Holiday hubbub is taking over Midtown NYC and beyond
Bah, humbug! My less than jolly mood the past few weeks had nothing to do with the “tripledemic,” subway bums or “Jingle Bell Rock” in my ears 24/7.
All it took was a stroll in Midtown to turn me frosty.
The tourist hordes are back with a nerves-rattling elbows-in-your-face force — and they’re spreading faster than a virus, well beyond Gotham’s traditional holiday zones.
To brave anywhere within a six-block radius of the Rockefeller Center tree right now is to invite trampling by yokels fresh off the farm, fake “Buddhist” monks hustling change and dope-peddling pre-teens.
Instagrammers thrust their phones in strangers’ faces. Gobsmacked gawkers stand immobile. Daddies with tots on their shoulders stiff-arm their way through the throng like Rob Gronkowski in his prime.
Does all of this sound like the Times Square plazas that you know to avoid? A few blocks east the Elmos are missing, replaced by suspect Santas on the make.
To be sure, there are plenty of reasons to be joyous especially after the 2020 lockdown and the 2021 Omicron surge that nipped holiday celebrations in the bud — Radio City Music Hall even cancelled its Christmas show when cast members got sick.
It’s the first true, post-pandemic Christmas, and New York feels like New York again. The Rockefeller Center tree has never shone so brightly.
There’s comic relief from yokels who look for the Rock Center ice rink in sunken office plazas on Sixth Avenue.
But there’s darkness behind the twinkling lights.
Closing West 49th and 50th streets around the tree to vehicular traffic, as the city has done the past few years, makes sense between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
But now, City Hall seems intent on making ALL streets a party scene 365 days a year, regardless of damage to neighborhoods and to office towers struggling to be full again.
The mayor’s plan to “pedestrianize” Fifth Avenue with wider sidewalks and only a single car lane is among many such brainstorms that the Department of Transportation has on its wish list
I love crowds. They’re indispensable to the city’s DNA. But we don’t need a return of pre-pandemic anarchy.
The renewal of street life and the dough the tree-oglers plunk into the city’s depleted piggy bank are welcome, but they recall how overrun the pre-2020 city was.
Thanks to a strong economy, low crime and a wealth of new attractions, Manhattan became too popular for its own good. The stampede overwhelmed museums, the theater district, parks. Octogenarians out for a quiet dinner got crushed like club kids in restaurant coat-check lines.
Back in August 2020, when Times Square was a “ghost town,” I wrote that the city might become a “happier place than the overheated mosh pit it had become” once the pandemic ended.
My dream of a “gentler, more humane future” was driven by exhaustion with public spaces “dense to the breaking point” thanks to the imposition of plazas, street fairs and all kinds of outdoor “festivals.”
Now, City Hall wants to inflict on us even more plazas and “open streets.” Learning nothing from the past, its Fifth Avenue scheme will only make sidewalks hospitable to people who loiter and eat junk food, but don’t actually buy anything.
One Times Square is enough, Mr. Mayor.
For sure, Yuletide pandemonium has its heart-lifting moments. A family from west of the Hudson, waiting on the Brooklyn-bound R platform at West 49th Street, asked me if the train would take them to Central Park.
I said that they needed to be on the uptown side and suggested they explain their mistake to the MTA clerk in the booth.
A few minutes later I saw them breeze through the north-bound gate. They waved across the tracks and smiled.
More joy to them — and to our world that needs all the joy it can get. Just give us space to walk and breathe.