Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ruminations on Walking in New York City during the Christmas Season

I must assume Christmas is not the best time to visit this remarkable metropolis.  To do otherwise would be unfair, I think.

I will say, though, that I am glad to have escaped it before New Year's Eve (no comparison with Snake Plissken or his New York is intended).  I am no stranger to big cities, and the holiday crowds which can infest them, and am enormously fond of the city of my birth, Chicago, which I will say with Norman Mailer is a great American city--indeed, I will go so far as to say Chicago is the great American city.  But unless you are fond of being part of a vast, slow moving, confused, and often unresponsive herd (there is no better word) of people, you would be well advised to avoid certain parts of Manhattan during the festive holiday season.

Well advised to do so if it is your desire to walk, that is, from one location to another.  The mere presence of crowds was not surprising.  What I found surprising was the fact that so many in the crowds seemed to have no intention of going somewhere.

For all I know, the herds roaming the streets and sidewalks of the wonderful town between the Bronx and the Battery this time of year are made up primarily, if not entirely, of tourists.  So, they may be taken up with gaping at the sites, or photographing the many signs in Times Square.  Real New Yorkers may find them appalling, and avoid parts of the city during this season like the plague.  One has to make exception, though, for the many vendors and hawkers who block passage so effectively.  They, presumably, are not mere tourists.

There is something perverse, I think, in simply being on a sidewalk, stationary, preferably in the middle of it, generally encumbered with a large backpack, or perhaps holding onto a stroller encasing an infant catatonic with fear or confusion, while those who want actually to walk try to do so by bouncing off you and others like so many pinballs.  Perhaps worse yet are those who seek to walk but do so in a horizontal file which often extends the entire width of all available space.

This is something I haven't experienced before.  For example, even on Michigan Avenue at its most crowded the majority of people using the sidewalk walk north and south with genuine regularity, and according to a discernable pattern--those going north use one portion of the sidewalk, those going south use another.  During the Christmas season in New York, though, they seem to move, or stand, without purpose or intent; if they move, they do so sporadically, and then in various directions which cannot be anticipated, causing collisions.

I was reminded horribly of an episode of the original Star Trek series, about a planet so over-populated that they created a mock-up of the Enterprise (who knows why) and sent Kirk there where he encountered the usual beautiful female alien who was placed with him in the hope and expectation that he would pass along to her some kind of disease which would kill some of them off.  Every once in a while he would get a glimpse of the people of the planet, pressed up against one another, slowly trying to move but being nearly prevented from doing so.  That's what I was reminded of, tripping over people, if not the lights fantastic, on the sidewalks of New York.

1 comment:

  1. Being a rural fellow I can feel a shudder just imagining being surrounded by all those people. I can remember going to Seattle to attend the University of Washington and feeling claustrophobic seeing houses on the hills as far as I could see. Not at all like the deserts of Eastern Washington.