i>"Hey guy! There is a queue here!"
A New Yorker with a strong Jersey accent and horn-rimmed spectacles reminded me that I had accidently queue-jumped at the TKTS booth in Times Square. I apologised but was somewhat perplexed as I was only the fifth person in the queue. But I will forgive anything in Times Square. The pulsating neon and moving plasma screens are a joy to behold. Las Vegas comes to Mid-town Manhattan.
Heralding New Yorks renaissance, a round of applause must go to Times Square.
Without it's revival New York would be a poorer place. I remember it eleven years ago and you were warned to watch your step. There were people wandering around starting a good night out but not the sheer hordes that come through in 2003. There was a sense of menace here back in 1992 with figures moving furtively in the shadows. Now it is all glitz and dazzle - everything is animatronic, high-tech and over-the-top. In many ways it resembles a theme park rather then a major crossroads. If anything it is even more spectacular lit up at night with crowds of New Yorkers moving between it's theatres, cinema's and restaurants. Mayor Guiliani changed it from being a seedy place infested with prostitutes and 'X' rated cinemas to the equivalent of a neon Disneyland. But compared with what it was, I think we can forgive Times Square a little ostentation.
To begin with, it is not a square - it is a convergence of streets. Where Broadway and Seventh Avenue meet is a huge tower with pulsating plasma screens. These show television pictures, movie trailers and colourful advertisements. Underneath is a small triangle of land where TKTS have set up shop with their half-price ticket booth. Overlooking it all from Broadway as it heads northwest is the tickertape of the NASDAQ building and the moving animatronics of the Hershey building (see photo). On the opposite side are shops, restaurants and souvenir sellars with the great billboards of Broadway shows lit with moving neon. Below 47th Street are the theatres themselves with hoardings for 'Beauty and the Beast' and Elton John's 'Aida'. On the other side are several chain hotels, pizzeria's and fabulous souvenir shops where you can pick up 'I luv NYC' T-shirts and little dinky models of yellow cabs.
The most idling friendly stretch is the southern part of Times Square where Broadway and Seventh Avenue split again heading in different directions. On the east side there is the 'Virgin Megastore' which must contain every DVD and CD known to man. ABC and MTV television have their studios just south of this and can be seen filming their morning show. There is always a crowd outside peering into the windows but this is nothing compared with what is next door - an enormous "Toys R Us". This place was so big that it had a ferris wheel standing 40ft high in it's atrium. But Times Square is at it's best and most lively at night. There the crowds mill excitedly clutching buckets of popcorn with their faces lit up in scintillating colour. The biggest screens are along the southern stretch leading to 42nd Street and these are truly colossal. But watch your step - one evening they shut off Times Square between 45th and 46th Street as a piece of metal had fallen off one of the displays and fallen 100ft to the ground.
The TKTS ticket booth
Right in the heart of Times Square on a tiny strip of land between yellow cab choked avenues is the TKTS booth. From here you can purchase cheap tickets to see Broadway shows on the day of purchase. This often means savings of 50% off the original price but you have to move quick as the most popular shows get snapped up early. Matinee's - shows that take place in the afternoon around 2.00pm - only take place on Wednesdays and Saturdays. These are the cheapest and you can often bag tickets for the big shows for about $40-50 dollars. This is a great saving but bear in mind that they are often the seats the theatres can't shift- i.e. obscured view, at the back etc. The best seats are very rare at the TKTS booth.
One Saturdays morning I joined the queue at 8.30am. The shutters go up at 10.00am and the shows available are on neon displays at about 9.30am for matinee shows. I was wise to do this as by 9.00am the queue stretched like a crocodile around the little sliver of land in the middle of Times Square. I was the fifth person in the queue and it was a merry bunch who waited until 10.00 am in the pouring rain for cheap tickets. As you can imagine it is a big draw for tourists, domestic more then foreign, and I spoke to several people from the hinterland of America who had come to the 'Big Apple' for a weekend break. One Wisconsin couple were here for a week and were seeing a show a day.
Those of us at the front debated what to see and the neon screen came up with the 50% discount shows at 9.30am. On the board was 'Gypsy' , 'Nine' with Antonio Banderas, 'Vincent in Brixton', 'Enchanted April', '42nd Street', 'Chicago' and 'The Look of Love' a musical based around the songs of Burt Bacharach. Just like in London, they seem to be basing musicals around specific musical genres rather then inventing them from scratch. But my first choices were 'A play what I wrote..', 'Aida' and 'Cabaret'. I managed to bag 'Cabaret' (see other journal), which tempted me with a huge poster over Times Square, and cost $40 - more then double the price of a London ticket.
If you come to New York you MUST come and see a show. It is what New York is all about. The experience of standing in the middle of Times Square at night while the world rushes around you will stay with you for a long time.