New York Impressions

By Michael Raffety


How we came to travel to New York on Christmas Day began a couple of months before when I read that Nathan Lane was starring in “It’s Only a Play.” Nathan Lane just lights up the stage. But the real decision point was that his last appearance in the play would be Dec. 31. As of Jan. 7 Martin Short was due to take over the character Lane played in the topical comedy.

So I bought Saturday matinée theater tickets and booked airline tickets. And we were off to New York, leaving my son’s house in Stockton about 10:30 in the morning Christmas Day and due to return to San Francisco Jan. 1.

Friday we checked out the windows of Macy’s. The window displays drew crowds. It was the day after Christmas. We went inside and fortunately nobody was doing a “die-in.” Instead it was full of shoppers dying to get day-after bargains.

Then for real crowds we walked along Fifth Avenue. Holy Toledo! The sidewalks were totally impacted. We got as far as Saks and decided to try again earlier in the morning the next day. They remained impacterd all week long.

Fifth Avenue is loaded with big-name stores I have only seen in my daughter’s fashion magazine — Prada, Dolce & Cabbana, Salvatore Ferragamo, Versace, Bottega Vaneta, Mikimoto, Michael Kors, Valentino, De Beers, Armani, Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylors, Van Cleef & Arpels, and, of course, Tiffany’s, which was done up spectacularly for Christmas. We just window shopped, needless to say.

Fortunately, we did not run into any of the anti-cop demonstrations. They were largely chilled out after the two policemen were assassinated in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn Dec. 20.

The aftermath of that and the lack of support from Mayor Bill de Blasio resulted in a 66 percent decline in arrests, according to Seth Lipsky’s column in the New York Post. When in New York the Post is my bible.

Just for the record, we did not go to Times Square for New Year’s Eve. That is strictly a young person’s adventure. There are no porta potties in Times Square. You gotta hold it. Times Square was filled with 1 million, maybe 1.5 million folks, mostly from out of state and many from foreign countries. Hardly any actual New Yorkers. Gotta go? You leave and you don’t get back in.

New Year’s Eve in Shanghai saw 36 people killed when a crowd of 100,000-150,000 stampeded.

On Monday, Dec. 29, we headed for the subway entrance at 42nd Street and Broadway to get to the harbor to tour the Intrepid aircraft carrier. Before we could descend into the subway, we waited for the police SWAT team to exit up the stairs, carrying their assault weapons. Somebody had a very safe subway ride with that group on board. They were very nice and thanked us for waiting.

The police have a station right on Broadway at 42nd Street. After we got to the subway the ticket guy said we could really walk there. So we did. The only reason the Intrepid is more interesting than the Midway in San Diego is because it has an SR-71 Blackbird on its flight deck set against the New York Skyline and the Space Shuttle Enterprise in a tent, plus a supersonic (Mach 2) Concorde on the plaza next to the carrier. The Concorde would fly from New York to Paris at 60,000 feet in under 3.5 hours.

NYPD and NYFD have New Year’s Eve in Times Square very organized. By Dec. 30 the organization started showing up. When I came out of a drug and grocery store on Sixth Avenue around the corner from East 44th Street I noticed all the mailboxes were locked up with a kind of red boot, secured with a padlock. No firecrackers, no bombs in the mailboxes.

The city began setting up barricades along the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh avenues Dec. 29 to keep people from jaywalking.

Dec. 30 I noticed a bus-sized NY Fire Department Mobile Command Center set up in front of a university entrance on East 45th. After leaving a late lunch Dec. 31 at an Italian restaurant on that same street between Sixth and Fifth Avenue, the street had been blocked off at both ends and had become a pedestrian mall.

“Happy ‘blue’ year!” from the Dec. 31 Post noted that “large swaths of Midtown — stretching from 34th to 59th streets between Sixth and Eighth avenues — will be shut down beginning early Wednesday.” The blue referred to the thousands of police officers patrolling the area in pairs.

Later we went to a steakhouse on East 44th to sit at the bar and have dessert and a glass of wine. The restaurant didn’t open till 5 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. The bartender told us employees had to have a letter from their employer to get past the roadblock on Fifth Avenue. The police shut down the crosstown subway shuttle from Times Square at 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

Monday, Dec. 29, we saw “Beautiful, the Carole King Story.” From my bible, the Post, comes the headline “‘Beautiful’ fan.” “Katy Perry was spotted at “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical” on Tuesday. Oh, shucks, missed it by one day. Katy Perry was “greeted by a gaggle of girls outside the theater.”

From the Dec. 29 Wall Street Journal comes this informative headline: “A-listers and their fans: Bringing down the house.”  “Broadway increasingly relies on celebrity casting, but this year, with Hugh Jackman, Emma Stone, James Franco and other A-listers on stage, theaters have been spending ever more time cracking down on shutterbugs, hecklers and throngs of fans at the stage door.” In fact, fans are skipping the show and just showing up at the stage door.

From the same article came this tidbit: “‘It’s Only a Play’ raked in $1.4 million in the week ended Dec. 21.”

From the John Podhoretz column in the Dec. 31 Post comes the information that New York has 34,500 police officers in a city of 8.1 million with 9.1 millon when commuters are added in and 10.1 million when tourists are added in. Podhoretz wrote there are 25 million interactions with civilians that generated 5,500 complaints, which works out to o.2 percent of all interactions. The cops discharged their weapons 81 times in 2013, which Poderhetz calculated as 1 out of every 330,000 interactions. The Post columnist added that your chances of getting hit by lightning are 1 in 3,000. He concluded that the 34,500 officers “are nothing less than a blessing to us all. All. Of. Us.”

We found them all helpful and courteous.

Temperatures New Year’s Eve were 28 and growing colder as the night went on. Winds were up to 30 mph. So, beside bladder control (or Depends) the young folks who showed up to claim a prime Time Square spot as early as 8:30 a.m. had to survive the cold on an empty stomach.

From 1 Police Plaza in Times Square hundreds of cameras are monitored, snipers and surveillance crews are on rooftops.

The crowds at Times Square are contained in barriers, with a middle area for police and TV reporters to roam about.

The protestors? “Good times warm hearts on icy eve”: “About 50 anti-police protestors gathered in Union Square Park, despite being denied a permit, and tried to march to Times Square, but were stopped at 38th Street. One was busted for spitting on a cop.”

So, in Shanghai the police weren’t prepared for a crowd of 100,000 that always gathers on New Year’s Eve along the banks of the Huangpu River. In New York the police and fire departments handle a crowd of 1 million without incident. Every person in Times Square comes away proud they saw the ball drop followed by fireworks.

As the Tom Waits song says, “I’ll take New York.”


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