Our 2011 Road Trip #25: Our Last Times Square Parade

New Year's Eve ball!

This New Year’s Eve ball may be retired, but it’s still got enough magic in it to perform random countdowns to nothing in particular. Kids love countdowns.

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

Sooner or later, everyone who can’t afford to live in New York has to leave New York. With a handful of hours left on Day Six, it was our turn to start spreading the news and leave here today. We voted unanimously for one last walk through Times Square — one last chance to immerse ourselves in that vibrant hodgepodge teeming with life and lights and wonder and costumes and tourists needing directions and open-air claustrophobia, often not in that order.

We walked as briskly as we could on the last of our energy reserves from Columbus Circle and down Broadway to Times Square. Along the way we passed the Ed Sullivan Theater, current home to The Late Show with David Letterman and one-time jihad target.

Ed Sullivan Theater!

We’d considered attending a real NYC talk show at some point, but most require audience members be over 18. My son came up a little short.

Not every street corner has been purged for the kiddies. Adult fare still poked out in a few spots if you looked too closely. I noted one mild gentleman’s club with purple awning and super-sized rooftop ad for GNC, but its proximity to the heavy all-ages traffic and shiniest lights seemed an odd choice compared to the crasser holes-in-the-wall tucked away in the shadows near Port Authority.

One feature we stopped to admire a bit more this time: street-side cosplayers!

Cookie Monster!

Anne poses with her childhood pal Cookie Monster while Winnie the Pooh lurks in the shadows, trying not to be a bother.

Winnie the Pooh!

We gave Pooh a turn in the spotlight, but by then he had nothing to say for himself.

Elmo!

Elmo filled with existential angst about Elmo’s career choices!

Dora the Explorer!

Dora the Explorer with a permanent shocked expression, like a lot of Manhattan tourists.

Bowlmor Pin!

Bowling alley mascot wants to know how YOU doin’.

Naked Cowboy!

We have reason to believe this Naked Cowboy is not the genuine article. I’d never heard of him, let alone suspected him of inspiring inferior imitations. The existence of one alone is cause enough for concern. If you see this man, call I-800-CRIME-TV right away and scream into your phone how unfair it is that you can’t get away with dressing like this.

When we stopped to rest near the Times Square permanent bleachers, this man handed us a travel brochure several days too late and spent uncountable minutes extolling the virtues of the great and powerful Hunter S. Thompson, whom none of us have read. I faintly improved his opinion of us by remembering correctly that Benicio Del Toro costarred in that one Terry Gilliam flick about a psychotropic junkie road trip.

Hunter S. Thompson Fan!

Officially the final entry in Anne’s “Faces of New York” photo series. Not a costume.

The giant puppets stood outside the M&Ms Store, which wasn’t as fascinating inside as I had hoped. There were many M&Ms and M&M accessories, all accompanied by rave-volume electronica Muzak that failed to convince us how hip and happenin’ their candy is. Any melting was strictly in our ears, not our in hands or mouths.

Anne found another smashed penny machine outside an Italian restaurant. While she busied herself pressing some coinage into new souvenirs, I watched a scene around the corner where several alarmed people were surrounding an old black man who was leaning against the wall and trying to pass out. I felt awkward not rushing to help, but with seven people already gathered around and offering assistance or sympathy, I’m not sure an eighth would’ve made a crucial difference.

Our last purchase of the week was at a souvenir shop run by a fellow who told us he had relatives back in our own Indianapolis. My son and I got matching black T-shirts emblazoned with the Manhattan portion of the official, boldly colored MTA subway map. I can’t speak for him, but every time I’ve worn it since vacation, it’s started more conversations with strangers than any other article of clothing I’ve ever owned. Oddest run-in was a month later at the Indiana State Fair — a young man who sold me beignets from a concession stand and wouldn’t stop staring at the shirt because he’s currently in college preparing to become a city planner in his hometown and is fascinated by that sort of thing. It’s nice to be inspirational.

The closing lineup of electric Times Square crowd scenes and advertising writ colossal:

Francis P Duffy Statue!

How many Broadway plays can you count behind this statue of fightin’ Father Francis P. Duffy?

TKTS!

Friday TKTS lines beat any line we’d seen or stood in that week. No discount showing of The Addams Family for us, then.

McDonald's!

Even franchise restaurants probably don’t have to look bigger and bolder to draw in the rubes, but they have fun flexing their creative muscles anyway.

Torchwood!

We’ve never watched Torchwood, but I trust this ad impressed its fans.

Toshiba!

Toshiba presents the Toshiba tower starring the Toshiba ads supporting the current New Year’s Eve ball. With special guest TDK, whose blank cassettes were important to me as a music-loving teen.

Me on Times Square!

Anne insisted on one nice shot of me in Manhattan before we left. We were both trying to cross the street at the time, but why not. It’s New York!

This being July 15, 2011, I had the brilliant idea of checking into the possibility of seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 on opening day in a real live NYC theater. Of the two movie theaters we could locate without trying, the 6000-screen AMC had lines the length of days, while the Regal across the street wasn’t even showing it. The former was predictable, but the latter was unexpected. Nearly every Indianapolis theater has identical movie listings, especially when it’s time for summer action blockbusters, and rarely sells out of any showings. Once again we saw New York is not now, nor will it ever be, Indianapolis.

Thanks to fatigue and proximity, dinner was down 42nd Street from the theaters at a Japanese fast-food chain called Yoshinoya. Their chopsticks were cheaper than Sapporo’s and their electronica Muzak was cheaper than the M&M Store’s, but their food was a cut above Manchu Wok’s.

We had plenty of daylight left after dinner if we wanted to take advantage, but we had neither the energy nor the remaining ideas. We entered Port Authority one last time, rode one last New Jersey transit bus back to Weehawken, and disembarked one last time at Lincoln Harbor. We were somber yet satisfied.

Our somberness and satisfaction each vanished when we spent some time in the hotel room sampling our Chinatown culinary souvenirs, none of which were more intimidating than the Honey-Flavored Grass Jelly Drink (slogan: “Catch the Dread!”). Its list of natural ingredients were more unintelligible than any chemical-based American snack.

Grass Jelly Drink!

Probably not available in value-priced 24-packs.

My son took a sip. I took a swig. Despite our differences throughout the week’s trials, in this issue we were a united front: this swill tasted like lawn trimmings marinated in mop water with just a twist of death.

I dumped the rest of the Honey-Flavored Grass Jelly Drink (slogan: “Grape, Grass, ToMAYto, ToMAHto!”) in the sink. Much to our surprise and disgust, chunks in the bottom of the can clogged the drain of the nice hotel sink and grossed us out. I grabbed a handful of toilet paper and scooped out the evidence before it jammed up the plumbing for the entire hotel.

Grass Jelly Sink!

Maybe this stuff would make great fertilizer, but I had no intention of carrying it in my luggage to find out.

We later learned those chunks were gelatin cubes that are packaged in every can of Honey-Flavored Grass Jelly Drink (slogan: “It’s like rolling tiny dice into your mouth!”), not a coagulated mess resulting from years of sitting on the shelf unsold. Chinese kids presumably hold those globules in the same regard that American kids used to hold Cracker Jacks prizes. I take back what I said before about their marketing department: whoever tricked anyone into craving that kind of emetic fodder is a staggering genius.

Ranking our edibles upward from there: the cubic gumdrop things had a mealiness to them that may or may not have dated back to Incan times; the Chinese grapes were mostly seed; and the dragon fruit was mostly harmless once we figured out how to penetrate its harmful rind without a knife on hand.

Settling in for the night, the top of my comics reading stack was Marvel’s Journey into Mystery #625, in which a young, reincarnated Loki hatched a scheme that required tense negotiations between Hela, the goddess of the Norse underworld, and Mephisto, Marvel’s proxy for Satan. All involved needed a third-party neutral territory in which to conduct the diplomatic tête-à-tête.

The location of choice for this Axis of Evil: Newark, NJ.

To be continued!

[Historical notes:

1. Now that bubble tea is a thing, those gelatinous cube miniatures are a tad less alienating. This Asian foodie trend doesn’t retroactively upgrade my opinion of the foul taste or squishy texture, though.

2. I deleted one Dick Clark joke that sounded horrid after his 2012 passing. His New Year’s Rockin’ Eve used to be my December 31st ritual as a kid.

3. When we were prodding my son for ideas for our 2016 trip, Yoshinoya was the only restaurant he remembered five years later. That location, the last one east of the Mississippi River, shut down the following January 31st.

4. To this day my son has yet to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Once a Potter fan along with my wife and me, he lost interest circa Half-Blood Prince and saw Deathly Hallows: Part 1 only because other relatives dragged him to it.

5. In 2016 we saw another Naked Cowboy in Times Square, this one black. Even the New York underwear-model-cowboy union is showing more diversity these days than some TV networks.

6. This past July we shared the story of that time we finally got to enter the Ed Sullivan Theater. A few exterior photos will feature in a future entry, along with a snippet of grainy video. Consider this footnote the official teaser promo.

7. We’ve still not watched Torchwood, but we’ve since gotten attached to Doctor Who and are hoping to meet John Barrowman at a convention this weekend. Consider this footnote a bonus teaser for our very next photo series, starting this Sunday or Monday…]

* * * * *

[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!]

New Year's Eve Ball!

Rather than end on a negative drink review, we bookend here after this chapter’s end credits with a bonus glimpse of that same color-changing New Year’s Eve ball, which resided in the Times Square Visitors Center in its twilight years, counting down up close and in your face. Historical note #8: the Times Square Visitors Center that we visited in July 2011 later closed in August 2014. New York City just can’t have all the nice things, apparently.

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About Randall A. Golden
Hoosier since birth, geek since age 6, father at 22, Christian at 30; launched Midlife Crisis Crossover at 39. Full-time service rep; part-time internet contributor; former message board admin; inhabits Twitter as @RandallGolden. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of any other corporation, being, or party line.

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