I have lived just across the bridge from Manhattan my entire life. As I got older and hit middle school, my friends and I would often find ourselves busing into Port Authority to spend the day in New York.
We were young and didn’t really understand the kinds of opportunity and excitement we could find if we ventured more than a few blocks in either direction of the bus terminal. So, we stayed in Times Square - “the heart of the Big Apple.”
Now I go to a university in the city, and my perspective has changed. Manhattan is full of excitement and wonder and adventure and is not nearly as sleazy as I had thought it was when I was younger.
But I still hate Times Square.
While the rest of the city feels like a true metropolis, Times Square is full of those who want to take advantage of the many who come to visit and don’t understand New York.
It is the center of exploitation. It is the gaudy shine of 50-foot billboards. The averted gaze trying to avoid every walking salesman attempting to sell you a tour. It is the only place in the city. I actually worry about someone stealing my purse.
Times Square is the scene I imagine when I hear Simon and Garfunkel’s lyric, “and the people bowed and prayed / to the neon gods they made.”
But then there’s Broadway.
Turn left off Seventh Avenue, and you’re there. Amidst this hub of grit, grubbiness and sleaze, you find classic theaters, built reminiscent of the artistic mastery of magnificent ancient societies. You find thousands of people gathering every night to watch the magic of live theater. You see so many drawn to the pathos and empathy of Broadway, and the home it creates for everyone who loves it. Amidst this hub of the worst of humanity, you also find the best of it.
Showtunes, more than any other genre of music, I’ve found have been able to empathize with pinpoint precision into distinct and unique human experiences. The whole experience of theater is an appreciation of the effort and skill of those the comprise job of the industry ever. The foundation of Broadway is wonder and awe; the antithesis of Times Square.
The fact that this glowing beacon of the power of human creativity and the longing for connection that transcends our whole species, is mere steps away from, quite honestly, what I view as my personal hell (with the noise, and crowds, and lights, and need for constant vigilance) is ironic. Though, despite this irony, I also find it quite poignant; even where consumerism and exploitation want to feed on people’s weaknesses, you can also find a small community shedding the light of empathy and connection into the world.