begin. Tour buses come from far and wide to bring the crowds of Dave's fans to the show. Which makes me wonder: just how far do you have to go to locate someone who thinks Dave is funny?

Times Square is one of those places that doesn't look all that much better as you go higher. In fact, it looks even more crowded than at street level. (Most buildings don't make allowances for those of us who look down on them.) From the twenty-fifth floor you can't see the billboards and animated signs, which are such an interesting part of the landscape. Whereas at street level they're unavoidable. Like this little ad for the Microsoft Network. It makes you wish for stronger Truth In Advertising laws, the kind that would force Bill's ad to raise the proper finger to the public.

I'm glad that there are parts of New York that are just the way I remember them. Macy's still dominates an entire block in Herald Square, just as it did when my mom would take me there to buy Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys (only 95 cents in hardcover!), just as it did years earlier for Miracle On 34th Street. Sadly, Gimbels is long gone, its stately building a block away transformed into a chrome-and-glass shopping mall. (A shopping mall? In mid-Manhattan? What's the point?) And 42nd Street and Broadway, once famous and then infamous, is now nothing at all. The buildings are shuttered, waiting for Disney to work their magic and turn the area into something new, clean and inoffensive. I can hardly wait.

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 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California