In some article I was reading awhile back, the author talks about what it can be like to be a tourist in NYC. He says that with other cities one travels to, it’s easy to experience the old aphorism that it’s “a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”, or in the best case scenario it’s a place you would want to live. New York is quite the reverse. New York is an absolutely miserable place to be a tourist. When I met people in college or after who said that they “hated New York” I couldn’t believe or understand it. How? Why? Then I spent some time in Times Square.
It’s one thing if you come to town and stay with friends; that’s a totally different sort of experience. But if you are a tourist coming to NYC, chances are you are interested in seeing the following things:
1. Times Square
2. The Empire State Building
3. “Broadway” (where the theaters are, not the wide main street)
4. Statue of Liberty
5. MOMA and the Met
Chances also are that you will be fooled into booking a hotel “centrally located” in midtown close to the Empire State Building, Times Square, the Chrysler Building and Broadway. The moment you click “yes” for those hotwire.com reservations, you have put the nail in the coffin of your NYC vacation.
This weekend I went to a wedding at the glorious, gorgeous, Capitale on Bowery. Because it was a large wedding and because so many people had come from out of town, the bride and groom had thoughtfully booked rooms at a midtown hotel at a reduced rate. My friends and I arrived, went downstairs and were immediately confronted with families of tourists holding bags from the GAP , Sephora and Macy’s. The lobby was an absolute zoo at all hours of the day and night and when you walked outside the lights of Times Square illuminated every hideous thing about the neighborhood; puddles of urine, discarded to-go cups, people from New Jersey with popped collars. A quick survey of the terrain yielded a discovery that no place in the area sold a six pack for less than $13, no possible dinner option existed for less than $17 an entree and the only restaurants in striking distance were The Olive Garden, TGIFriday’s, TWO Pizzeria UNOs and the Hawaiian Tropic Zone.
It’s truly tragic that there are no affordable hotels in Manhattan, and that the only ones that give an acceptable rate on hotel sites are those in Midtown. New York depends tremendously on tourist dollars, while at the same time making seeing anything legitimate cool about our city very difficult for those visitors. I was reflecting on that this weekend while my friend and I, along with a glut of tourists in the fusty, sweaty and disgusting subway tunnel waited and waited in vain for an F train that never came, only to find out that service had been suspended and no notification posted in the station.
How can we as New Yorkers prove to outsiders that if we are snobby, self-important and egocentric, that we have a reason to be that way? New York’s greatness is intangible and constantly shifting, but it lies in the little moments and the details. How can we possibly convey this to visitors if the only thing we offer them is the opportunity to stare at blinding, blinking advertisements for Roxy board shorts as we drain their pockets of the money they worked hard earning so they could come and see our city?
I am definitely guilty of tourist-hating; I hate crowds, I hate how slow they walk and I hate that they stop every five feet to take a picture of an innocuous building and then travel on crowded subway trains in groups of eight or more and look skeptically at your clothes. But these are the people that keep the city running, and isn’t taking their money while abusing them the kind of elitist classism that makes New York so hateful to outsiders in the first place? Times Square is to Manhattan what a junk drawer is to a house; a lot of clutter, nothing special and mainly just a bunch of stuff that doesn’t belong anyplace else. The magic that may have existed long ago in Times Square has been replaced by commercial greed so much so that tourists mistake seeing The Lion King, shopping at the Disney Store, eating at Houlihans and playing skee-ball at Dave and Busters as experiencing New York City. There’s no real need to be “centrally” located in New York. The subway takes you absolutely everywhere and riding it is part of the experience of being here. It would be wonderful if instead of 10 trillion crappy hotels in Times Square, we could put a bunch of moderately priced hotels in other areas of the city and allow people to visit Times Square for a show, to see the buildings and the lights and then to LEAVE and see the Village, NoLita, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, the Upper West Side and Harlem. Despite what people say, anyone who remembers the Times Square of the 80s and early 90s does not want a return to seeing prostitutes, addicts and the homeless desperate in the streets and treated like human refuse., However the Disneyfication of that neighborhood is a different kind of evil. I was saddened this weekend to see what that place has become; a giant, dirty commercial, and hope that instead of continuously gentrifying outer-borough neighborhoods, we can one day help Times Square, the center of the center of the universe to become what it deserves.