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Keeping It Real in Times Square
How to act like a local in Times Square? Look as if you want to leave. The local art of walking in Times Square involves zigzagging around the slow crowds that gather like obstacles. Avoid looking overtly at the billboards, and whatever you do, don't snap pictures. Display an ironic detachment: you're just passing through.
Why the snide comments? Consider the noise and billboards from a New Yorker's perspective. The chains that dominate here from Applebee's to M&M's World to Toys "R" Us with its Ferris wheel make some locals mourn the old "naughty, bawdy, gaudy" Times Square portrayed in the musical 42nd Street.
In truth, a visit to Times Square can be great fun when the lights stand out at nighttime, especially if you're with kids (whose hands you must never release because of the undertow-like crowds)—just try to focus on the flashing walls of neon colors and not the overwhelming corporate advertising.
Although nobody's really nostalgic (no matter what they may say) for the derelict Times Square of the '70s and '80s, at least that Times Square reflected (however grotesquely) the challenges all the city's residents were facing. New Yorkers pride themselves on their survivor's ability to tough out the harshness of city living. For decades Times Square embodied that toughness ("if I can make it here, I can make it anywhere"). Out in the open, underneath the bright-lighted billboards, it was clear as day what New York City had to offer newcomers, take it or leave it.
The Times Square of today—in which each building is required to give off a minimum amount of light between the ground and 65 feet up—is a family-friendly, open-air promenade of familiar brand names in theme park–like settings, including the world's largest McDonald's. But not all change is bad; we also have the stadium seating behind TKTS, and, along Broadway, pedestrian-friendly spaces closed to traffic, including tables and chairs. And, of course, we never lost the rich theater scene itself, which locals frequent along with visitors.
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