New York residents navigate Times Square — when forced to navigate it at all — like a slalom course. We dodge families five people wide, holding hands in matching colors, a woman with a furry hat tap dancing and handing out fliers, the busloads of people loitering outside Bubba Gump. Human bowling pins, human statues, comedy show hawkers in bowler hats, police horses, tour bus operators.
A massive crowd of people waving like loons up at a massive screen showing the massive crowd waving like loons at themselves up on the massive screen.
We grumble, we shuffle, we dodge. We are locals: we know the ins and outs, what’s worth our bother. Times Square? Just another place to get through.
I’m aware of a fact I don’t want to think too much about: when I next come back to New York, I’ll be a tourist all over again.
* * *
Last night, I dodged the bowling pins and Bubba Gump patrons to get to another Todd show on 42nd street. He was playing his greatest hits, all the old familiar Todd songs, the well-worn can we still be friends and hello it’s mes. The ones everyone knows. I found a spot at the back, next to a beer tap shaped like a saxophone, a place where I knew I could dance.
We danced. He danced. We shouted and eye-goggled and drank. One guy kept shouting at him to surprise us. We begged him to play all night for us. I felt a part of this crowd; these songs felt like ones I could claim. I felt local.
And then, at the crescendo of the show, a surprise: that wonderful moment when there was a song I hardly knew, and his performance of it moved me to the core. And suddenly I’m a tourist again in the midst of this roomful of long-time fans, those who knew every word of every song. When it was over I was giddy. And I lost it when I fainted in his arms...
The first time you heard it: remember what that was like.
We’re all tourists in these songs at first. I like that chord, nice and warm. And then we start to form roots with every new record we buy, register a permanent address in the liner notes, have all of our mail forwarded to that corner of the room where you keep every record of his next to a comfortable cushion for long listening sessions. We begin to appreciate saxophone solos. We anticipate the key change. We collect knowledge of who played what just as we collect dust on the spines of the records. We become locals.
But it’s nice to be surprised again. To be reminded of the very first time you saw or heard something that moved you to the core.
When you’re a tourist, the police horses are a novelty. When you’re a tourist, Times Square is a place you go to, not just a place you get through. When you’re a tourist, it’s all new, and the simplest things make you smile and wave like a loon. I’m learning how to be a tourist again; surprise me.
© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.