As I adjust to life as a recently-declared New Yorker, it's been my experience that one of the main requirements is a deeply-rooted hatred of Times Square (this, along with an aversion to slow walking, a working knowledge of the laughable subway system, and the assumption that you will be ripped off every time you open your wallet). Whether you have lived here your entire life or just a few years, you avoid that five-block stretch of Broadway and 7th avenue like the plague. You don't take your friends there, eat there, or shop there. It's a dead zone on the Manhattan map.
Unfortunately, it will be, without fail, the first place visiting friends and family will want to see. According to the Times Square Alliance, the official representative of Times Square, over 300,000 pedestrians pass through this tiny part of the city every day, and closer to 500,000 on busy days. So when my family decided to stroll (I cringe just using the word) through the Great White Way after seeing a production of Jersey Boys, on a Saturday night during Thanksgiving weekend, my opposition to the idea was not subtle. I believe my reasoning was that there would be too many people. My parents argued that firstly, we had nowhere to be, and secondly, I chose to live in the country's most populous city. Large crowds of people are something I should get used to. Defeated, I followed them into the fray.
The atmosphere, at first glance, was just as I had expected; hoards of slow-moving tourists crowding the sidewalks, giant video screens destroying the darkness, and competing with them, the flash of thousands of cameras (less expected was a man dressed in only a diaper and cheap rubber angry baby mask making crying noises at passersby, but it's all part of the "charm," right?). When my dad and younger brother paused to take a few selfies, I stopped and looked around, which I usually never do. If I ever had the misfortune of getting caught in this corner of the city, it was head down and earbuds in until I made it to the other side.
I'm not going to claim that time slowed down, a romantic jazz track started playing in the background, and I had some sort of epiphany. However, I will say, that like any New Yorker, I may have been too quick to judge.
What else is Times Square than a concentrated version of New York itself? It's all there; the blindly broadcasted capitalism, a swirling sea of humanity speaking a tangle of languages, the grit and the grime, the weird and the wonderful. Where else can you buy a five-pound bag of M&Ms, see an 11,000 pound crystal ball drop from the top of a building, and watch the morbid curiosity of children as beloved TV and movie characters lift off their heads to assure a tip after a photo. "Only in New York" is simply the expansion of "only in Times Square."
Yet, what I saw the most of was the people around me looking up. Up towards the blinding lights, the tops of the buildings, and the starless sky. Most of them were smiling.
I think it would be fair to assume that a significant proportion of New Yorkers would complain that those people weren't experiencing the real New York; that the absurdity of that little slice of Midtown isn't worth anyone's time to see.
Times Square has been called the "Center of the Universe." I don't know about that, but the center, or perhaps better put, the "Heart" of New York? Absolutely.
If you can't find some love for the heart of this city, as congested and riddled with absurdity as it may be, then why love it at all?