I began the new year yesterday by venturing into Manhattan—“downtown” as we in the Northwest Bronx say. It was mid-morning when I hopped on the Number 1 train for the fifty or so minute journey, exiting at 18th Street. Subject to change, my informal plan was to travel northward through—what was only hours before—ground zero of the annual New Year’s Eve extravaganza. It’s a place I never once desired being in during the waning hours of the final day of the year. Packed like sardines in a can—with drunken strangers and limited and inaccessible places to relieve oneself—just never appealed to me. And I can only imagine it’s a whole lot worse now in these “If you see something, say something” times.
As expected, both the subway ride and lower Manhattan itself were quieter than typical Sunday mornings in the city. Nevertheless, increasing numbers of men, women, and children—lots and lots of tourists—materialized as I made my way past Madison Square Garden and eventually the periphery of Times Square. I zigzagged back and forth to avoid the worst of the people crunch, which wasn’t—relatively speaking—so bad on the morning of the first day of the new year. Along the way, I spied police barriers galore in big piles now and awaiting pickup. Concrete block police barriers were also everywhere. I even spotted an area mailbox with a padlock on it. There was garbage aplenty, too, left behind by the revelers. Street cleaners and assorted sanitation vehicles were omnipresent.
Northward bound at this time of year necessitated a short detour to Rockefeller Center and the Christmas tree. As a youth, seeing the tree was an absolute must and a holiday given. But as I got older, a visit to that over-crowded piece of earth was no longer on my agenda. The tree looked the same every year anyway. Last year was the first time I’d seen it in the flesh in almost two decades. Now, it’s two years in a row. By the way, the LED lights give it a somewhat different look than I remember as a kid—at least in the daytime.
Nearby Radio City looked much the same, but I didn’t get the excited rush I got while calling on the place as a boy to see the “Christmas Spectacular.” I don’t believe it was called that in the early 1970s when my grammar school class took its yearly field trip to Radio City. The place featured movies in addition to the Rockettes back then. In 1970, 1971, 1972, I saw Scrooge, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and 1776 respectively at Christmastime. I remember it cost each one of my classmates $1.50 for the privilege—the group rate, I guess. The average Radio City ticket price this year for the Christmas show—without a movie—was $133.47. Times have certainly changed.
I saw a lot of that change in my New Year’s Day 2017 excursion. That expensive feeling was palpable from start to finish. When my aunt took my brothers and I shopping downtown at Christmas in the early and mid-1970s—an annual tradition of ours—we began the adventures at Macy’s and called on stores like Gimbel’s, the super-big Woolworth’s, Brentano’s bookstore, and Korvette’s. Heading to the subway station on 50th Street after experiencing the big finale of our trips—the Rockefeller Center tree—we sometimes stopped at a Woolworth’s annex store for one last hurrah. I traversed that same area yesterday as I made my way to the very same subway station. I tried to envision where exactly this little Woolworth’s store once stood, but everything looked so, so expensive now that it was difficult to pinpoint.
My Manhattan voyage at an end, I got on the subway at 50th Street. Destination: uptown and home. My modus operandi for traveling in the least crowded subway cars: Last one for uptown; first one for downtown. The only fly in this ointment is that when heading uptown, the last car sometimes completely empties out before I reach my destination. And being in a totally empty subway car—even in the bright light of day on a generally safe line—is a peculiar feeling. One becomes a magnet for an unhinged individual to enter the car. With several stops yet to go for me yesterday, I found myself all alone and promptly spied a strange-looking man peering in from the adjoining car and slowing making his way my way. Since he somewhat resembled Charles Manson, I wasted no time in putting into practice my Manson Subway Rule. I nonchalantly exited at the next stop and waited for the next train. It’s better to be safe than sorry, I thought, on the first day of a new year.