Our 2011 Road Trip, Part 4: You Can’t Spell Times Square Without “Mess”

Times Square!

The glitz! The glamor! The glory! The ads for washers and insurance and Michael Bay films!

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

After escaping Newark with our lives, we docked our car at scenic Lincoln Harbor in harmless midscale Weehawken and checked in to our unexpectedly swank hotel. Despite the modest AAA three-diamond rating, our room had two flatscreen TVs, a toilet with two different kinds of flushing buttons, gold-toned bathroom fixtures, an anteroom with couch and spacious desk, luxurious non-threadbare blankets, free AT&T Wi-Fi, and an impeccable, fawning staff. We appreciated the amenities, even though we didn’t need ’em ’cause now we were all hardcore. It’s funny, how driving through Newark changes a man.

With our luggage dropped off and our sense of adventure fully stoked, we took a New Jersey Transit bus through the nearby Lincoln Tunnel (which for me was a moment of WHEEEEE! because long dark tunnels are a peculiar source of fun) and disembarked inside the legendary Port Authority, a multi-level labyrinthine nexus of countless bus stops and other mass-transit connections. Depressing, bustling, underlit, and energetic all at once, the Port Authority and its assorted mall-shaped stores would be our transportation hub for the week.

Our first several minutes in Manhattan were spent wandering and mentally mapping the Port Authority, cavorting up and down its escalators, trekking from one end to the other, pinpointing the locations of all our necessities. All of this means it took us rubes forever and a day to figure out where to buy tickets. We first calculated and stocked up on the number of tickets we would need for the week’s trips to and from the Port Authority and Lincoln Harbor on the New Jersey Transit’s #158 bus. This turned into a twenty-minute chore because we ended up in line behind three young French hikers who were buying several dozen bus tickets to anywhere and everywhere. Seven-day MTA subway passes, on the other hand, took us all of thirty seconds at a convenience stand.

Having completed the necessary ticketing scutwork, we escaped through the southeast entrance into the mythical colossus that is outdoor Manhattan proper, at the corner of 8th Avenue and 40th Street right across from the offices of the New York Times.

New York Times!

Getting the entire sign in the same shot was impossible from street level. It’s a big, BIG institution.

Virtually every sidewalk was an endless pedestrian parade more briskly paced than a Jetsons treadmill expanse. My son and I practically got a buzz from the living, droning, seething, renewable emotional-energy source that was the nonstop crowd all around us.

Our first, nearest landmark: the Port Authority’s official statue of patron saint Ralph Kramden, provided by the folks at TV Land. In the same spirit of the Mary Tyler Moore statue we saw in Minneapolis, Anne couldn’t pass up a photo op.

Ralph Kramden!

Bang! Zoom! Cheese!

A hop, skip, and jump across 40th and up 7th Avenue took us straight to the neon overdose of Times Square, America’s largest fixed-position salute to super-sized advertising and TVs that can be watched from orbit. Too many of the stores are gamma-irradiated versions of the same old chains we have back home. For us simply walking and loitering was diverting enough for a while.

Broadway UFC!

Photo #1 in Anne’s “Street Signs of New York” miniseries.


Actual Broadway theaters! We’ll come back to one of those later in the week.

Kattan Santa View!

Summertime Santa, The View, and Chris Kattan. This…was not our favorite photo.

American Eagle!

We failed to nab a single shot of the humongous Aerie lingerie ads, but please accept this tame American Eagle Outfitters ad instead with our prudish non-apologies. This is also in lieu of the topless painted lady that Anne could’ve sworn she saw but avoided photographing.

Disney Store!

Where there’s corporate shilling, there’s Disney, especially above the Disney Store. We have one of these left in Indianapolis, but it hasn’t been our thing for a long time now.

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark!

You’d think one of us guys would be excited about Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which opened the month before. Short answer: we valued our lives too much.

Times Square!

Random ads and architecture just because we can.


Times Square, the short version: wall-to-wall giant-sized corporate chains.

Deathly Hallows 2!

One of the year’s biggest events will be happening while we’re out of town. Of COURSE.

Anne stopped and bought some postcards from a random souvenir shop, but when a nice middle-age man tried to hand me a copy of his rap demo free of charge, she basically smacked my hand and made me give it back. She was afraid there would be panhandler’s strings attached, or that it would be a prelude to mugging. Nice of her to come to my rescue and save me from America’s next “Pants on the Ground” guy.

Here’s Anne’s version of events, presented without rebuttal:

Times Square is wall-to-wall people with only laughingly-defined elbow room. As a result, it’s really noisy. It’s also full of people trying to sell you things right off the street. I was trying to make sure my family stayed together when I turn and see my husband talking to some street huckster who was handing him a CD. Now, Randy is not a confrontational person. My perception of this event was that he was stuck getting an unwanted sales pitch. I heard him hemming and hawing before I jumped in to save the day!

I took the CD from my husband’s hand and gave it back to the guy with a polite, “No thanks.”

AFTER the fact, he told me that the guy had originally tried to sell it to him but then offered it to him free…something I hadn’t heard because, as stated above, it’s really noisy there.

I still haven’t lived that down, especially when taken in light of an upcoming chapter!

“COMEDY SHOW!” someone screamed as they stuck a comedy-club picket sign right in my face. For a few seconds my train of thought was derailed into a wall and all I could see was crude calligraphy. I nearly bowled the guy over. He was one of several dozen recruits trying to convince one and all to come sit for an allegedly family-friendly show As Seen on Comedy Central. Several parts of that pitch didn’t compute.

We spotted numerous independent pizza joints, very few chains. We took our dinner business to one of the several hundred Ray’s, one just north of 47th whose optional adjectives I forgot to note. The all-Latino staff included one who looked like an honorary Italian. Close enough. The pizza was just okay, but we forgave it since it was our first official New York City meal. We awarded them bonus points for having a few seats open for us. Those would prove to be a rare commodity in the days ahead.

NYC Pizza!

Not drunk. Long, overwhelming day.

After dinner we reversed course and headed back down 7th, south to about 38th Street or so. Past 40th the glitz and glamour gave way to grime, grunge, and more dueling low-budget restaurants. I didn’t feel the urge to taste-test one proprietor’s “Dollar Burger” or eat even more pizza. This statuary shill for teriyaki pizza won my heart for Best Creepy Mascot, though in snapping this pic I frightened the lady walking behind us.

Pizza Guy Surprise!

Surprise reverse stalking!

Well before nightfall we decided our toes had been sufficiently dipped into the pool of Manhattan, knowing this wouldn’t be our last jaunt through Times Square. Not by a long shot. We circled back up to the Port Authority, wandered past a few screaming matches, and got bused back to Lincoln Harbor.

Lincoln Harbor!

The view of Manhattan at sunset was a nice perk.

This setting might have qualified as romantic if we were aboard a houseboat or a nice yacht ourselves, or if we’d abandoned the boy back in Newark.

To be continued! Next time: a flash-sideways to the one big Times Square store we just had to check out.

[Historical notes:

1. It wasn’t easy resisting the urge to add anachronistic new captions to every movie ad.

2. Free wi-fi was a novelty back then, but today I sneer with disdain whenever hotel wi-wfi costs extra, because I must have my Twitter and my blogging.

3. I was looking forward to devoting 800 extra words here to jokes about Tronc, but it turns out Tribune Publishing does not own the New York Times. My loss, the Times‘ advantage.

4. After scathing reviews and countless stunt-related injuries, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark ended its reign of terror in January 2014. As of this writing we’ve yet to see any announcements of a road-show version coming after you and your loved ones.]

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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